Self-Made Man

The concept of the “self-made man”—the idea that a man can achieve success and fulfill the expectations of manhood through his own merit and hard work—has been central to American constructions of masculinity since the early nineteenth century. First articulated by the politician Henry Clay in 1832, the idea flourished during the Jacksonian era and became a nostalgic hope in the industrial and postindustrial eras.

Puritans grounded their concepts of manhood in family, church, and community, distrusting the man severed from these institutions as sinful and potentially barbaric. Most young men in colonial America achieved their social and economic stations with the help of established patriarchs who bestowed their sons and apprentices with land or training in a skilled trade. In his calling, a man was ...

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