Secularism and Empire in the United States, 1780-1900
La Jolla, CA
This essay will explore white Americans’ use of the rhetoric of church/state separation as a discourse of racial difference during the period from roughly the Revolution to the Spanish American war, when the United States both conquered vast spaces of other people’s land, and put forth justifications for national expansion. Over the course of the nineteenth century, white Americans fretted over the assimilability of new groups coming under control of the United States and focused their concern over other groups’ fitness for self-government. As will be shown below, religious discussions regarding the extent of people’s privatization of religious sentiment, or nascent secularization, figured into this concern about racial fitness. Religious discourses—even those cloaked in defense of “liberal” values such as the separation of church and state—remained an indispensable tool in the construction of a racially exclusive American identity throughout the nineteenth century.