A “Peaceable and Orderly Manner”: Town Meetings and Other Popular Assemblies in the American Founding Era

Special Report: Participating in the United States: Town Meetings
By Robert W. T. Martin

The New England town meeting has often been seen as the archetypical deliberative citizen forum (see, for example, Mansbridge 1980). More recently, political theorists have begun to appreciate the way in which any particular public forum might be better understood as part of the larger deliberative system (Parkinson, Mansbridge 2012). Much of this work draws on modern-day examples (Parkinson 2006). But a return to the American founding era reveals that while town meetings are often praised and have many democratic virtues, they also represent a limitation on popular action in general, and in particular on democratic dissent.


  • deliberative democracy
  • town meetings
  • citizen assemblies
  • dissent
  • James Madison
  • American founding
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