Peter Karsten is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, with joint appointments in the sociology department and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He is the author of the prizewinning The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (1972); Law, Soldiers, and Combat (1978); Heart versus Head: Judge-Made Law in Nineteenth-Century America (1997); the prizewinning Between Law and Custom: "High" and "Low" Legal Cultures in the Lands of the British Diaspora, 1600–1900 (2003); and The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (2nd edition, 2009), among other books. He is also editor-in-chief of the prizewinning Encyclopedia of War and American Society (3 volumes, 2005). He has held visiting chairs at University College Dublin, Augsburg Universitat, and The Citadel.
This talk compares four religious, political, and legal controversies in 19th and early 20th century America. Each was grounded in the sharp division between the Republican and Democratic Parties’ perspectives on public policy, and all four were fired by religious differences involving the active use of “positive” law and judicial fiat. Several scholars have addressed the emergence in the state courts of substantive due process as well as the fight in those courts over the use of the bible and school prayer in the public schools. But no one has noted the similar political division there, nor has anyone examined the political or religious affiliations of the state court justices who decided those tests of the constitutionality of the early substantive due process cases or those involving bible reading and school prayer. These and other related issues constitute what this talk offers to our understanding of how religiously inspired party politics played out in both state and federal legislatures and state and federal courts.