The egalitarian ethos embodied in the Declaration of Independence set the stage for the development of a public culture that was broad enough and generous enough to accommodate a steadily growing stream of competing interests and associations. The notion of religious freedom that Jefferson helped to promote enhanced the growth of civil society by spawning thousands of new groups in its wake. This chapter traces the evolution of these ideals from the eighteenth century to the Civil War. America's associational revolution occurred with minimal fanfare. It examines the factors that fostered the expansion of the charitable, educational, welfare, advocacy, and religious nonprofit organizations that came to constitute America's “third sector,” as well as the individual philanthropy (the gifts of time, money and/or valuables) that supported them. The focus is on the social, political, and economic impact of giving and voluntarism between the eighteenth century and 1865. Popular perceptions of the role of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations are often veiled in mythologies. Most studies present the nonprofit sector as a separate sphere, a prop to government, a counterweight, or a forum for public discourse and civic bonding, but rarely as an inherent part of governmental or market operations per se.
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