The promise of the USA as a “nation of joiners” has long motivated scholars, especially those studying voluntary associations. We reexamine this idea using evidence from three voluntary associations of the 19th century, the Sons of Temperance, the Knights of Labor, and the Grand Army of the Republic. Our analyses reveal that while each organization’s state-level branches were able to recruit new members, participation was often fleeting. Membership losses had to be counterbalanced by a steady stream of new and returning members; this persistent turnover far exceeds what previous scholarship would lead us to expect. Moreover, associations’ difficulties retaining members likely compromised their members’ political voice and participation, which may have limited groups’ abilities to build social capital. This pattern, thus, suggests that the “nation of joiners” may more appropriately be described as a “nation of temporary joiners.”.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science