© 2019

Secularists, Religion and Government in Nineteenth-Century America


About this book


This book shows how, through a series of fierce battles over Sabbath laws, legislative chaplains, Bible-reading in public schools and other flashpoints, nineteenth-century secularists mounted a powerful case for a separation of religion and government. Among their diverse ranks were religious skeptics, liberal Protestants, members of minority faiths, labor reformers and defenders of slavery. Drawing on popular petitions to Congress, a neglected historical source, the book explores how this secularist mobilization gathered energy at the grassroots level. 

The nineteenth century is usually seen as the golden age of an informal Protestant establishment. Timothy Verhoeven demonstrates that, far from being crushed by an evangelical juggernaut, secularists harnessed a range of cultural forces—the legacy of the Revolutionary founders, hostility to Catholicism, a belief in national exceptionalism and more—to argue that the United States was not a Christian nation, branding their opponents as fanatics who threatened both democratic liberties as well as true religion. 


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Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Monash UniversityClaytonAustralia

About the authors

Timothy Verhoeven is Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University, Australia. He is the author of Transatlantic Anti-Catholicism: France and the United States in the Nineteenth Century (Palgrave, 2010) as well as many articles on the history of church-state relations.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Secularists, Religion and Government in Nineteenth-Century America
  • Authors Timothy Verhoeven
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-030-02876-3
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-030-02877-0
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages IX, 286
  • Number of Illustrations 5 b/w illustrations, 5 illustrations in colour
  • Topics US History
    Legal History
    History of Religion
    Political History
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“Secularists, Religion and Government in Nineteenth-Century America is a comprehensive, convincing, and readable account of church-state attitudes during the ‘forgotten century.’ It should be on any instructor’s list as a text in an undergraduate or graduate course on American church and state.” (Steven K. Green, Journal of Church and State, Vol. 61 (4), 2019)

“The author’s ‘bottom-up’ approach gauges popular opinion by examining petitions to Congress from secularists and evangelicals over a range of issues. … Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates and above.” (W. B. Bedford, Choice, Vol. 56 (12), August, 2019)

“Secularists, Religion and Government in Nineteenth-Century America is a remarkable book, showcasing a relish in the historian’s craft and offering a compelling new vision of a major and pressing theme in US history. Scholars in religious and political history alike will find themselves in Verhoeven’s debt for a long time to come.” (Michael G. Thompson, Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 38 (2), July, 2019)