Rugged individualism was the phrase used often by Herbert Hoover during his time as president. It refers to the idea that each individual should be able to help themselves out, and that the government does not need to involve itself in people's economic lives nor in national economics in general. It is often associated with Social Darwinism or an "up-by-the-bootstraps" philosophy.
Hoover's idea of "rugged individualism" reflected his idea of how the federal government should not interfere with the American people during the Great Depression. Providing large-scale humanitarian efforts, Hoover feared, would injure "the initiative and enterprise of the American people." Post-World War I, rugged individualism appealed to fiscal conservatives who were dismayed by the regulatory bureaucracy built up by the Wilson administration.
When the Depression started, Hoover insisted that the market would right itself. However, further into his term, Hoover felt that he was forced into action by the dire circumstances of the Depression, but still believed that the government should play a limited role in the American economy.
- Arthur W. McMahon. Third Session of the Seventy-First Congress, December 1, 1930 to March 4, 1931. The American Political Science Review Vol. 25, No. 4 (Nov., 1931), pp. 932-955