The Town Meeting Ideal and Race in America

Special Report: Participating in the United States: Town Meetings
By Sandra M. Gustafson

This essay explores the development of the New England town meeting ideal in connection with matters of race and considers the place of that ideal in post-slavery America. The essay focuses on how black abolitionists expanded the deliberative rhetoric associated with the town meeting, and it considers Albion Tourgée’s efforts to implement the town meeting system in the post-bellum South. It concludes with a discussion of how the American university could help close the gap between the town meeting-style forum as a place for discussion and the historical town meeting’s value as a site of consequential decision-making.


  • race
  • town meeting
  • abolitionism
  • reconstruction
  • Albion Tourgée
  • Chautauqua
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