Johann N. Neem
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Ever since Alexis de Tocqueville published his observations in Democracy in America, Americans have recognized the distinctiveness of their voluntary tradition. In a work of political, legal, social, and intellectual history, Neem traces the origins of this venerable tradition to the vexed beginnings of American democracy in Massachusetts.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04137-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    William Lloyd Garrison was born in 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in a small frame house. His father was a skilled mariner, his mother a devoted Baptist. The Garrisons were part of Newburyport’s middling ranks, certainly not among the rich merchants and their families who made up the town’s elite. After his father abandoned the family, however, Garrison’s mother had to struggle to give her children food and shelter. She took work as a domestic servant, low on the status and economic ladder. Garrison grew up poor, reduced as a boy to collecting scraps of food from more privileged families to...

  4. 1 The Revolutionary Commonwealth
    (pp. 10-32)

    Who are the people? This question was on almost everyone’s mind following the breakdown of British authority in the 1770s. Massachusetts citizens agreed that the people existed. It was in the people’s name, after all, that both elite and ordinary citizens were risking their lives and livelihoods during the Revolution. But how should Massachusetts put itself back together following the Declaration of Independence? This question divided Massachusetts citizens, as it did all Americans.

    From the beginning there were two broad and contradictory answers, answers that ultimately found their place in the Federalist and Republican parties. At both the state and...

  5. 2 Fragmentation and Contestation
    (pp. 33-55)

    The freedom of association was not protected by the 1780 constitution under Article Six. According to Federalists, only the state could determine which associations and corporations to sanction because the state alone represented the community. When individuals formed an association independent of the state, Federalists labeled them partial voices—those of a minority—that ought to be discouraged. Even as Federalists used the state to promote new associations and corporations, Massachusetts citizens discovered that their leaders were willing to use state power to prevent the proliferation of those groups that might threaten the new Commonwealth.

    In his Farewell Address of...

  6. 3 The Political Transformation of Civil Society
    (pp. 56-80)

    In 1780 Massachusetts leaders had imagined a commonwealth in which all the institutions and associations of civil society served the common good. During the final two decades of the eighteenth century, Federalist leaders had implemented their vision by extending the state’s legal, rhetorical, and financial support to public religion, public education, the arts and sciences, and fraternal associations, as well as to corporations committed to internal economic improvement. But even as Federalists increased the state’s involvement with and support of civil society, it found its vision challenged by insurgencies with different ideas of civil society. Had challenges to the Federalist...

  7. 4 Forging a Grassroots Public Sphere
    (pp. 81-113)

    As Massachusetts’s political elite struggled to come to terms with partisan conflict, ministers were transforming civil society from below. Frustrated by larger changes in American society, ministers launched a crusade to reform American society and culture. Rather than turn to the state, they now turned to ordinary citizens. They combined a Jeffersonian emphasis on the people with the Federalists’ communitarian moral principles. In essence, ministers borrowed from the Jeffersonian toolbox in order to combat the rise of Jeffersonian liberalism. They realized that state governments were becoming increasingly hostile to church-state alliances and, moreover, that those alliances had more costs than...

  8. 5 The Elite Public Sphere
    (pp. 114-139)

    When Congress renewed a rule mandating delivery of the mail on Sundays, many evangelical ministers took it as a challenge to their effort to foster a more Christian America. The Sabbath, they argued, was sacred. The state was aligning itself against religion. In response, Lyman Beecher and his allies organized the General Union for the Promotion of the Christian Sabbath as a parent society and quickly mobilized a mass movement of middle-class joiners in auxiliaries throughout the North. By May 1829, 467 petitions had reached Washington urging Congress to repeal the rule; by 1831 the number topped 900. In his...

  9. 6 Democrats Strike Back
    (pp. 140-171)

    The party that organized around Andrew Jackson proclaimed that democracies are governments run by the people and that there should be no mediating institutions or associations that perverted the people’s true will. Inheriting the Jeffersonian faith in a virtuous people and the Jeffersonian fear of concentrated private power, Democrats challenged the legitimacy of both the evangelicals’ grassroots public sphere and the Whigs’ elite counterpart. Thomas Jefferson and his allies in the 1790s had assumed that the people’s voice could be heard directly in civil society, but by the 1830s American civil society had been thoroughly transformed by middle-class joiners and...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 172-180)

    Americans consider an independent civil society essential to a functioning democracy. We assume therefore that it was a natural and celebrated outcome of the American Revolution. This study has argued the opposite. America’s founding elites, whether Federalist or Jeffersonian Republican, did not imagine, much less desire, a civil society composed of self-created associations and private nonprofit institutions. The development of American civil society by the 1830s represents the eclipse of a more robust ideal of republican self-government shared by leaders of the founding generation, and the fruition of a more pluralistic and deliberative conception of democracy. When Alexis de Tocqueville...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-242)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 243-246)
  13. Index
    (pp. 247-259)