Public Vows

Public Vows : A History of Marriage and the Nation

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We commonly think of marriage as a private matter between two people, a personal expression of love and commitment. In this pioneering history, Nancy F. Cott demonstrates that marriage is and always has been a public institution.

From the founding of the United States to the present day, imperatives about the necessity of marriage and its proper form have been deeply embedded in national policy, law, and political rhetoric. Legislators and judges have envisioned and enforced their preferred model of consensual, lifelong monogamy--a model derived from Christian tenets and the English common law that posits the husband as provider and the wife as dependent.In early confrontations with Native Americans, emancipated slaves, Mormon polygamists, and immigrant spouses, through the invention of the New Deal, federal income tax, and welfare programs, the federal government consistently influenced the shape of marriages. And even the immense social and legal changes of the last third of the twentieth century have not unraveled official reliance on marriage as a "pillar of the state."

By excluding some kinds of marriages and encouraging others, marital policies have helped to sculpt the nation's citizenry, as well as its moral and social standards, and have directly affected national understandings of gender roles and racial difference. Public Vows is a panoramic view of marriage's political history, revealing the national government's profound role in our most private of choices. No one who reads this book will think of marriage in the same way again.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 21.08mm | 426g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • None
  • 0674008758
  • 9780674008755
  • 1,510,564

Table of contents

Introduction 1. An Archaeology of American Monogamy 2. Perfecting Community Rules with State Laws 3. Domestic Relations on the National Agenda 4. Toward a Single Standard 5. Monogamy as the Law of Social Life 6. Consent, the American Way 7. The Modern Architecture of Marriage 8. Public Sanctity for a Private Realm 9. Marriage Revised and Revived Notes Acknowledgments Index
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Review quote

In this exhaustively researched study...[Cott] posits a monolithic Christian monogamous marriage, formed by the mutual consent of a man and a woman, as American colonists' model. This model, she argues, was congruent with the political ideal of representative government: the Constitution's 'more perfect union' was likened to the domestic ideal of marital union. Entry to marriage, Cott observes, has been regulated by the states, which have also used their power to limit this civil right. Publishers Weekly 20001113 In this fascinating study, Cott examines the evolution and impact of marriage law on the American social structure...Presented in a clear, chronological fashion, this work provides a wealth of thought-provoking information. Highly recommended. -- Rose Cichy Library Journal 20010101 Christian monogamy and property rights have been crucial to state and federal policies on marriage ever since the American republic was born, and how Americans have felt about marriage has affected much larger developments than the joining of one man and one woman in matrimony...[According to Public Vows,] marriage is now much less a matter of public policy--an institution--than one of private accommodation--a contract. Cott's cool, intelligent overview is sometimes demanding but always absorbing. -- Ray Olson Booklist 20010101 As a historian, Nancy Cott is not obligated to look into the future. But her incisive illumination and readable analysis of the weight of history will help both scholars and activists who wish to understand and help shape the future of marriage and family life. -- E. Kay Trimberger Women's Review of Books
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About Nancy F. Cott

Nancy F. Cott is Professor of History at Harvard University.
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Rating details

201 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 29% (58)
4 42% (84)
3 25% (50)
2 4% (9)
1 0% (0)
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