The Founders on the Church-State Debate
During my lifetime the so-called “culture war” has seen a debate about if the United States was founded as a Christian nation or not, however it turns out that this debate occurred during the nation’s founding. In The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders the issue of religious liberty and if the United States was a Christian nation was presented in 14 chapters of original writings of Founding Fathers and other Americans of the Revolutionary period, compiled by editor Forrest Church.
Covering a thirty year period, between 1772 and 1802, Forrest Church provided to the reader 14 writings from a variety of authors. The most famous are Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison with material before, during, and after their times in office. Other writers including not as well-known Revolutionary figures Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams as well as largely forgotten Founding Fathers now George Mason and Oliver Ellsworth. However while the well-known and historically prominent were well represented, Church also included the writings of average citizens Isaac Backus, Caleb Wallace, and John Leland to show that not only the ‘political elite’ were debating issue of religious liberty.
The strength of the entire book is the writings presented in this volume and need not be reviewed or critiqued. Although Church does his best to introduce and give context to the writings he presents, these little introductions are in fact that the only compliant one can really have with it. Given the amount of material available during this time period, Church does an admirable job in complying a number of texts from a variety of individuals to present what America’s founders thought and is a must read for anyone interested in the church-state debate in the United States.