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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

NBER Working Paper No. 21153
Issued in May 2015, Revised in October 2016
NBER Program(s):The Program on the Development of the American Economy

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21153

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