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Empire of dignity: Manliness, civilization, and the bureaucratization of nineteenth-century America

Jacob K Friefeld, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


On the eve of the Civil War, middle-class men in the United States lived in an increasingly fluid social world. This fluidity combined with secession and Civil War to alter the context in which American men lived. This dissertation uses archival materials, government documents and debates, personal letters and diaries, as well as nineteenth-century literature to examine the ways in which middle-class men attempted to order their increasingly fractured world between 1850 and 1890. This dissertation argues that before the Civil War, men conceptualized their manliness through the discourses of dignity, rakishness, and honor. During the Civil War, the United States government created bureaucracies to manage the prosecution of the war and post-war territorial expansion. Middle-class Northerners, as Southerners came increasingly under Union occupation, injected the discourse of dignity into these infant bureaucracies in an attempt to order the world in their image. In the post-war years, dignity combined with the concept of civilization to dispossess Natives of their land through a growing network of land offices in the West. Meanwhile, middle-class men became distrustful of the bureaus they had created. At the same time, the men operating the bureaus became suspicious of the citizens they served. Ironically, all these men voiced their suspicions using the dignified discourse. This dissertation adds to the historiography on manliness and masculinities in the United States. Importantly, it represents a path-breaking attempt to understand changing conceptions of manliness in the mid to late nineteenth-century.

Subject Area

American studies|American history|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Friefeld, Jacob K, "Empire of dignity: Manliness, civilization, and the bureaucratization of nineteenth-century America" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10101041.