Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

7 - James Wilson


Unlike modern originalists, Justice Joseph Story (1779–1845) endorsed the maxim that “Christianity is a part of the common law,” and he seems thus to have considered Christianity as being deeply entangled with the Constitution. A Harvard graduate and Massachusetts Unitarian, he did not consider the Constitution bound to any specific Christian orthodoxy. Rather, by the Revolution, American Christianity itself had become tolerant of differences in doctrine and worship, while sharing an understanding of moral duty, embodied in the common law. Thus he could at once subscribe to the proposition that Christianity is a part of the common law and decide religion cases so as to uphold the separation of church and state, protecting church property from state interference, and protecting a municipally run school from clerical influence. On the issue of slavery, his commitments to a living faith and to a settled Constitution collided, calling into question the Christian constitutionalism to which he devoted his professional life.