Americans and "Rugged Individualism"

Americans and "Rugged Individualism"
Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was educated as a mining
engineer at Stanford University. After graduation, he began his
working career at the bottom, as a miner. Over time he went
on to become a successful mining entrepreneur. During World
War I, he oversaw the United States Food Administration. In
this agency, he headed a successful campaign to conserve
food in the United States so that surpluses could be sent to
embattled Great Britain, where food supplies were running
low. In 1918, after the war, Hoover headed the American
Relief Administration, an organization set up by President
Woodrow Wilson to help rebuild war-torn Europe. Next, in
1921, he joined the Harding administration as Secretary of
Commerce, a position he held through much of the 1920s.
Herbert Hoover was one of the best-known and most
respected government officials when he won the Republican
nomination for president in 1928. The public saw him as one
of the chief architects of the prosperity of the 1920s.
As a self-made man, Hoover was a firm believer in the
power of the individual to forge his or her own future. The
speech from which the following excerpt was taken outlines
Hoover's belief in the "American system of rugged individual­
ism." According to Hoover, this system consisted of self­
government, freedom for the individual, and free enterprise.
The excerpt previews Hoover's policy as President in dealing
with the Great Depression. It: is from a campaign speech
Hoover gave in l\Jew York City on October 22, 1928.
During one hundred and fifty years we have built up a form of
self-government and a social system which is peculiarly our own. It
differs essentially from all others in the world.... It is founded upon
Prosperity and Depression at Home and Abroad
a particular conception of self-government in which decentralized
local responsibility is the very base. Further than this, it is founded
upon the conception that only through ordered liberty, freedom,
and equal opportunity to the individual will his initiative and enter­
prise spur on the march of progress. And in our insistence upon
equality of opportunity has our system advanced beyond all the
During the war we necessarily turned to the government to solve
every difficult economic problem. The government having absorbed
every energy of our people for war, there was no other solution....
However justified in time of war if continued in peace-time it would
destroy not only our American system but with it our progress and
freedom as well.
When the war closed, the most vital of all issues both in our own
country and throughout the world was whether governments should
continue their wartime ownership and operation of many instru­
mentalities [means] of production and distribution. We were chal­
lenged with a peace-time choice between the American system of
rugged individualism and a European philosophy of diametrically
[completely] opposed doctrines-doctrines of paternalism and state
socialism. The acceptance of these [European] ideas would have
meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of
government. It would have meant the undermining of the individ­
ual initiative and enterprise through which our people have grown
to unparalleled greatness.
The Republican Party from the beginning resolutely turned its
face away from these ideas and these war practices. . . . When the
Republican Party came into full power it went at once resolutely
back to our fundamental conception [idea] of the state and the
rights and responsibilities of the individual. Thereby it restored con­
fidence and hope in the American people, it freed and stimulated
enterprise, it restored the government to its position as an umpire
instead of a player in the economic game. For these reasons the
American people have gone forward in progress while the rest of the
world has halted, and some countries have even gone backwards. If
anyone will study the causes of retarded recuperation [slow recovery
from the war] in Europe, he will find much of it due to the stifling
of private initiative on one hand, and overloading of the govern­
ment with business on the other.