Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church-State Relations in the Early American Republic, 1787-1846

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church-State Relations in the Early American Republic, 1787-1846

Article excerpt

Church-State Relations in the Early American Republic, 1787-1846. By James S. Kabala. (Brookfield, VT: Pickering and Chatto. 2013. Pp. ix, 264. $99.00. ISBN 978-1-848-93314-9.)

Studies of church and state in the early United States have undergone an important change in recent years. Rather than focusing exclusively on narrow constitutional issues surrounding the First Amendment, historians have started asking broad questions about the relationship between religion and public life. Moreover, historians focus these questions on the state-level where Americans held some of their most significant legal and political debates before the Civil War. James S. Kabala's Church-State Relations in the Early American Republic, 1787-1846, is a useful contribution to this scholarship.

The book centers on the rise and development of a "Protestant non-sectarian consensus" between the years 1787 to 1846. Kabala explores the political and legal consequences of ecumenical cooperation, primarily among the nation's Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. Each of these denominations had members willing to downplay doctrinal differences in order to advance the moral principles and doctrines that they shared. Americans who accepted agreements of this sort could celebrate religious freedom while still adhering to a Christian moral framework for public life that was decidedly Protestant. This consensus thus proved challenging to the civic rights of non-Protestants in the early republic such as Jews and Catholics, as well as Unitarians and freethinkers. Moreover, Kabala argues, this consensus marginalized Americans who wanted either established religion or an end to religion's social influence. As a result, Americans well into the nineteenth century maintained a vibrant place for Protestantism in public life without relying on formal state power or ceding ground to secularism.

According to Kabala, believers forged the "Protestant non-sectarian consensus" in debates over a range of issues, which he explores in five largely thematic chapters. The issues include controversies surrounding government funding for religious education to Native Americans, Sunday mail delivery, chaplains in legislatures and the military, government-sanctioned fast and thanksgiving days, and state laws regarding blasphemy and court participation. …

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