God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution

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Before the Revolutionary War, America was a nation divided by different faiths. But when the war for independence sparked in 1776, colonists united under the banner of religious freedom. Evangelical frontiersmen and Deist intellectuals set aside their differences to defend a belief they shared, the right to worship freely. Inspiring an unlikely but powerful alliance, it was the idea of religious liberty that brought the colonists together in the battle against British tyranny.

In God of Liberty, historian Thomas S. Kidd argues that the improbable partnership of evangelicals and Deists saw America through the Revolutionary War, the ratification of the Constitution, and the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. A thought-provoking reminder of the crucial role religion played in the Revolutionary era, God of Liberty represents both a timely appeal for spiritual diversity and a groundbreaking excavation of how faith powered the American Revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Rodney Stark, author of God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
“A truly ‘revolutionary’ book, in all the right ways.”

George Marsden, author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life
“Thomas Kidd does an excellent job of providing a readable and notably comprehensive account of the varied roles that the religion played in the era of the American Revolution.”

Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
“With this lively, crisply written, broadly researched, and unfailingly thoughtful study, Thomas Kidd illuminates the central importance of the religious ideas and sentiments undergirding the American Revolution and the early nation. Kidd explains why Americans, despite their remarkable religious and philosophical diversity, were able to unite effectively around broadly shared tenets of ‘civil spirituality,’ which included a shared commitment to the sacred ideals of religious liberty—tenets and ideals that still profoundly inform and influence the conduct of American life today.”
Mark Noll, author of America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
“This deeply researched, clearly organized, and well written book illuminates a complex and often controversial history. The Revolutionary and Constitutional periods were neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘godless’ as these terms are used in modern polemics. Instead, patriots and leaders of the early United States united to support disestablishment and common principles about the need for virtue to insure republican freedoms, despite holding different personal beliefs. Thomas Kidd is a remarkably sure-footed guide through this treacherous historical terrain.”
Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University
“At last, a history of religion and the American Revolution that addresses the revolutionary war in substantial detail. Thomas Kidd brilliantly examines the role of religion in the Revolution, and explores the intersection of religion and the Republic, neither of which can be fully understood without reference to the other. Kidd demonstrates in persuasive detail how the idea of religious liberty informed the meaning of the Republic at its deepest level.”
Peter A. Lillback, President of The Providence Forum and author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire
“Thomas Kidd offers an important critique of the mainstream interpretations of the American Revolution. God of Liberty reveals the central role that the Christian faith played in the revolutionary era. The surprising partnership of devout believers and deistic doubters to secure America’s victory makes for fascinating reading.”
“[A]n important contribution to American religious history.”
Library Journal
“Kidd argues that religion was inextricably linked to the American Revolutionary movement, his book will prove of interest both to readers in American Colonial religion and Colonial history, with his inclusion of unfamiliar sources extending the appeal…”

Christian Century
“With impressive command of the primary sources and deft historical analysis, Kidd has produced an indispensable survey of religious life during the Revolutionary era… all the more remarkable for its breadth…  One of the many virtues of this book is that Kidd is a careful and judicious historian… he points out—correctly—the errors of both present-day secularists on the left, who insist that the founders barred religious voices from political discourse, and the church-state separation deniers on the right.  The lesson of American history is that although church and state are institutionally separate, morality and freedom are seldom at odds and that, in fact, they are mutually reinforcing.”
Washington TimesChoice “Kidd delineates a religious consensus that emerged to propel the American revolt and shape the resulting republic…a well-substantiated treatment.”
“Thought-provoking, meticulously researched… a salutary reminder of the role religious belief played in the founding of our country. It is all the more valuable because that story clearly is in danger of being expunged from the historical record or even twisted into an example of the political hypocrisy of a time when God was often invoked but allegedly ignored.”
“Kidd directs his magnifying glass on a rare slice of the American Revolution: its religious aspects. . . . After reading this, some may wonder why religion is so shortchanged in other Revolutionary treatments.”
Christianity Today
“Balanced without being bland, lucid in the telling, Thomas Kidd’s chronicle corrects the excesses both of those who overstate the degree to which America was founded as a ‘Christian nation’ and of those who seek to minimize the formative role of religion in the new nation’s character.”
The Oklahoman 
“Full of information about the religious situation of the colonial, revolutionary and early periods of America. The religious and political situation was as complicated then as now. . . . highly recommended to those interested in religion's effect on the early days of America.”

Christian Book Previews

“Kidd delves into the lives of religious reformers, political leaders, and military commanders to provide a background of the American Revolution in a more focused and unique perspective. It is a breath a fresh air from the clichéd historical textbooks that only address broad themes of the time period. . . .  God of Liberty is an enlightening book, full of fresh perspectives and well-explained points.”

The Weekly Standard
“[An] eloquently argued study. . . . Kidd is careful not to adopt an explicitly ‘Christian nation’ view of the role of religious faith, especially evangelical Christian faith, in the nation’s founding.  He demonstrates effectively the variety of faiths among Americans of the revolutionary era, including an increasingly visible community of Jews. But he is unequivocal in stating that the majority of Americans at the time were Christian believers of some kind or other, and that the evangelical component of them (Patrick Henry, for example) played a formative role in creating the new republic.”
Books & Culture “Reckoning with the Revolutionary era’s many religious dimensions is the mission undertaken, and carried off marvelously, in Thomas Kidd’s God of LibertyGod of Liberty effortlessly straddles the divide between scholarly and popular history, uniting academic rigor with a pleasing readability.  It deserves, and hopefully will receive, an audience well beyond the ivory tower…[an] unfailing fair-minded book.”

Library Journal
Kidd (history, Baylor Univ.; The Great Awakening) has created a history of the place and effects of religion—overwhelmingly Christianity—before, during, and in the immediate wake of the American Revolution. He includes a wide array of voices ranging from Founding Fathers to clergy of various denominations as well as other prominent and not-so-prominent individuals. Kidd uses these voices to describe several ways in which Christian thought influenced the American colonists, e.g., the movement to disestablish particular churches from government—and therefore from tax support—and the intertwined notions that sin was a real threat to the colonies but that virtue, as promoted by Christian churches, could sustain the new republic. He makes clear that while the Founders did not wish to promote a particular sect of Christianity, they also did not envision the complete absence of religion from public life. VERDICT As Kidd argues that religion was inextricably linked to the American Revolutionary movement, his book will prove of interest both to readers in American Colonial religion and Colonial history, with his inclusion of unfamiliar sources extending the appeal to specialists as well.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids
Kirkus Reviews

Intriguing look at the role played by faith in America's movement for independence.

Though books about the faith lives of America's founders are abundant, Kidd (History/Baylor; The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, 2007, etc.) finds a useful niche by exploring how religion affected the American Revolution itself. Without the various roles and uses of religion, the revolution would have gone quite differently, if it would have come about at all. The author points to two disparate precursors of the independence movement: the Great Awakening of the 1730s and '40s and the Seven Years' War (1756–'63). He describes the Great Awakening as the "first American revolution," as it began an overthrow of traditional church-state relationships. Through the Awakening,state-supported churches came under severe attack as lay preachers rose up and dissenting churches became ever more popular. As state-supported churches lost power and prestige, so too did the colonialstructures behind them. This was a movement that would carry on past the revolution. Kidd writes that "for religion in America, disestablishment would prove to be the most significant political outcome of the Revolution." The Seven Years' War expanded religious sentiment in the colonies, stirring up an anti-Catholic hatred that was used with surprising effect against the British monarchy. The war also instilled an apocalyptic viewpoint among many colonists, which was easily turned against their occupiers. The author also discusses the importance of virtue to the founders and its role in establishing the nascent federal government, and examines other aspects of faith, including chaplains in the war effort and ethical arguments over slavery. Kidd ends fittingly with a look at Tocqueville, who was the first, and perhaps best, observer of American history in comprehending the role of faith in the creation of the American experiment.

An important contribution to American religious history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465002351
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas S. Kidd is associate professor of history at Baylor University. The author of several books on American religious history, he lives in Woodway, Texas.
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