The War That Wasn't

Religious Conflict and Compromise in the Common Schools of New York State, 1865-1900

By Benjamin Justice

Subjects: History, Education, History Of Education, Religion, New York/regional
Paperback : 9780791462126, 299 pages, January 2009
Hardcover : 9780791462119, 299 pages, February 2005

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Table of contents

List of Tables and Figures



1. Explaining the History of Religion in Public Schools

Part 1: Origins of the Public School "System"

2. Democracy Trumps Theocracy: The Civil Origins of the Common School System in New York
3. Religion in Post-Bellum State and Local School Governance

Part 2: Religion and District Schools

4. Politics, Religion, and District Schooling
5. Religious Use of the District Schoolhouse
6. Religious Exercises in District Schools

Part 3: Religion and Urban Schools

7. Local Control, Religion, and Urban Schooling
8. Religious Exercises in Urban Schools
9. Public Funds for Religious Schools

10. Conclusion: Explanations and Implications


Bibliography of Primary Works Cited


An ambitious and timely look at the role of religion in New York State's early public schools.


Finalist for the 2006 History of Education Society's Outstanding Book Award
Winner of the 2005 Annual Archives Award for Excellence in Research Using the Holdings of the New York State Archives presented by the Board of Regents and the New York State Archives

Historians of religion and public schooling often focus on conflict and Bible Wars, pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another in palpitating narratives of the embattled development of American public schooling. The War That Wasn't tells a different story, arguing that in nineteenth-century New York State a civil system of democratic, local control led to adjustments and compromises far more than discord and bitter conflict. In the decades after the Civil War, New Yorkers from rural, one-room schools to big city districts hammered out a variety of ways to reconcile public education and religious diversity. This book recounts their stories in delightful and compelling detail. The common school system of New York State managed to keep the peace during a time of religious and ethnic pluralism, before sweeping educational reforms ended many of these compromises by the turn of the twentieth century.

Benjamin Justice is Assistant Professor of Education and History at Rutgers University.


"…Benjamin Justice's The War That Wasn't … provides an original interpretation of the role of religion in American public schools and offers bountiful evidence to support this new analysis. Justice is to be commended for the contribution he has made to religion and education history. Simply put, the book is a must read." — Teachers College Record

"Exploiting sources never before consulted, Benjamin Justice explodes a number of long-cherished 'truths' regarding religious conflict, local control, and the nature of nineteenth-century common schools. He moves the focus of inquiry from the overheated rhetoric of national discourse to the local level, examining how questions of Bible reading, religious exercises, and public support for sectarian education were acted upon in the thousands of school districts of New York State. His findings are surprising and exciting; they also raise a host of new questions about the many faces of democracy and the forms of social and political life we lost many decades ago. Best of all, Justice commits his iconoclastic revisionism with modesty, humor, and grace." — Ronald E. Butchart, coeditor of Classroom Discipline in American Schools: Problems and Possibilities for Democratic Education

"Justice provides a nuanced and sophisticated revision of the warfare thesis that has governed writing about religion and public education in nineteenth-century America. In doing so, he avoids the trap of consensus theory by arguing instead that common schools succeeded in mediating religious conflict." — Gregory L. Kaster, Gustavus Adolphus College