Abstract

With Trump's election in 2016 prompting us to reflect on what qualifies one to the U.S. presidency, I turn to the 1928 election to consider the only other candidate who became president without having held elected office or a military position: Herbert Hoover. I argue that Hoover was able to establish his presidential qualifications by articulating a vision of “rugged individualism” as an American value, one that was not linked to traditional political experience but instead to a distinctively American character that combined past myths of the frontier and the “self-made man.” In so doing, Hoover adapted “individualism” into a “rugged individualism” connected to twentieth-century conservative economic policies. Through this discourse, Hoover was able to establish himself as the heir to previous Republican presidents while pushing the boundaries of presidential qualifications and the use of individualism as a rhetorical appeal. Beyond providing the first article-length critique of Hoover's 1928 campaign, my analysis adds to the scholarship on the use of rugged individualism as a rhetorical appeal, one that foreshadows the Republican response to the Great Depression and later conservative economic rhetoric.

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