Date Awarded

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Chris Grasso


Classicism, an interest in the history, society, and arts of the ancient world, became a staple of American culture with the first permanent European settlements, and reached its zenith in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The extant scholarship on early American classicism offers a wealth of information about how citizens of the nascent United States read and interpreted the sources of the ancient world. However, it has done little to address the political utility of that classicism. The first of the two studies presented here attempts to locate one possible utility of American classicism in the Federalist Papers. An examination of allusions to the ancient world in those texts and the educational background of its authors and audience provides evidence that a shared American classicism was a constituent part of the cultural unity necessary to justify a strong central government. The second study reexamines this culture of classicism in the first half of the nineteenth century, with a focus on the classicism of nonelite demographic units without access to conventional higher education. While nonelite subjects have been analyzed by many other historians of American classicism, they have largely been examined discretely. This study establishes the prevalence of classical culture in the early nineteenth century United States by examining the public writings and speeches of elite white men. A subsequent analysis of nonelites contextualizes their classicism in the larger American classical culture in an attempt to demonstrate the broad unity of American classicism.



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