NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Voluntary Associations, Corporate Rights, and the State: Legal Constraints on the Development of American Civil Society, 1750-1900

Ruth H. Bloch, Naomi R. Lamoreaux

Chapter in NBER book Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development (2017), Naomi R. Lamoreaux and John Joseph Wallis, editors (p. 231 - 290)
Conference held October 24-25, 2014
Published in November 2017 by University of Chicago Press
© 2017 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

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.

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