The Founding Era (1774–1797) and the Constitutional Provision for Religion

John F. Wilson

in The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195326246
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Founding Era (1774–1797) and the Constitutional Provision for Religion

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This article explores and explains how religious belief and practice related to governmental authority played in the founding of the American nation. From 1774 to 1779, the American nation underwent a period of rebellion, revolution, and nation founding. This period sheds light on how this nation was founded, including the place accorded to religion. Three focal points form the core of this article: 1) how separate colonies dealt with religion as they became states; 2) the minimalist provision crafted for the Constitution proper; and 3) the immediate amendment of the Constitution to include explicit assurances about religion, among other concerns. The first section discusses the challenge of self-rule faced by the new states and the dilemma of what status should be accorded to religion. This discussion sheds light on how the various colonies provided for religion, which introduces the issues that would eventually challenge the nation. By also reviewing the place accorded to religion by the states, the range and variety of religious life in the colonies as they became independent are also illuminated. The second section discusses the religious policy that is embedded in the constitution. It looks at the place of religion in the formation of the national government within the parameters of the constitution. The concluding section discusses the steps taken once the Constitution became effective and the amendments made following the wide-ranging recommendations offered.

Keywords: governmental authority; American nation; religion; states; Constitution; amendment; self-rule; religious policy; national government

Article.  10271 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Comparative Politics

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