Public Vows

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - History - 303 pages
2 Reviews
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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User Review  - Scapegoats - LibraryThing

This is an outstanding review of the history of the institution of marriage! It is a very easy read, also. It traces how the federal government has defined marriage since the founding of the Republic ... Read full review

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User Review  - jnsmith1 - LibraryThing

An intersting book about a womans role in the institution of marriage and how the said institution is delicately tied to political ideology. The book was stale at some points and the word 'repitition ... Read full review

Contents

1 An Archaeology of American Monogamy
9
2 Perfecting Community Rules with State Laws
24
3 Domestic Relations on the National Agenda
56
4 Toward a Single Standard
77
5 Monogamy as the Law of Social Life
105
6 Consent the American Way
132
7 The Modern Architecture of Marriage
156
8 Public Sanctity for a Private Realm
180
9 Marriage Revised and Revived
200
Notes
231
Acknowledgments
285
Index
287
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Page 12 - Such duty as the subject owes the prince, Even such a woman oweth to her husband; And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, And not obedient to his honest will, What is she but a foul contending rebel And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
Page 13 - The woman's own choice makes such a man her husband ; yet, being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage...
Page 15 - the word rights is an offensive expression"; "that the king, his ministry, and parliament, will not endure to hear Americans talk of their rights"; "that Britain is the mother and we the children, that a filial duty and submission is due from us to her," and that "we ought to doubt our own judgment and presume that she is right, even when she seems to us to shake the foundations of government...
Page 20 - The manners of women are the surest criterion by which to determine whether a republican government is practicable in a nation or not.

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About the author (2009)

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

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