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Of Historiography and Constitutional Principle: Jefferson's Reply to the Danbury Baptists


Ian C. Bartrum


University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

January 6, 2009

Journal of Church and State, Vol. 51, Spring 2008

Abstract:     
This article examines the ways that the Supreme Court has used Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists (a wall of separation between church and state) as a rhetorical symbol. It finds the letter at the heart of the Court's debate over competing theories of religious neutrality. The article then explores the treatment the letter has received in several leading academic histories, and concludes that professional historians have largely tailored their arguments to match the Supreme Court's ideological divide. The article concludes that, because the goals of historical argument and legal argument are fundamentally different, this incestuous kind of relationship between historiography and constitutional principle is potentially destructive.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: establishment, historiography, jefferson, danbury, wall of separation

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Date posted: January 8, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Bartrum, Ian C., Of Historiography and Constitutional Principle: Jefferson's Reply to the Danbury Baptists (January 6, 2009). Journal of Church and State, Vol. 51, Spring 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1323835

Contact Information

Ian C. Bartrum (Contact Author)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )
4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States
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