CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Rugged Individualism in American Political Thought

Sophia Landress, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Rogers Smith

Date of this Version: 31 March 2021



After Herbert Hoover used the term “rugged individualism” in his 1928 campaign speech, the phrase became a cornerstone of American politics, advanced in the 1930s in opposition to social liberalism and New Deal collectivism. This thesis explores the political rhetoric and policy platforms that dominated the Depression era, mapping a spectrum of ideologies that displays the nuanced similarities and differences among and between the various political camps. Discourse between Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the two main figures in the political debate about government interventionism at the time, represented the pinnacle of the controversy. The examination of these two Chief Executives’ policy intentions demonstrates that Hoover and Roosevelt exhibited far more political centrism than first meets the eye. Based on their rhetoric, policies, and center-leaning divergences from more polarized extremes, this thesis questions the assumption of insurmountable polarization in American politics, and emphasizes the utility of the relative moderation employed by these two administrations. Despite their noteworthy differences, Hoover’s rugged individualism and Roosevelt’s New Deal exhibited significant overlap, especially in their continuance of the American traditions of individuality.


American Politics | Political History | Political Theory | United States History

Suggested Citation

Landress, Sophia, "Rugged Individualism in American Political Thought" 31 March 2021. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 28 April 2021




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