Mirage of Democracy: The Town Meeting in America

Abstract

In American mythology, the town meetings of colonial New England are the storied source of the nation’s democracy. But early New Englanders allowed the great majority of their adult males to vote only because they had no other way to secure social order. Without king, court, country lords, archbishop, or any other traditional authority, their rude frontier communities could only be ruled by public opinion. Town meetings were occasions to consolidate a popular will that could coerce the recalcitrant. They governed by common consent, but they were not democratic in any modem sense. They disallowed legitimate difference and dissent, disdained majority rule, and dreaded conflict. They were predicated on a homogeneity and a conformity that we today would find suffocating.

Keywords

Voting, Town Meeting, Social context, Public opinion, Majority rule, Homogeneity, Democracy, Consent, Community, Authority

How to Cite

Zuckerman M., (2019) “Mirage of Democracy: The Town Meeting in America”, Journal of Public Deliberation 15(2). doi: https://doi.org/10.16997/jdd.331

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Authors

Michael Zuckerman (University of Pennsylvania)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Peer Review

This article has been peer reviewed.

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