Creating “Effectual Barriers”
Alternative Metaphors in Defense of
[I]f I could now conceive that the general Government might ever
be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I
beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than
myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual
tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.
—George Washington to the United Baptist Churches
of Virginia (1789)1
I must admit, moreover, that it may not be easy, in every possible
case, to trace the line of separation, between the rights of Religion
& the Civil authority, with such distinctness, as to avoid collisions
& doubts on unessential points.
—James Madison to Jasper Adams (1833)2
Jefferson was not alone among his American contemporaries in championing metaphoric barriers for protecting civil and religious liberties. Indeed, late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature is replete with various figurative barriers erected to safeguard civil liberty in general and religious liberty in particular. Some of these barriers were constructed before the Danbury letter, and some after. Most, if not all, pretwentieth-century alternatives to the “wall” were made without reference to, or even knowledge of, Jefferson's now famous construction. In more recent times, various commentators have proposed alternatives to, or refinements of, Jefferson's figurative language. This chapter surveys some of the notable barriers built in defense of civil and religious liberties.