Moral Reconstruction: Christian Lobbyists and the Federal Legislation of Morality, 1865-1920

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Moral Reconstruction: Christian Lobbyists and the Federal Legislation of Morality, 1865-1920. By Gaines M. Foster. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2002. Pp.xv, 318. $49.95 clothbound; $21.95 paperback.)

Foster's deeply researched and clearly argued book details the relationship between a small number of Protestant Christian lobbyists and the Federal Congress. While readers will learn much about the organizations associated with the Christian lobbyists, this, ultimately, is a book about the "reconstruction of the American state" (p. 7).The Christian lobby, which traced it roots back to the Civil War and was most active from the mid-1890's to 1920, pressed Congress for laws which would "expand the moral powers of the federal government and to establish the religious authority of the state" (p. l).As a whole the lobbyists (like the multitudes that they represented) saw morality mostly in terms of personal virtue and thus they sought laws which would "control drinking, obscenity, polygamy, divorce, Sabbath observance, gambling, smoking, prizefighting, prostitution, and sex with underage girls" (p. 3). Many of the lobbyists, but not all of them, also sought the adoption of the so-called "Christian Amendment" which would have changed the language of the preamble of the constitution to include explicit recognition that the government derived its power from God.

In seeking these goals, the lobbyists sought to overturn what Foster calls the antebellum moral policy, which left "the regulation of morals to the states and the promotion of morality among its citizens primarily to the churches" (p. 10). In the period leading up to the Civil War, Democrats, especially Southern Democrats worried about the crusade against slavery, emerged as the organized political force against any expansion of the federal government's role in regulating morality. …