For most of my professional life, I have been thinking, reading, and writing about church and state in American history. During these years, I have encountered the “wall of separation” metaphor in scholarly literature and popular discourse more times than I can remember. Indeed, on more than a few occasions I made uncritical references to the metaphor in my own work. Not until a few years ago did it occur to me that, although Jefferson's trope is ubiquitous in church-state literature, almost nothing had been written that examined in detail the origins of this figurative phrase and the historical and political context in which Jefferson used it. That was the genesis of this book. Although I first considered writing this book only in mid-1999, it is the product of two decades of research. Consequently, there is a very long list of individuals and institutions that have generously assisted me in researching and writing this volume. Even if I could remember everyone who has contributed to the project, I could not possibly name them all. In the course of writing the book, I benefited in countless ways from numerous individuals whose fellowship, encouragement, and provocative ideas deserve much more than these few lines of acknowledgment. I trust those individuals whose contributions I fail to identify by name will accept my thanks anonymously. There are a few individuals and institutions, however, that must escape anonymity.
The outline for this book first appeared as “'Sowing Useful Truths and Principles': The Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson, and the 'Wall of Separation,'” Journal of Church and State 39 (1997): 455–501. Many acquaintances and complete strangers wrote or called to comment on the article or to suggest new avenues of inquiry. The favorable response was so overwhelming that I decided to expand the article into a book. I thank the Journal of Church and State for publishing the article and for permission to publish revised excerpts.
A sabbatical leave from American University and a fellowship research grant from the Earhart Foundation afforded me the time and re