Review of Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty, by John A. Ragosta.
From a religiously restrictive colony controlled by the established church to an exemplar of religious freedom for a new country, Ragosta recounts Virginia’s formative struggle between the Anglican Church and dissenters, i.e., predominately Presbyterians and Baptists, that eventually led to the first amendment on religion and expression in the U.S. Constitution. Ragosta writes to set the historical account straight on the dissenters’ significance in the struggle for religious freedom, to elevate their role to a proper place in history, and to educate readers on the original intentions for separation of church and state that will inform current debates on religious freedom. From the dissenters own lack of uniform representation and a desire to moderate their own roles, Ragosta uses his research to be the dissenters’ advocate. He addresses the historical accuracy of events from later modifications made by writers wishing to recast the Episcopal Church in a more positive perspective. He recasts the light on the historical personas of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to include on stage the important role dissenters played in developing religious freedom in America. As an instructor at the University of Virginia School of Law, Ragosta combines his legal training with historical methodology to present readers with his case based on extensive research in available primary sources. While his narrative style may appeal more to those with legal training, he presents a fascinating account for his readers about the established church’s control slipping from its grasp, the dissenters’ eventual success, and our inheritance of religious freedom.
Pearson, Andrew L. Review of Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty, by John A. Ragosta. Religious Studies Review 38 (March 2012): 31-32.