Inn Civility: Urban Taverns and the Negotiation of Early American Civil Society
(under contract with NYU Press)
Inn Civility traces North Americans’ efforts to cultivate a civil society from the early-eighteenth century to the ratification of the American Constitution in 1791. Middling and elite colonists’ pursuit of a British American civil society revolved around anxiety as much as aspiration. Although certain eighteenth-century men attempted to replicate their British brethrens’ notions of civil society as closely as possible, the reality of life in North America—particularly its distance from the mother country, lack of landed gentry, larger number of unfree peoples, agricultural hinterlands, and smaller cities—necessitated that a British American civil society would operate differently than its British and European counterparts. Where European thinkers generally leaned upon notions of strict hierarchy and law in their philosophies of civil society, urban colonists harnessed the commercial success and sociable opportunities of their cities to curb what they considered a disintegrating social order. Colonists’ urban planning efforts, in short, extended beyond the brick and mortar—insecure colonists like Dr. Hamilton believed that the success of British North America lay in their ability to direct a thriving civil society based upon order, harmony, and control rather than the disorder that they perceived around them. Although the imperial crisis of the American Revolution shook colonists’ previous notions of a civil society to its core, Inn Civility demonstrates that the American Founders relied greatly upon colonial ideologies of civility in their deliberations on independence and the American Constitution. Ultimately, colonists’ futile efforts at realizing a civil society are imperative for understanding America’s controversial founding.