Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush

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Overview

In the wake of the 2004 election, pundits were shocked at exit polling that showed that 22% of voters thought 'moral values' was the most important issue at stake. People on both sides of the political divide believed this was the key to victory for George W. Bush, who professes a deep and abiding faith in God. While some fervent Bush supporters see him as a man chosen by God for the White House, opponents see his overt commitment to Christianity as a dangerous and unprecedented bridging of the gap between church and state.

In fact, Gary Scott Smith shows, none of this is new. Religion has been a major part of the presidency since George Washington's first inaugural address. Despite the mounting interest in the role of religion in American public life, we actually know remarkably little about the faith of our presidents. Was Thomas Jefferson an atheist, as his political opponents charged? What role did Lincoln's religious views play in his handling of slavery and the Civil War? How did born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter lose the support of many evangelicals? Was George W. Bush, as his critics often claimed, a captive of the religious right? In this fascinating book, Smith answers these questions and many more. He takes a sweeping look at the role religion has played in presidential politics and policies. Drawing on extensive archival research, Smith paints compelling portraits of the religious lives and presidencies of eleven chief executives for whom religion was particularly important. Faith and the Presidency meticulously examines what each of its subjects believed and how those beliefs shaped their presidencies and, in turn, the course of our history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wonderfully informed...one could do far worse than approach his text as an alternative biographical portrait of certain chief executives. But he does such a fantastic job of explicating the Presidents' career trajectories by means of their religious convictions that the book is in fact far more than this."
—Journal of American Studies

"At a time when presses (and readers) groan under the weight of panicky punditry on religion and the presidency, it is a welcome relief to possess Smith's well-researched, balanced and fair-minded study of a perennially interesting topic."
—Christian Century

Library Journal
Given the separation of church and state specified by the Second Amendment, Americans have both contested and championed the expression of religious faith by their leaders. Smith (history, Grove City Coll.) carefully collects and collates the personal views and attitudes on religion and the relations with religious institutions and constituencies of 11 U.S. Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, and George W. Bush. "In the final analysis," Scott concludes, "we must be careful not to make too much or too little of the influence of presidents' faith on how they performed their duties. Scholars have tended to take it into account too little; some critics and admirers have given it too much attention." Methodologically, Smith is less than persuasive in his attempts to demonstrate cause-and-effect relationships between faith and policy. But readers need not share his perspective or conclusions in order to thank him for the wealth of source material and historical detail he has amassed on a fascinating and important topic. Recommended for all libraries.-Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195300604
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/12/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 680
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Scott Smith chairs the History Department and coordinates the Humanities Core at Grove City College where he has taught since 1978. He is the author or editor of six books, including God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government (1989) and The Search for Social Salvation: Social Christianity and America, 1880-1925 (2000).

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