Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226670836 Will Publish April 2020
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226559360 Will Publish April 2020
E-book $35.00 Available for pre-order. ISBN: 9780226670973 Will Publish April 2020

Civic Gifts

Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State

Elisabeth S. Clemens

Civic Gifts

Elisabeth S. Clemens

392 pages | 9 halftones, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226670836 Will Publish April 2020
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226559360 Will Publish April 2020
E-book $35.00 ISBN: 9780226670973 Will Publish April 2020
In Civic Gifts, Elisabeth S. Clemens takes a singular approach to probing the puzzle that is the United States. How, she asks, did a powerful state develop within an anti-statist political culture? How did a sense of shared nationhood develop despite the linguistic, religious, and ethnic differences among settlers and, eventually, citizens? Clemens reveals that an important piece of the answer to these questions can be found in the unexpected political uses of benevolence and philanthropy, practices of gift-giving and reciprocity that coexisted uneasily with the self-sufficient independence expected of liberal citizens Civic Gifts focuses on the power of gifts not only to mobilize communities throughout US history, but also to create new forms of solidarity among strangers. Clemens makes clear how, from the early Republic through the Second World War, reciprocity was an important tool for eliciting both the commitments and the capacities needed to face natural disasters, economic crises, and unprecedented national challenges. Encompassing a range of endeavors from the mobilized voluntarism of the Civil War, through Community Chests and the Red Cross to the FDR-driven rise of the March of Dimes, Clemens shows how voluntary efforts were repeatedly articulated with government projects.  The legacy of these efforts is a state co-constituted with, as much as constrained by, civil society.


1. Principles of Association and Combination
2. Civil War, Civic Expansion: The “Divine Method” of Patriotism
3. Municipal Benevolence
4. The Expansible Nation-State
5. “Everything but Government Submarines”: Limits of a Semi-governmental System
6. In the Shadow of the New Deal
7. The People’s Partnership
8. Good Citizens of a World Power
9. Combinatorial Politics and Constitutive Contradictions

List of Abbreviations
List of Archives

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