Though issues relating to marriage have seen much public debate of late, mostly marriage can be seen as a private contract between two people. In her ambitious and comprehensive study of marriage and its connection over the years to the American political and economic system, in Public Vows Yale historian Nancy F. Cott convincingly demonstrates that the line between public and private is not always so clear.
From the start, the Founding Fathers’ vision of a “more perfect union” projected the private onto the public. Just as often, the relationship has run the other way, with marriage laws (largely under state control) used as a vehicle to influence matters ranging from race and immigration and citizenship, to property rights and the income tax. This is a thought-provoking book that challenges our notions of privacy and public power.