Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Creating a Nation of Joiners

Creating a Nation of Joiners

Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts

Johann N. Neem

ISBN 9780674030794

Publication date: 12/15/2008

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.

Praise

  • 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

Author

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

Book Details

  • 270 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations