Rugged individualism was a phrase used often by Herbert Hoover during his time as president. It refers to the idea that individuals should be able to help themselves out and that the government should not involve itself in the economic lives of people or the nation in general. It is often associated with Social Darwinism or an "up-by-the-bootstraps" philosophy.
Hoover's idea of "rugged individualism" reflected his belief that the federal government should not interfere with the American people during the Great Depression. He feared that providing large-scale humanitarian efforts would injure "the initiative and enterprise of the American people." After 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 free market would right itself. However, further into his term, he felt that dire circumstances forced him into action, but he still believed that government should play a limited role in the American economy.