Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

David L. Holmes

Date: 2006-05-01 — Book

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Review of The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

This book is a balanced look at the religious views of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of the USA. It takes the view that while the founders clearly intended the separation of church and state, they were not all of one mind about religion in their private lives. The author roughly groups them in several categories: non-Christian Deists, Christian Deists, Unitarians, and Orthodox Christians of varying degrees of liberality/conservatism.

The first chapter is an overview of the religious climate in the American colonies in 1770, and shows how some denominations differed in belief and practice form these same denominations today. Next, he covers the Anglican tradition, focusing on how this was a common factor in the upbringing of the founders from Virginia.

The next two chapters deal with Deism, the first being an overview of this philosophy and its relationship to the Enlightenment. The second covers the varying degrees of influence Deism had on the founding fathers.

The next six chapters cover the religious backgrounds and later beliefs and practices of several founders: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, none of whom could be categorized as orthodox Christians.

The eleventh chapter covers the religious beliefs of women close to the founding fathers: Martha Washington, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, Abigail Adams, Martha Jefferson, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Maria Jefferson Eppes, and Dolley Madison. This chapter also discusses why Deism was less common among women during this time and why orthodox religion may have been more appealing to most women.

In the twelve chapter, there is a guide on how to distinguish a Deist from an orthodox Christian when reading material about people from this time period.

Chapter thirteen covers the religious beliefs of three prominent orthodox Christians of the time: Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay, comparing and contrasting them with the founders mentioned above.

The book concludes with thumbnail sketches of the religious backgrounds and beliefs of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush senior, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and George Bush junior.

I enjoyed this book immensely, subtracting a star only because the book could have gone into more detail.

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