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Other titles in the Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American Hist series:
Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson
Synopses & Reviews
Alexis de Tocqueville famously said that Americans were and#147;forever forming associationsand#8221; and saw in this evidence of a new democratic sociabilityand#151;though that seemed to be at odds with the distinctively American drive for individuality. Yet Kevin Butterfield sees these phenomena as tightly related: in joining groups, early Americans recognized not only the rights and responsibilities of citizenship but the efficacy of the law. A group, Butterfield says, isnand#8217;t merely the people who join it; itand#8217;s the mechanisms and conventions that allow it to function and, where necessary, to regulate itself and its members. Tocqueville, then, was wrong to see associations as the training grounds of democracy, where people learned to honor one anotherand#8217;s voices and perspectivesand#151;rather, they were the training grounds for increasingly formal and legalistic relations among people. They were where Americans learned to treat one another impersonally.
Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to draw attention to Americansandrsquo; propensity to form voluntary associationsandmdash;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 Tocquevilleandrsquo;s words, andldquo;forever forming associations.andrdquo; In The Making of Tocquevilleandrsquo;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 membershipandmdash;in churches, fraternities, reform societies, labor unions, and private business corporationsandmdash;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 anotherandrsquo;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.
In 1869 six London families arrived in Nemaha County, Kansas, as the first colonists of the Workingmenand#8217;s Cooperative Colony, later fancifully renamed Llewellyn Castle by a local writer. These early colonists were all members of Britainand#8217;s National Reform League, founded by noted Chartist leader James Bronterre Oand#8217;Brien. As working-class radicals they were determined to find an alternative to the grinding poverty that exploitative liberal capitalism had inflicted on Englandand#8217;s laboring poor. Located on 680 acres in northeastern Kansas, this collectivist colony jointly owned all the land and itsand#160;natural resources, with individuals leasing small sections to work. The money from these leases was intended for public works and the healthcare and education of colony members.
The colony floundered after just a few years and collapsed in 1874, but its mission and founding ideas lived on in Kansas. Many former colonists became prominent political activists in the 1890s, and the colonyand#8217;s ideals of national fiscal policy reform and state ownership of land were carried over into the Kansas Populist movement.
Based on archival research throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, this history of an English collectivist colony in Americaand#8217;s Great Plains highlights the connections between British and American reform movements and their contexts.
About the Author
John L. Brooke is Humanities Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio State University. He has won the Bancroft Prize for The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.
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