Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts

Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts

by Johann N. Neem

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Overview

The United States is a nation of joiners. 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, focusing on the grassroots actions of ordinary people, Neem traces the origins of this venerable tradition to the vexed beginnings of American democracy in Massachusetts.

Neem explores the multiple conflicts that produced a vibrant pluralistic civil society following the American Revolution. The result was an astounding release of civic energy as ordinary people, long denied a voice in public debates, organized to advocate temperance, to protect the Sabbath, and to abolish slavery; elite Americans formed private institutions to promote education and their stewardship of culture and knowledge. But skeptics remained. Followers of Jefferson and Jackson worried that the new civil society would allow the organized few to trump the will of the unorganized majority. When Tocqueville returned to France, the relationship between American democracy and its new civil society was far from settled.

The story Neem tells is more pertinent than ever—for Americans concerned about their own civil society, and for those seeking to build civil societies in emerging democracies around the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674030794
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 12/15/2008
Series: Harvard Historical Studies , #163
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Johann N. Neem is Associate Professor of History, Western Washington University.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  1. The Revolutionary Commonwealth
  2. Fragmentation and Contestation
  3. The Political Transformation of Civil Society
  4. Forging a Grassroots Public Sphere
  5. The Elite Public Sphere
  6. Democrats Strike Back

  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

Gordon S. Wood

Beautifully conceived and clearly written, Creating a Nation of Joiners is a major contribution to our understanding of the early Republic. Not only does it nicely show how bitterly contested was the struggle over the creation of a civil society, but it contains the best account of the changing nature of the corporation since Oscar and Mary Handlin's Commonwealth. A superb study.
Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

John L. Brooke

A powerful analysis that will reshape our understanding of the transformation of civil society in the early American republic. Neem's study is part of an emerging literature forcing a reconsideration of the classic Tocquevillean account of voluntary association and the state. I am impressed with the depth of the research, the sharpness and acuity of the interpretation, and the clarity of the writing. This is an important book.

John L. Brooke, Ohio State University

Daniel Walker Howe

In his illuminating examination of the origins of American civil society, Johann Neem traces them to popular religion and Whig philanthropy, revealing the longstanding conflicts between civil society and the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. This book will interest both historians and political scientists.
Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848

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