In her incisive history, Kathleen D. McCarthy explores the impact of philanthropy - both giving and volunteerism - on America from 1700 to 1865. What results is a vital reevaluation of public life during the pivotal decades leading up to the Civil War. By investigating the relationships among the market revolution, participatory democracy, and voluntary associations, McCarthy reveals how these elements interacted to change our government - and the course of history. She considers how acts of volunteerism and charity became involved with key social interests such as the abolitionist movement, educational patronage, the struggle against racism, and female campaigns for equality. Ultimately, she uncovers the pivotal role of philanthropy in the story of America's continuous attempt to fulfill our founding ideals.