Margery Read

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Scott W. See

Second Committee Member

Richard Blanke

Third Committee Member

Timothy Cole


In 1875 James G. Blaine, Republican Representative from Maine, proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution that would forbid the public funding of private, denominational schools while at the same time require Bible reading in the public schools. Despite its defeat at a national level, the Blaine amendment became pivotal in state debates on the role of religion in public education, religious establishment, and religious expression for the next thirty-five years. This dissertation concentrates on the role of the Republican Party in creating a series of state public school systems in the North and West that were strongly shaped by Protestantism. To achieve this goal, Republicans supported amendments, legislation, and regulation in both national and state governments. In the South Bourbon Democrats drafted and ratified constitutions which restricted public funding of denominational schools to keep blacks and poor whites from access to education and the polling place. This work takes a close look at nativism, legislation, and amendments in New Mexico, New York, New Hampshire, Nevada, Maine, and the southern states. By 191 1, only Maine, Vermont, and Maryland did not have a Blaine amendment in their state constitutions. This work argues that the profound national changes brought about by the Civil War, the difficulties of Reconstruction, modern ideas, industrialization, and millenial religious revivalism brought about a widespread conservative reaction to the millions of immigrants who came to America in the nineteenth century. Because the majority of these immigrants were Roman Catholic, the newcomers challenged traditional Protestant American religious, social, and patriotic values. Moreover, they affected the issues of religious establishment and expression in both public and parochial schools. As middleclass Protestants found their social, economic, and religious power challenged by these newcomers, they sought to preserve their dominance through legislation promoted largely by the Republican Party to create a Protestant civil religion in America. The moderate, legslation-based nativism of the Republican Party's late nineteenth-century educational policies served as a transition from the belligerent nativism before the Civil War to the pervasive xenophobia of the 1920s.

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