Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226297088 Published November 2015
E-book $10.00 to $40.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226297118 Published November 2015 Also Available From

The Making of Tocqueville's America

Law and Association in the Early United States

Kevin Butterfield

The Making of Tocqueville's America

Kevin Butterfield

336 pages | 6 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226297088 Published November 2015
E-book $10.00 to $40.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226297118 Published November 2015
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.
Review Quotes
John L. Brooke, Ohio State University
“Butterfield’s The Making of Tocqueville’s America is a landmark analysis of the rise of associational civil life in the early American republic. Where the eighteenth-century origins of popular civil society were clearly grounded in sensibility and sociability, Butterfield demonstrates with great force and clarity that a new associational framework of legal rights and procedural formality rapidly emerged in the wake of the Revolution. His analysis solves the problem that Tocqueville struggled to explain in the 1830s: why Americans were simultaneously an individualistic and collectivist people.”
Johann Neem | author of Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts
The Making of Tocqueville’s America offers a new argument about the development of civil society, grounded in deep, impressive archival research. By examining how courts sought to make sense of voluntary associations’ authority over members, Butterfield argues that the emphasis in existing scholarly literature on community and sociability has missed the mark. This book will be widely reviewed, often cited, and help further an important conversation”
Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello) and University of Virginia
“Butterfield's important new study illuminates the extraordinary new world Alexis de Tocqueville encountered on his American travels—and could not adequately explain. The associational impulse that the great French visitor found so astonishing was not the spontaneous expression of the American ‘character,’ but instead grew out of law-minded members’ struggles to reconcile individual autonomy and collective action. Deeply researched, persuasively argued, and beautifully written, The Making of Tocqueville’s America is a remarkable achievement: it will transform the way we think about the legal and civic culture of the early American republic.”
Law & Social Inquiry
“Butterfield argues that the first generations of US citizens found in the concept of membership a mechanism to balance the tension between collective action and personal autonomy, something they accomplished by emphasizing law and procedural fairness. He concludes that Tocqueville 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 another key element of the US democratic experiment: increasingly formal and legalistic relations among people.”
Claremont Review of Books
“The Making of Tocqueville’s America is historian Butterfield’s provocative account of how this culture of association developed. It shows that the rise of associations in post-Revolutionary America was dramatic—and not easy. Americans disagreed vigorously about associations’ virtues and vices, their powers and limitations. These questions are abiding, not simply historical, as the recent debate about whether religious organizations should be able to get exemptions from the so-called “contraception mandate” makes clear. Butterfield’s book is valuable for any American who wants to think seriously about private organizations’ rights and responsibilities.”
International Journal of Constitutional Law
The Making of Tocqueville’s America shows that law’s transformation ‘from Status to Contract’ in the nineteenth century was far from linear. Judges strategically inserted themselves into and subsequently withdrew from American associational life once the rules and principles of a ‘common law of membership’ had permeated citizens’ consciousness. Scholars working on nineteenth century law would thus do well to take this flexible form of judicial regulation as a starting point for further inquiry. . . . Perhaps the most fundamental question Butterfield’s work opens up is about law’s role in creating or dismantling community. Is law more Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft? And if it can be part of either, what—if anything—does this mean for Tönnies’s aphorism? Scholars intent on confronting these questions certainly have much to learn from Butterfield’s focus on the way law is experienced by its subjects. His combination of socio-legal theory with archival materials furthermore commends itself for imitation. . . . A fascinating read.”
Early American Literature
“In this intriguing book, Butterfield traces the rise of voluntary associations in the early years of the Republic and the changing nature of the associational landscape as the nineteenth century progressed. In a series of short and lively chapters that zoom out to consider organizing efforts across the board and zoom in to analyze the details of particular associations, Butterfield shows that the vibrant world of membership de Tocqueville reported on in the 1830s was not some natural outgrowth of the Revolutionary experience, but the result of four decades of intense debate over the appropriate scope and form of private affiliations. In excavating the deeper foundations of the 1830s associational edifice, Butterfield’s book makes important contributions to the history of voluntary associations and of antebellum politics.”

William Nelson Cromwell Foundation: William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize
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