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Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to draw attention to Americans’ propensity to form voluntary associations—and to join them with a fervor and frequency unmatched anywhere in the world. For nearly two centuries, we have sought to understand how and why early nineteenth-century Americans were, in Tocqueville’s words, “forever forming associations.” In The Making of Tocqueville’s America, Kevin Butterfield argues that to understand this, we need to first ask: what did membership really mean to the growing number of affiliated Americans? Butterfield explains that the first generations of American citizens found in the concept of membership—in churches, fraternities, reform societies, labor unions, and private business corporations—a mechanism to balance the tension between collective action and personal autonomy, something they accomplished by emphasizing law and procedural fairness. As this post-Revolutionary procedural culture developed, so too did the legal substructure of American civil society. Tocqueville, then, was wrong to see associations as the training ground for democracy, where people learned to honor one another’s voices and perspectives. Rather, they were the training ground for something no less valuable to the success of the American democratic experiment: increasingly formal and legalistic relations among people.
What should serve as money, who should control its creation and circulation, and according to what rules? For more than two hundred years, the “money question” shaped American social thought, becoming a central subject of political debate and class conflict. Sovereign of the Market reveals how and why this happened. Jeffrey Sklansky’s wide-ranging study comprises three chronological parts devoted to major episodes in the career of the money question. First, the fight over the innovation of paper money in colonial New England. Second, the battle over the development of commercial banking in the new United States. And third, the struggle over the national banking system and the international gold standard in the late nineteenth century. Each section explores a broader problem of power that framed each conflict in successive phases of capitalist development: circulation, representation, and association. The three parts also encompass intellectual biographies of opposing reformers for each period, shedding new light on the connections between economic thought and other aspects of early American culture. The result is a fascinating, insightful, and deeply considered contribution to the history of capitalism.
Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party was the first party built on opposition to slavery to win on the national stage—but its victory was rooted in the earlier efforts of under-appreciated antislavery third parties. Liberty Power tells the story of how abolitionist activists built the most transformative third-party movement in American history and effectively reshaped political structures in the decades leading up to the Civil War. As Corey M. Brooks explains, abolitionist trailblazers who organized first the Liberty Party and later the more moderate Free Soil Party confronted formidable opposition from a two-party system expressly constructed to suppress disputes over slavery. Identifying the Whigs and Democrats as the mainstays of the southern Slave Power’s national supremacy, savvy abolitionists insisted that only a party independent of slaveholder influence could wrest the federal government from its grip. A series of shrewd electoral, lobbying, and legislative tactics enabled these antislavery third parties to wield influence far beyond their numbers. In the process, these parties transformed the national political debate and laid the groundwork for the success of the Republican Party and the end of American slavery.
In the wake of the American Revolution, if you had asked a citizen whether his fledgling state would survive more than two centuries, the answer would have been far from confident. The problem, as is so often the case, was money. Left millions of dollars of debt by the war, the nascent federal government created a system of taxes on imported goods and installed custom houses at the nation’s ports, which were charged with collecting these fees. Gradually, the houses amassed enough revenue from import merchants to stabilize the new government. But, as the fragile United States was dependent on this same revenue, the merchants at the same time gained outsized influence over the daily affairs of the custom houses. As the United States tried to police this commerce in the early nineteenth century, the merchants’ stranglehold on custom house governance proved to be formidable. In National Duties, Gautham Rao makes the case that the origins of the federal government and the modern American state lie in these conflicts at government custom houses between the American Revolution and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. He argues that the contours of the government emerged from the push-and-pull between these groups, with commercial interests gradually losing power to the administrative state, which only continued to grow and lives on today.
The inequalities that persist in America have deep historical roots. Evelyn Nakano Glenn untangles this complex history in a unique comparative regional study from the end of Reconstruction to the eve of World War II. During this era the country experienced enormous social and economic changes with the abolition of slavery, rapid territorial expansion, and massive immigration, and struggled over the meaning of free labor and the essence of citizenship as people who previously had been excluded sought the promise of economic freedom and full political rights. After a lucid overview of the concepts of the free worker and the independent citizen at the national level, Glenn vividly details how race and gender issues framed the struggle over labor and citizenship rights at the local level between blacks and whites in the South, Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest, and Asians and haoles (the white planter class) in Hawaii. She illuminates the complex interplay of local and national forces in American society and provides a dynamic view of how labor and citizenship were defined, enforced, and contested in a formative era for white-nonwhite relations in America.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction. This book is a landmark in American political thought. Preeminent Richard Hofstadter examines the passion for progress and reform that colored the entire period from 1890 to 1940 with startling and stimulating results. The Age of Reform searches out the moral and emotional motives of the reformers the myths and dreams in which they believed, and the realities with which they had to compromise.
From the colonial era to the onset of the Civil War, Magazines and the Making of America looks at how magazines and the individuals, organizations, and circumstances they connected ushered America into the modern age. How did a magazine industry emerge in the United States, where there were once only amateur authors, clumsy technologies for production and distribution, and sparse reader demand? What legitimated magazines as they competed with other media, such as newspapers, books, and letters? And what role did magazines play in the integration or division of American society? From their first appearance in 1741, magazines brought together like-minded people, wherever they were located and whatever interests they shared. As America became socially differentiated, magazines engaged and empowered diverse communities of faith, purpose, and practice. Religious groups could distinguish themselves from others and demarcate their identities. Social-reform movements could energize activists across the country to push for change. People in specialized occupations could meet and learn from one another to improve their practices. Magazines built translocal communities—collections of people with common interests who were geographically dispersed and could not easily meet face-to-face. By supporting communities that crossed various axes of social structure, magazines also fostered pluralistic integration. Looking at the important role that magazines had in mediating and sustaining critical debates and diverse groups of people, Magazines and the Making of America considers how these print publications helped construct a distinctly American society.

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