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Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia.


Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia

Jessica Choppin Roney

Johns Hopkins U. Press


252 pages



Studies in Early American Economy and Society From the Library Company of Philadelphia


This volume considers the colonial origins of American political practice through an examination of how the residents of Philadelphia addressed everyday problems between 1682 and 1776. It argues that without a strong central government, white male residents from all walks of life, from merchants to silversmiths, created an decentered system of local governance that dispersed authority for policy and services among governmental commissions, churches, and private civic associations where they participated as churchwardens, visiting Friends, street commissioners, constables, overseers of the poor, fire fighters, and in other civic roles. It describes the origins of Philadelphia's decentered civic culture and the limits of state power, including the founding of the city and its charter of incorporation; the possibilities and limitations of denominational organizations and the rise and adaptation of voluntary associations; how political cleavages transformed civic organizations to become associated with opposing camps; how larger voluntary organizations moved beyond their publicly stated aims to act as lenders of capital in a local economy denied banks by English law; how Philadelphians used the voluntary associations to supplant and usurp powers that belonged to the state, such as military defense, Indian diplomacy, and public-tax-supported poor relief, during and after the Seven Years' War; and how Philadelphians built on the evolution of decentralization and private organizations to form an extralegal militia and use it to supplant the state. ([umlaut] Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR)

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Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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