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Church and State in America: The First Two Centuries (Cambridge Essential Histories) Paperback – April 3, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"This slender volume offers a brilliant survey of the events, ideas, and personalities that shaped America's distinctive approach to church-state relations. With uncommon clarity, keen insights, and illuminating anecdotes, James H. Hutson recounts the complicated, but inspiring story of the development of religious liberty in North America. Few stories in history are more important and more deserving of our attention." -Daniel L. Dreisbach, professor, American University and author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State.

"In many ways, the story of America is a tale of the long and tortuous struggle to define and defend the rights of conscience: religious liberty as America's 'first freedom.' In Church and State in America, Jim Hutson constructs this narrative-'one of the miracles of the age'-with profound insight and meticulous scholarship. He has the historian's gift for uncovering the forgotten anecdotes, animosities, proclamations, and lamentations that enlighten our understanding of the past and offer wisdom to confront the contemporary challenges to freedom. A very timely and engaging piece of work." -Joseph Loconte, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and commentator on religion and politics for National Public Radio.

"The signal contribution of this book is to show that, while the American Revolution and American Constitution did alter some inherited wisdom on church-state connections, they also left a great deal from earlier centuries unchanged. James Hutson's reading of the founding era and what lead up to it calls into question a great deal of conventional wisdom, but does so in the most productive way--through painstakingly careful attention to specific historical evidence." -Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

"This richly textured and text-filled study tells the unique American story of church and state. Moving beyond modern clichés about a wall of separation, Hutson shows that America's founders regarded religion and the church as vital to politics and the state, so long as both remained freely chosen and freely exercised. Meticulously researched and masterfully narrated, James Hutson's latest offering has all the earmarks of a classic in the making." -John Witte, Jr., Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University

"Hutson's prose, research, and analysis are solid throughout, but his succinct treatment of all seventeenth-century English colonies is especially noteworthy...his nuanced description of both Great Awakenings' impact on church-state relations is unique and helpful. Most of all Hutson's work in praiseworthy because it sheds light convincingly on a contemporary topic without being overtly present minded." --Canadian Journal of History

Book Description

This is an account of the ideas about and public policies relating to the relationship between government and religion from the settlement of Virginia in 1607 to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837. Hutson examines the four principles of government's approach to religion and the relevance of the concept of the separation of church and state during that period.
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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Essential Histories
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521683432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521683432
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,087,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I have read a number of books on America's religious history particularly in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods and this is one of the best by far. Even though it is brief, it is comprehensive in scope, giving just enough details to give a full picture of the issues without being superficial. The book is scholarly (Hutson is the Chief of the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress), yet very readable and in fact enjoyable. I could not put the book down. He covers a number of fascinating details I had not encountered elsewhere in the debate on church and state. For example, Hutson was involved in the recovery of a blackened out portion of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in which the famous phrase "Wall of separation between church and state" appears. With the help of the FBI, in 1998, they uncovered deleted portions of Jefferson's letter that casts a whole new light on what he meant by this phrase. The portion was struck out before being published upon advice of his attorney general for fear that it might have political repercusions. It appears Jefferson limited his understanding of the phrase to the function the president serves in matters of religion, not the government as a whole.

Hutson makes a good case that the Supreme Court cases in the late 19th century and mid-20th century have misread the issue employing Jefferson's phrase in a way that ignores contrary evidence. The fact that states like Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts maintained state sponsored church establishments through the early 19th century clearly indicates that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment did not rule out religious establishments in the individual states. Had that been the understanding, few states would have ratified the Constitution.
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I enjoyed the way the item was handled. I chose this rating because it is in the same condition in which I could have gotten it at a local store.
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