Voluntary Associations, Corporate Rights, and the State: Legal Constraints on the Development of American Civil Society, 1750–1900
The freedom of citizens to form voluntary associations has long been viewed as an essential ingredient of modern civil society. Our chapter revises the standard Tocquevillian account of associational freedom in the early United States by accentuating the role of state courts and legislatures in the creation and regulation of nineteenth-century American nonprofit corporations. Corporate status gave associations valuable rights that went beyond the basic right of individuals to associate. Government officials selectively used their power to grant and enforce corporate charters to reward politically favored groups while denying equivalent rights to groups they viewed as politically or socially disruptive.
We would especially like to thank John Wallis and Jonathan Levy for written comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also benefited from comments by participants at three conferences sponsored by the NBER and the Yale Program in Economic History in 2012, 2013, and 2014 to prepare papers for this volume. Thanks too to Guillaume Frencia, Brittany Adams, and Ben Nelson who assisted us with research and to the NSF and the UCLA Academic Senate for financial support.