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Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195388060
ISBN-10: 0195388062
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Focused, persuasive, and meticulously researched .Helps us to more precisely understand the true implications of the Great Awakening as well as the threat of establishing an Anglican bishop as catalysts to American independence."--Episcopal History


"A timely and useful book. Ragosta's insistence on the agency of dissenters is refreshing and timely. This book makes a worthy contribution to the ongoing study of religious freedom in the United States." --Church History


"Relying on an impressive array of court records, letters, diaries, newspapers, sermons, denominational histories, and, most importantly, hundreds of petitions sent to the Virginia legislature... Ragosta leaves no doubt that dissenters were key players in Virignia's transformation from an Anglican stronghold to a bellwether of religious freedom. An innovative and important book that sheds new light on Revolutionary loyalty, military mobilization in Virginia, and the origins of religious liberty in America." --American Journal of Legal History


"This engaging, revisionist study reveals in new detail the contribution of dissenters-especially Baptists and Presbyterians-to the triumph of religious freedom in late-eighteenth-century Virginia. First bartering their support of the Revolution for greater toleration, the newly politicized dissenters turned after the war to public meetings and vast petitioning campaigns to push for the complete separation of church from state finally delivered in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. No one has examined this story with a sharper eye than John Ragosta."-Patricia U. Bonomi, New York University


"Combining wonderful research with significant insights into Revolutionary-era America, John Ragosta adds new support for the assertions that religious establishment, in any of its forms, resulted in extensive persecution of dissenters and that the process of disestablishment was extremely contentious. Ragosta's work will likely become required reading for scholars in the history of the separation of church and state." -Mark D. McGarvie, author of One Nation Under Law: America's Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State


"Wellspring of Liberty is a detailed and important study of how Virginia's religious dissenters demanded religious concessions in exchange for their support of the American Revolution, and it outlines the piecemeal, incremental nature of wartime and post-war religious reforms. This study significantly attributes much of the republicanization of Virginia to the dissenters who successfully negotiated, in a forced dialogue with establishment leaders, for disestablishment and religious freedom. Ragosta convincingly finds that the Revolutionary War was the wellspring of both republicanization and religious liberty."-Nancy L. Rhoden, The University of Western Ontario


"In addition to offering a compelling, well-documented narrative of dissenters' path to power, the author sheds light on the contemporary public discourse concerning the role of religion in the founding years of the American nation. This volume is a valuable addition to the shelves of historians, theologians, and the general public." -- Baptist Studies Bulletin


"The great appeal of Ragosta's book lies in its ability to increase our understanding
of the ideological genealogy of religious freedom...[it] presents an interesting and detailed portrait of the politicization of Virginia's religious dissenters that will undoubtedly be useful for students of Virginia's religious history." -- Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


"Ragosta makes a valuable contribution to the field by showing how religious disestablishment in Virginia, which became the template for freedom of religion at the national level, was the hard-won product of political and military mobilization during the War of Independence and the early years of the peace. As a social history, it is a superb telling of an inadequately explored part of the revolution in Virginia. Wellspring of Liberty deserves to take a prominent place on the shelf of religious and social history during the American Revolution." -- Reviews in History


"This creative and accessible work is required reading for scholars of the Revolution, and it offers important revisions to the history of church and state in early America." -- North Carolina Historical Review


"Remarkably detailed and informative. Indeed, no one has told the story better...Ragosta's book should become a staple among those books that examine the early history and development of the American ideal of separation of church and state. Works like this one that inform and help clarify a complex issue are of considerable value to scholars and students alike." -- American Historical Review


"Ragosta's focused, persuasive, and meticulously researched argument has the potential to change how we think about nonconforming religion and the struggle for independence...Wellspring of Liberty not only provides insight into the particulars of the conflict for the largest, most populous, and richest colony--sometimes contrasting the situation in Virginia with the situation in other southern colonies as well--it helps us to more precisely understand the true implications of the Great Awakening as well as the threat of establishing an Anglican bishop as catalysts to American independence."--Anglican and Episcopal History


"[Ragosta] presents a fascinating account for his readers about the established church's control slipping from its grasp, the dissenters' eventual success, and our inheritance of religious freedom."--Religioust Studies Review


About the Author


John A. Ragosta is currently the Robert C. Vaughan Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He received his PhD in history and his law degree from the University of Virginia. He has taught at Hamilton College, UVA, Randolph College, and George Washington University. Prior to earning his PhD, Dr. Ragosta practiced international trade law and litigation in Washington, DC. He also keeps bees in Culpeper, Virginia.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195388062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195388060
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,713,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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John A. Ragosta offers a valuable contribution to the story of America's transition from a collection of largely theocratic colonies to a nation founded upon religious liberty and separation of church and state.

Focusing on Virginia in the 1770s and 1780s, Ragosta mines the data and documentary evidence from political leaders, establishment church preachers, and dissenters (Baptists and Presbyterians) pertaining to the fight for religious liberty and separation of church and state in Virginia. Virginia's political leaders in turn (including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and Patrick Henry) utilized the Virginia model, encapsulated in Thomas Jefferson's 1786 Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom, in successfully campaigning for religious liberty and separation of church and state at the federal level, enshrined in 1791 in the First Amendment.

Thus, Virginia is pivotal to understanding why America was founded as a secular nation upon the principles of religious liberty and separation of church and state, and Ragosta systematically dispels contemporary evangelical mythologies that posit America's founding as a Christian nation.

More to the point, however, Ragosta's work examines the manner in which minority, persecuted, Christian dissenters in Virginia transitioned from a position of powerless within a theocratic colony (the established church was Anglican) in the early 1770s, to successfully dethroning Virginia's theocracy by the late 1780s.

In Ragosta's narrative, Virginia's need for rifles in the revolution against Great Britain provided an opening for dissenters to emerge from prisons and disenfranchisement and engage political processes.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I almost despaired of finishing this book at first. In fact I was going to quit after chapter 4 but then it switched to "After the War" and became the book I'd expected and hoped for from the title.

The author must have felt the need to really back up and justify his conclusions so made sure there was no doubt he'd done his research. But research can be dry and I didn't want to retrace every step of his learning process, however I did want to know what he learned. I expect to be able to look at the notes (of which there are plenty) at the back of the book and check it out if I doubt him. After reading those first 4 chapters, I didn't doubt his research.

If you counted the words "dissent" and "dissenters" and eliminated them from the book, it would be half as long. Where was an editor to make this less cumbersome and more interesting?

Chapters 5, 6 and the Epilogue were very good, partly because by that time I had complete faith that he'd done his homework and partly because it was such a relief to read something interesting.

I'd recommend the book, but advise people to skim the first part and enjoy the last part, unless you're really, really interested in dry facts about the dissenters (Presbyterians and Baptists) in Virginia. I'm glad they were smarter than the current Puritans in our country, at least, or we WOULD be a Christian nation, whether we liked it or not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a dissertation turned into a book, with all the positives and negatives associated with such a beast.
On the plus side, the info is interesting, and is a good analysis of the situation in VA during (and just before) the Revolution among dissenting churches (Baptists and Presby., some Methodists). Author shows that these sects took advantage of the war years to extract relig. liberties from state Patriots/Anglicans.
The problem is that reading the book is a real chore. Ragosta simply cannot write in an engaging style--his prose is wooden, sentences are too long and poorly crafted, and sadly, just plain dull. His OUP editors should be partially blamed here for such a dry narrative. Moreover, possibly due to his legal history background, he leaves out all the good human interest details and sticks the stories in an appendix! What a missed opportunity to have created an engaging, dramatic story for all readers.
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