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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
The curious life of Lewis Littlepage, an American-born courtier in late eighteenth century Europe, revealed the true nature of the United States’ exceptional identity and highlighted the negative effects of social refinement on its unique character. Initially imbued with republican values, Littlepage traveled to Europe in order to pursue a practical political education that would render him useful to the U.S. However, the Virginian’s experiences overseas transformed him into a man unable to control his ambitions, incapable of feeling loyalty to any nation or set of principles, and more dedicated to his personal comfort and luxury than to any sense of republican duty. This study, in order to reach its conclusions, compares Littlepage’s education to that advocated by Thomas Jefferson and examines the differences between the leadership style he eventually developed and the noble republican example modeled by George Washington. It utilizes primary evidence from the Curtis Carroll Davis Collection and the Holladay Family Papers to support its assertions. The uniqueness of the U.S., its exceptionalism, was ultimately a product of its citizens’ self-control. The earliest concern of the nation’s founders, the creators of the grand American experiment to prove that humans were capable of self-government, was how to produce citizens capable of controlling themselves and supporting a republican government. Answering this question, Thomas Jefferson and other Founders concluded that Americans needed a practical republican education and proper role models. The purpose of this training was to teach them how to pursue the common good by controlling their own ambitions, dedicating themselves to republican principles rather than to rulers, and persevering in the face of hardship. Littlepage’s polite education and the process of social refinement he underwent were in opposition to these republican values. Rather than teaching the Virginian to control his own ambitions, to subordinate his interests to the importance of upholding republican values, and to persevere in these endeavors, these processes taught him to proudly display his self-interested ambitions through ostentatious dress and elaborate shows of his useless knowledge. The result was to produce an image of a character that did not conform to America’s exceptional identity.
Pullen, Chris R., "The talented Mr. Littlepage & The Spirit of ’76: An American character study" (2010). Masters Theses. 407.