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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
October 2023
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Book description

Law – charters, statutes, judicial decisions, and traditions – mattered in colonial America, and laws about religion mattered a lot. The legal history of colonial America reveals that America has been devoted to the free exercise of religion since well before the First Amendment was ratified. Indeed, the two colonies originally most opposed to religious liberty for anyone who did not share their views, Connecticut and Massachusetts, eventually became bastions of it. By focusing on law, Scott Douglas Gerber offers new insights about each of the five English American colonies founded for religious reasons – Maryland, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – and challenges the conventional view that colonial America had a unified religious history.


‘The great strength of this compelling book is its focus: what laws respecting church and state were put on books during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and what do these laws tell us about the workings of church and state? Legal history comes into its own in this source-based description of an ever-challenging subject.'

David D. Hall - author of The Puritans: A Transatlantic History

‘An invaluable compendium and analysis of all the laws and legal actions regulating or protecting religion in the five colonies founded by religious dissenters. Three founded to protect religious liberty for all (Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island), and two founded to protect religious liberty only for the one-time dissenters who had gained a colony of their own, where they tried to suppress or exclude all other faiths (Connecticut and Massachusetts).'

Douglas Laycock - University of Virginia School of Law and author of the 5-volume Religious Liberty series

‘Scott Gerber's broad geographic focus and careful attention to the language of specific law codes allow for a fresh and exciting approach to the history of colonial religious liberty.'

Adrian Chastain Weimer - Professor of History, Providence College

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