Classic Revisited: Howe’s “The Garden and the Wilderness”

Today’s classic revisited is Mark DeWolfe Howe’s The Garden and the Wilderness: Religion and Government in American Constitutional History (U. Chicago Press 1965).  Howe — who wrote in an era when separationism was the dominant outlook in both the courts and the academy with respect to constitutional religious liberty — was one of the first to emphasize that the primary motivation for “separation” in early America was to protect church from state rather than the other way round.  Howe frames his book in terms of a dichotomy between the perspectives of Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson with respect to the meaning of separation, favoring the former’s view and criticizing, in the last few pages of the book, the Supreme Court for overemphasis of Jefferson’s position. 

Later, when the famous wall metaphor began to show cracks, separation gradually ceased to become the exclusive mode in which the Supreme Court understood religious liberty — though the idea of separation as the independence of church and state remains a crucial idea of constitutional religious liberty.  But Howe’s book is an important piece of the puzzle — one which introduced nuance about the meaning of separation and which, in turn and in time, contributed to the development of alternative understandings of the First Amendment.  — MOD

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