Date of Award

Winter 12-10-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Christopher Childers

Second Advisor

Kris Lawson

Third Advisor

James Oliver, Jr.


This study examines the lost classical republican virtue of disinterestedness—its early role in the nation’s founding, its eventual subordination to partisanship, and its enduring legacy in the realm of politics. Two seminal documents shaped Americans’ early ideas regarding disinterestedness, namely James Madison’s Federalist, No. 10 and George Washington’s “Farewell Address;” however, these cornerstones of impartial politics built upon a long history of classical republican thought from both ancient Rome and mother England. The eventual impracticality of such a virtue quickly gave way to a more enticing and interested form of politics in the early republic—one where lines were rapidly drawn between those in favor of federal power and elite rule and those who preferred a trajectory toward state power and egalitarianism. In this transition from the theory of classical republican virtue to the practice of party politics, one can clearly see the continued influence of classical disinterestedness especially and rather ironically in the language of partisan politicians. The virtue evolved, but it did not die. Classical republican virtues, such as disinterestedness, still attract the attention of pundits today as they “reach across the aisle” and seek “bipartisan solutions” to political issues the United States faces. The idea of impartiality still has a certain appeal to constituents as well. Voters are both interested in political unity, and many express a level of exhaustion in polarization and the division that partisanship tends to breed. Disinterestedness has witnessed times of revival in our past; however, it more than resonates in the modern United States and has real implications in the climate of our most recent political struggles.



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