In the early 1830’s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that, “in no country of the world has the principal of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objectives that in America.” De Tocqueville was the first to, in a sense, dub the U.S. “a nation of joiners” or a place where the populace tends to form civic organization in order to solve problems and meet social and economic needs.
Pohnpei397 said that current scholarship seems to indicate that American’s have lost this, but I think there is ample information to indicate the opposite. Recent polls indicate that more than 2/3rd’s of Americans belong to an association or group that is involved in civic or political activities. Also, despite the fact that jobless rates continue to hover at high percentages, volunteerism is up because unemployed people seek to remain active. Also, they hope that by volunteering in an industry where they have lots of experience will one day lead to employment.
The idea that we are a nation of joiners was that Americans like (or liked) to join groups and organizations. This was the idea that we were always ready to create a group in order to accomplish things we wanted done. We would join groups to do political stuff or we would join groups just because they had interests similar to ours. The point is that Americans were said to be very interested in civic engagement. It was an indication of how strongly we were committed to democracy.
Nowadays, some people (like Putnam in Bowling Alone -- see link below) argue that we have lost this and that loss is part of what is wrong with our country.