The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life

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This interdisciplinary volume brings together essays on eleven of the founders of the American republic—Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Thomas Paine, Edmund Randolph, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, and Mercy Otis Warren—many of whom are either little recognized today or little appreciated for their contributions. The essays focus on the thinking of these men and women on the proper role of religion in public life, including but not limited to the question of the separation of church and state. Their views represent a wide range of opinions, from complete isolation of church and state to tax-supported clergy.

These essays present a textured and nuanced view of the society that came to a consensus on how religion would fit in the public life of the new nation. They reveal that religion was more important in the lives and thinking of many of the founders than is often portrayed and that it took the interplay of disparate and contrasting views to frame the constitutional outline that eventually emerged.

"For more than a decade these three editors, separately and together, have led us to a more nuanced view of the central place of religion in the American founding era. Not only were the political views of famous founders like Adams, Jefferson, and Madison more dependent on religion than their modern secular caricature allows. But many other figures, from varying religious traditions, proved equally critical to forging the original American understanding of constitutional order, democratic liberty, and rule of law. This well-crafted volume introduces a dozen such founding figures and the sterling political accomplishments that they offered the young nation on the strength of their religious convictions." —John Witte, Jr., Emory University

"This excellent collection explores the rich diversity of the American mind at the Founding by attending to the spiritual, political, and intellectual convictions of a dozen men and women prominent in the events of that seminal period but relatively neglected by the historians. It fills a major gap left In the literature with its conventional fixation on the life and work of a handful of luminaries. In doing so, it takes seriously the role of religion in grounding devotion to Whig liberty and common law constitutionalism to form a popular consensus that has endured from 1776 until today. Highly readable and thoroughly sourced, this is a book for anyone interested in American history and politics." —Ellis Sandoz, Moyse Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University

"This collection of well-crafted essays probes the "religion and the founding" question from a fresh angle. Its concentration on the second rank of founders pays rich dividends, since this focus uncovers more variety on religious issues than appear when looking only at the "Big Six" of Washington-Franklin-John Adams-Madison-Hamilton-Jefferson. The pay off is to show not only how deep but also how various were the founders' religious commitments. Historians, but also those concerned about religion in contemporary American politics, should take note—the editors have done a very fine job." —Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

"There is no book comparable to The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life. It is a collection of eleven essays on the many neglected figures or, in some cases, the neglected church-state views of duly appreciated figures. The book's appeal goes beyond the realm of constitutional doctrine. In addition to constitutional lawyers, constitutional historians, historians of religion in America, and those who study American political thought will all welcome and value the book." —Gerard V. Bradley, University of Notre Dame Law School

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Following The Founders on God and Government, these essays focus on important Revolutionary generation individuals' little-known views on religion and society. . . . Articles feature a brief biography, description of subjects' religious beliefs, and analysis of ideas about churches' value in public life. . . . All essays are well researched and worthwhile. Most valuable is William Casto's on Ellsworth, which demonstrates that Senate and House conferees on the First Amendment did not agree and so finessed rather than clarified the major issues." —Choice

"Why does the Constitution assume a Creator without referring to Him explicitly, as does the Declaration of Independence? The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life . . . is a fount of scholarly information about who believed what and whose beliefs changed. Alexander Hamilton, for example, moved from theistic rationalism to his deathbed statement: "I am a sinner: I look to . . . the mercy of the almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ." —World 

"The volume is engaging, informative, and valuable with thoughtful explorations of how all of these figures desired the same thing for America—the preservation of right and liberties but strove for them based on various religious principles. Because these people are little known, each essay naturally begins with a brief biography and their credentials. Some authors helpfully describe the historiography of the subjects before they progress to a discussion of their religiously informed political contributions." —Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 

"A surprisingly cosmopolitan meshing of different views (including contrasting opinions on just how much of a role religion should have in the public domain) evolves, in this excellent effort to assemble a depth and breadth of thought to reveal precisely how America's founders viewed the church and the state." —The Midwest Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780268026028
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel L. Dreisbach is professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University. He is the author of The Founders on God and Government.

Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Political Science at George Fox University. He is the author of The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798.

Jeffry H. Morrison is associate professor of government at Regent University. He is the author of John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, also published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Contributors:  Daniel L. Dreisbach, Edith B. Gelles, Gary Scott Smith, William R. Casto, Grg L. Frazer, Thomas E. Buckley, S.J., Jonathan Den Hartog, David J. Voelker, Kevin R. Hardwick, Robert H. Abzug, Mark David Hall, Rosemarie Zagarri.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Mark A. Noll ix

Preface xiii

1 Famous Founders and Forgotten Founders: What's the Difference, and Does the Difference Matter? Daniel L. Dreisbach 1

2 The Way of Duty: Abigail Adams and Religion Edith B. Gelles 26

3 Samuel Adams: America's Puritan Revolutionary Gary Scott Smith 40

4 Oliver Ellsworth's Calvinist Vision of Church and State in the Early Republic William R. Casto 65

5 Alexander Hamilton, Theistic Rationalist Gregg L. Frazer 101

6 Patrick Henry, Religious Liberty, and the Search for Civic Virtue Thomas E. Buckley, S.J. 125

7 John Jay and the "Great Plan of Providence" Jonathan Den Hartog 145

8 Thomas Paine's Civil Religion of Reason David J. Voelker 171

9 Anglican Moderation; Religion and the Political Thought of Edmund Randolph Kevin R. Hardwick 196

10 Benjamin Rush and Revolutionary Christian Reform Robert H. Abzug 220

11 Roger Sherman: An Old Puritan in a New Nation Mark David Hall 248

12 Mercy Otis Warren on Church and State Rosemarie Zagarri 278

For Further Reading 295

Contributors 304

Index 306

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2011

    Cutting edge book

    From a review of the book by Jerome Dean Mahaffey published in the Journal of American History: "Occasionally, an edited collection appears that transcends a narrow focus and demands that thinkers from varied disciplines consider its findings. Such is The Forgotten Founders . The pages collectively support a thesis that holds deep implications not just for history, political science, and law but for political activists and legislators as well." . . . "Those interested in the religious nature of the revolutionary period should consider themselves off the cutting edge of debate until they have read this book." December 2010

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