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New York University Press
Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State

by Daniel DreisbachDaniel Dreisbach
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No phrase in American letters has had a more profound influence on church-state law, policy, and discourse than Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state,” and few metaphors have provoked more passionate debate. Introduced in an 1802 letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association, Jefferson’s “wall” is accepted by many Americans as a concise description of the U.S. Constitution’s church-state arrangement and conceived as a virtual rule of constitutional law.
Despite the enormous influence of the “wall” metaphor, almost no scholarship has investigated the text of the Danbury letter, the context in which it was written, or Jefferson’s understanding of his famous phrase. Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State offers an in-depth examination of the origins, controversial uses, and competing interpretations of this powerful metaphor in law and public policy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814719367
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2003
Series: Law and American History Series
Edition description: 2002 Edition
Pages: 283
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Daniel L. Dreisbach is an Associate Professor in the Department of Justice, Law, and Society at American University. He is the editor of Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia and Religion and Politics in the Early Republic.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 The President, a Mammoth Cheese, and the “Wall of Separation”: Jeffersonian Politics and the New England Baptists
3 “Sowing Useful Truths and Principles”
4 “What the Wall Separates”
5 Early References to a “Wall of Separation”
6 Creating “Effectual Barriers”
7 “Useful Truths and Principles . . . Germinate and
Become Rooted” in the American Mind: Jefferson’s Metaphor Enters Political and Juridical Discourse
8 Conclusion
1 Proclamation Appointing a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, May 1774
2 Address to the Inhabitants of the Parish of St. Anne, 1774
3 Bills Reported by the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1776, 18 June 1779
4 Proclamation Appointing a Day of Publick and Solemn Thanksgiving and Prayer, November 1779 137
5 Draft of “The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798,” November 1798 (excerpt)
6 Correspondence with the Danbury Baptist Association, 1801–1802 142
7 Correspondence with the Citizens of Chesire, Massachusetts, January 1802 149
8 Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1805 (excerpts)
9 Letter from Jefferson to the Reverend Samuel Miller,
23 January 1808
Selected Bibliography
About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This book is vintage Dreisbach. . . . Anyone studying Jefferson's views of separation would be wise to use Dreisbach’s primary texts and to ponder his sage interpretation of them. This is a book that can be read in an evening, but pondered for a career.”
-John Witte Jr.,Michigan Law Review

“Excellent introduction to the thorny interpretive issues that continue to grow around Jefferson's wall.”
-The Journal of Southern History


“On an evaluative note, the book is helpful for gaining an understanding of the historical context of Jefferson’s metaphor.”
-Journal of Church and State


“In the opinion of this reviewer, Dreisbach is undeniably correct. His research is thorough, and his analysis comports with the history of the period. Dreisbach’s study of Jefferson's likely meaning when he utilized the phrase “wall of separation” makes a valuable contribution to an important area of the constitutional law, an area of great consequence to Christians. The fact that it is written by a law professor at a "top twenty" law school increases its significance and credibility in the scholar world. The book has a minimum of legal jargon and can easily be understood. Daniel Dreisbach’s book is highly recommended.”
-Faith and Mission


“Daniel Dreisbach’s book is a welcome and much needed addition to the scholarship on the First Amendment. Dreisbach analysis of Jefferson's metaphor, its political context, and consequences for church-state jurisprudence, provide an intellectual perspective as the Court and nation reconsider issues of accomodations of religion in the public square.”
-Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

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