Since the dawn of the republic, faith in social equality, religious freedom, and the right to engage in civic activism have constituted our national creed. In this bracing history, Kathleen D. McCarthy traces the evolution of these ideals, exploring the impact of philanthropy and volunteerism on America from 1700 to 1865. What results is a vital reevaluation of public life during the pivotal decades leading up to the Civil War.
The market revolution, participatory democracy, and voluntary associations have all been closely linked since the birth of the United States. American Creed explores the relationships among these three institutions, showing how charities and reform associations forged partnerships with government, provided important safety valves for popular discontent, and sparked much-needed economic development. McCarthy also demonstrates how the idea of philanthropy became crucially wedded to social activism during the Jacksonian era. She explores how acts of volunteerism and charity became involved with the abolitionist movement, educational patronage, the struggle against racism, and female social justice campaigns. What resulted, she contends, were heated political battles over the extent to which women and African Americans would occupy the public stage.
Tracing, then, the evolution of civil society and the pivotal role of philanthropy in the search for and exercise of political and economic power, this book will prove essential to anyone interested in American history and government.