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Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy$
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Kyle G. Volk

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199371914

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199371914.001.0001

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Sunday Laws and the Problem of the Christian Republic

Sunday Laws and the Problem of the Christian Republic

(p.37) 2 Sunday Laws and the Problem of the Christian Republic
Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy

Kyle G. Volk

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines debates that exploded in the 1840s as Sabbath reformers dusted off Sunday laws in an attempt to prevent the desecration of the day that an overwhelming majority of Americans venerated as “the Christian Sabbath.” Workers and European immigrants registered their discontent in barrooms and the public prints, but Jews and Seventh Day Baptists emerged as the leading opponents. They forged networks of dissent and ultimately backed constitutional challenges before several state supreme courts, the most important of which occurred in Pennsylvania. There attorney Thaddeus Stevens delivered an impassioned plea for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to uphold constitutional protections for minority rights. Though losing in court, this touchstone effort along with others brought attention to the issue of Sunday legislation and to the dangers that unbridled majoritarianism posed to religious minorities.

Keywords:   Sunday laws, Christian republic, Christian Sabbath, religious minorities, Sabbath reformers, Jewish Americans, religious freedom, Seventh Day Baptists, Catholics, abolitionists

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