TeacherServe Essays

The Separation of Church and State from the American Revolution to the Early Republic

Author: Heyrman, Christine Leigh (NHC Fellow, 1985–86)

Designating the appropriate role of religion in the early republic’s civic life presented a challenge. Most of the Founders believed that religion would promote public morality, which in turn would strengthen both republican society and government in the United States. That being the case, what constituted an appropriate inclusion of religious ideas and rituals in the conduct of civic life? In wrestling with that question, presidents from Washington to Madison played a delicate game of brinksmanship. All of them strove to keep religion from becoming the fodder for controversy by affirming that expressions of spirituality had a legitimate place in the public square while also upholding what they regarded as a due separation between church and state.

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Subjects: History; Education Studies; American History; American Enlightenment; Thirteen Colonies; American Revolution; Puritans; Freedom of Religion; Secularism