Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kenneth Fones-Wolf


Colonial New England fathers normally launched sons' careers, often aided by other male relatives. However, economic developments in the early American republic rendered sons' expectations less sure even as Americans began celebrating the concept of the self-made man and pressured young men to distinguish themselves. Even worse, they asserted that success or failure signaled more about the man than about his particular circumstances. This study delves into some close male relationships through which were negotiated these tensions between cultural expectations and reality. Scholars describe the rise of a distinctly Northern, middle-class manhood, but this project isolates how the relationships that undergirded it functioned for individual men propelled toward imagined opportunities in the emerging West, where the fabled "Yankee go-ahead" might achieve its purest expression. It corrects an overemphasis on Eastern urban centers and also challenges a prevailing view that a cultural celebration of individualism reflecting broad changes underway was exemplified by hordes of ambitious, competitive young men eager to try their hands at self-fashioning. If this research is indicative, often a circle of close male associates surrounded and protected aspiring men from suffering the full potential brunt of the competitive marketplace. Three chapters examine case studies involving Northwest Territory Judge John Cleves Symmes, Western Reserve abolitionist Joshua Giddings, and Bleeding Kansas participant Oscar Learnard. All three had New England backgrounds and ideas about what roles close male associates might play in the lives of young men hoping for a launch into adulthood. They also had a boundless supply of ambition and viewed the developing West as the place to unleash it: they were go-ahead men.