Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Historians of US foreign relations have argued that, after the Civil War and prior to the professionalization movements of the 1920s, the State Department was staffed with failed politicians, adventurous lawyers, and bored businessmen through a system of political spoils. An examination of Ebenezer Jolls Ormsbee‟s experience as an envoy of the State Department on the Samoan Land Commission from 1891 to 1893, however, demonstrates that the department operated through an effective patronage system. Patrons, with experiential, social, and professional connections to appointees, sought out the best candidates they knew. By examining Mr. Ormsbee‟s childhood, Civil War experience, and political career with the Republican Party in Vermont, his various relationships with prominent individuals such as Redfield Proctor, Frank C. Partridge, and Henry C. Ide become evident. Through these relationships, Mr. Ormsbee gained his appointment to the Samoan Land Commission based upon his peers‟ belief that he was the best qualified candidate available. Mr. Ormsbee‟s position as a provincial grand bourgeoisie not only determined how he was appointed to the Samoan Land Commission, but also his relationship with and viewpoint of the native and the Euro-American communities in Samoa. For Mr. Ormsbee and his wife, Frances Ormsbee, the natives were often viewed with greater approval because of their perceived authentic barbarity, while the Euro-Americans were often found to have failed to maintain the Ormsbees‟ notion of civilization. The Ormsbees‟ social and political relationships in Samoa demonstrate the racial and class complexities of the late nineteenth century, especially when those are viewed from such microhistorical subjects as Mr. and Mrs. Ormsbee.