The Blaine Amendment of 1876: Harbinger of Secularism

22 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2007

Date Written: January 30, 2007


The Blaine Amendment of 1876 was a Congressional effort to add a sixteenth amendment to the Constitution. The leading feature and central aspiration of the proposal was to prohibit the states from giving financial aid to schools run by sects. Passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives, the Blaine Amendment narrowly failed to secure the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate.

This paper examines the Blaine Amendment as a political phenomenon; that is, as a Republican attempt to exploit anti-Catholic prejudice in a presidential election year. It also looks at the Blaine Amendment constitutionally; that is, for the light it sheds upon the Reconstruction-era debate over church and state as well as upon the relationship between the First Amendment Religion Clauses (the language of which the Blaine initiative incorporated), and the recently ratified Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. Finally and at the greatest length, this paper looks at the Blaine Amendment more broadly; that is, as a telling episode in the continuing American story about the government's proper role in shaping children's character as maturing citizens of the American polity.

Suggested Citation

Bradley, Gerard V., The Blaine Amendment of 1876: Harbinger of Secularism (January 30, 2007). Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 07-02. Available at SSRN: or

Gerard V. Bradley (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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