Reprint This! Thomas Buckley’s “Church & State in Revolutionary Virginia”

Every sub-field has its classic books.  It should not take long for most of us to rattle off a couple of titles. In my field of church-state relations in the early American republic (particularly in the upper South), few books tower over the field more than Thomas E. Buckley’s Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776-1787.[1] Despite being published thirty-six years ago references to this classic litter the footnotes of subsequent books from fellow classic histories like Rhys Isaac’s Transformation of Virginia to more recent works such as David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom.[2] Anyone grappling with the politics of religion in early national Virginia, that overheated cauldron of disestablishment, must grapple with Buckley’s work. But this great historian did not stop there; in a series of articles Buckley expanded his analysis to include much of the evolution of religious freedom in the Old Dominion over the nineteenth century.[3]

Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia has aged well. The historiography of church-state relations in Virginia is fraught with analytic potholes that Buckley ably avoids. While many works that touch on this era end up more than a little teleological–with the enactment of Jefferson’s Statute on Religious Freedom or the First Amendment looming in the background–Buckley is sensitive to contingency. Where other historians get bogged down trying to vindicate or celebrate the role of this or that particular denomination, Buckley maintains a balanced approach.[4] His prose is sharp and he has a great eye for a telling quotation. The historiographical ground, of course, has shifted since 1977 leaving Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia a great example of the new (but not New New) political history.

The main problem? Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia is very much out of print—to the point that it isn’t even listed on the University of Virginia Press website.

This sad state of affairs creates other problems. While it is possible to acquire a copy of this classic work, the premium price for a thirty-six year old hardcover book prevents its assignment to students, at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Such a high price for this text leaves it unattainable for poor graduate students desperate for a desk copy.[5] This leaves access to this classic book at the whims of the availability the single copy possessed by most university libraries.

I’d like to conclude with a call to action and a question for my fellow historians. I would like to call for the University of Virginia Press to reprint Church & State in Revolutionary Virginia. The Press is a significant publisher of academic history that puts out a lot of interesting works and reprinting Buckley’s classic book would strengthen their already formidable backlist.

For my fellow historians I’d like to ask: what out of print classics in your field would you like to see back in print?

[1] Thomas E. Buckley, Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776-1787 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977).

[2] See: Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 401n1; David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 307n13.

[3] See among other works see: Thomas E. Buckley, “Evangelicals Triumphant: The Baptists Assault on the Virginia Glebes, 1786-1801,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 45, no. 1 (January 1988): 33-69, Thomas E. Buckley, “After Disestablishment: Thomas Jefferson’s Wall of Seperation in Antebellum Virginia,” The Journal of Southern History 61, no. 3 (August 1995): 445-480, and Thomas E. Buckley, “Establishing New Bases of Religious Authority” in From Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia, ed. Paul Rasor and Richard E. Bond (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012), 138-165. Buckley also later published a study of divorce in the early national Virginia: Thomas E. Buckley, The Great Catastrophe of My Life: Divorce in the Old Dominion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

[4] For a recent study in this vein see: John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[5] i.e. me.

15 responses

  1. In these days of digital on demand printing there’s no reason for a book to be out of print ever. A change to the copyright laws stating that copyright lapses if a book goes OOP should take care of this problem. Looking forward to the follow up posts!

  2. Have you thought about contacting Dick Holway at the Press? He’s a good friend to historians and is likely to be receptive to your plea.

    • Herb, thank you so much for the comment.

      I have not gotten in touch with Dick Holway, though perhaps I should. The UVA Press is a great university press – my shelf is littered with their books (Doug Bradburn’s, Randolph Scully’s, Jeff Pasley’s, etc.).

      The origins of this post were when I was trying to acquire a desk copy of this book to make my dissertation secondary research less reliant on the sometimes tricky CUNY library system. The tone I was going for here was more celebratory and playful than scolding. I hope it came across that way.

  3. Great post, Roy. I discovered Buckley’s work when I realized that Virginia would be an important focus of my dissertation and gave myself a crash-course in the historiography. I agree that Buckley holds up well and achieves a tone and even-handedness few subsequent historians writing on the subject have been able to equal.

    Here’s to hoping UVA Press sees this post and gives the proposal some serious thought.

    • Thanks, Christopher.

      We are sort of in the same boat. I discovered Buckley’s work at the end of my time as a Master’s student, when I was casting around for a wedge into the historiography of Virginian church-state politics. His book and articles have served as a useful guide ever since.

  4. Bravissimo, Roy. I agree completely.

    Here are a few candidates that I’d add (and I completely agree about the nearly-timeless excellence of Buckley’s fine book:

    * Zoltan Haraszti, JOHN ADAMS AND THE PROPHETS OF PROGRESS (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952) — still one of the most creative and innovative studies of a leading figure’s political thought, based on the marginal comments in his books. This fine book presaged some of the best work on the history of the book, and it also is still a valuable and illuminating look at John Adams’s mind.

    * Leonard D. White, THE FEDERALISTS (New York: Macmillan, 1948) — a pathbreaking study of the evolution of American governmental infrastructure.

    * Larry Siedentop, TOCQUEVILLE (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) — a volume in the OUP Past Masters series (now discontinued, with most of the titles migrated into the peerless Very Short Introductions series). Still one of the best books ever on Alexis de Tocqueville.

    * Richard B. Morris, THE FORGING OF THE UNION, 1781-1789 (New York; Harper & Row, 1987) — a volume in the NEW AMERICAN NATION series edited by Morris with Henry Steele Commager, now mostly discontinued, though a few volumes survive. This one is truly a magnificent book, the product of a lifetime of study of the Confederation era, and a worthy challenger to Merrill M. Jensen’s iconoclastic THE NEW NATION (1950). Why it went out of print is still a puzzle to me.

      • I forgot to mention that, last year, I had to write a biographical essay on Dumas Malone and his work on Jefferson. One thing that I did not know was that, for a few years, from the late 1930s through the early 1940s, Malone was director of the Harvard University Press and saved it from foundering. He left after a disagreement with the board; he wanted to make sure that it was both a distinguished university press and a profitable venture, and the board apparently wanted to water it down a bit.

  5. I would nominate Gloria Main’s _Tobacco Colony_. I asked her once to nudge Princeton into a POD edition, and she was aware of the price ($42) but didn’t think anyone would be interested. I was kind of dumbstruck at her modesty and didn’t press the case.


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