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Religion and Politics in the Early Republic

Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate

Daniel L. Dreisbach Editor
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Religion and Politics in the Early Republic
    Book Description:

    The church-state debate currently alive in our courts and legislatures is strikingly similar to that of the 1830s. A secular drift in American culture and the role of religion in a pluralistic society were concerns that dominated the controversy then, as now. InReligion and Politics in the Early Republic, Daniel L. Dreisbach compellingly argues that the issues in our current debate were framed in earlier centuries by documents crucial to an understanding of church-state relations, the First Amendment, and our present concern with the constitutional role of religion in American public life. Reflection on this national discussion of more than 150 years ago casts light on both past and future relations between church and state in America.

    In an 1833 sermon, "The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States," the Reverend Jasper Adams of Charleston, South Carolina, an eminent educator and moral philosopher, offered valuable insight into the social and political forces that shaped church-state relations in his time. Adams argued that the Christian religion is indis-pensable to social order and national prosperity. Although he opposed the establishment of a state church, he believed that a Christian ethic should inform all civil, legal, and political institutions.

    Adams's remarkably prescient discourse anticipated the emergence of a dominant secular culture and its inevitable conflict with the formerly ascendant religious establishment. His treatise was the first major work from the embattled religious traditionalists controverting Thomas Jefferson's vision of a secular polity and strict church-state separation.

    Eager to confirm his analysis, Adams sent copies of the sermon to scores of leading intellectuals and public figures of his day. In this volume, Dreisbach brings together for the first time Adams's sermon, a critical review of the treatise, and transcripts of previously unpublished letters written in response to it by James Madison, John Marshall, Joseph Story, and J.S. Richardson. These letters provide a rare glimpse into the minds of several influential statesmen and jurists who were central in shaping the republic and its institutions. The Story and Madison letters are among their authors1 final and most perceptive pronouncements on church-state relations.

    The documents that Dreisbach has assembled in this edition provide a vivid portrait of early nineteenth-century thought on the constitutional role of religion in public life. Our ongoing national discussion of this topic is illuminated by the debate encapsulated in these pages.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5836-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Notes on the Texts
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction: A Debate on Religion and Politics in the Early Republic
    (pp. 1-36)

    In February 1833 the Reverend Jasper Adams, president of the College of Charleston, delivered a sermon before the South Carolina Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church. A published version of his address, entitledThe Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States,was distributed widely across the country.¹ The sermon and reactions to it by leading intellectuals of the era provide valuable insights into the historical understanding of the First Amendment religion provisions and the social and intellectual forces that shaped church-state relations in the founding era.

    American history, Adams argued in his sermon, confirmed that religion—specifically...

  7. The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States
    (pp. 39-58)
    Jasper Adams

    As Christianity was designed by its Divine Author to subsist until the end of time, it was indispensable, that it should be capable of adapting itself to all states of society, and to every condition of mankind. We have the Divine assurance that it shall eventually become universal, but without such flexibility in accommodating itself to all the situations in which men can be placed, this must have been impracticable. There is no possible form of individual or social life, which it is not fitted to meliorate and adorn. It not only extends to the more transient connexions to which...

  8. Adams’s Sermon Notes
    (pp. 59-104)
  9. Works Cited by Adams
    (pp. 105-110)
  10. Letters to the Reverend Jasper Adams
    (pp. 113-122)

    Eager to confirm his views, Jasper Adams sent copies of the printed sermon to numerous influential Americans, requesting that they respond to his arguments and offer their own opinions on the subject of his sermon. The following letters are reprinted from copies of the original letters sent to Adams, which he personally transcribed and attached to his own copy of the first printed edition of the sermon.

    I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on...

  11. Review Essay: “Immunity of Religion”
    (pp. 123-150)

    “Immunity of Religion” is a review of Adams’s sermon that was published in an 1835 edition of theAmerican Quarterly Review.¹ Edited by Robert Walsh, a lawyer, prolific journalist, and accomplished scholar, theReviewwas an independent publication devoted to critical treatments of political, scientific, historic, and literary concerns.² The review essay offered a biting critique of Adams’s interpretation of the appropriate relationship between Christianity and civil government. The author embraced the separationist view frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson and consistent with the policies of the Jackson Administration on issues such as fast day proclamations and the Sunday mails. The...

  12. Epilogue: Reflections on the Church-State Debate
    (pp. 151-162)

    Adams’s sermon and the responses to it provide a vivid reminder that religion was a dynamic factor in the founding of the American republic. Sadly, scholarly accounts of history have often discounted or even ignored the role of religion in the life of the nation. Popular perceptions of the nation’s mission and purpose, though, have been framed by religious themes. The pursuit of religious liberty motivated many European colonists to settle in the New World. Furthermore, as Adams observed, “[t]he originators and early promoters of the discovery and settlement of this continent, had the propagation of Christianity before their eyes,...

  13. Appendix One. The Life and Works of Jasper Adams
    (pp. 163-167)
  14. Appendix Two. Obituary of the Reverend Jasper Adams, D.D., from the Pendleton Messenger, 12 November 1841
    (pp. 168-169)
  15. Appendix Three. The Sermon, Delivered at Pendleton, by the Rector of Christ Church, Greenville, on the Occasion of the Death of the Rev. Jasper Adams, D.D.
    (pp. 170-176)
  16. Appendix Four. The Publication and Distribution of Adams’s Sermon
    (pp. 177-191)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 192-207)
  18. Index
    (pp. 208-222)