The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotationsby James H. Hutson
What did the founders of America think about religion? Until now, there has been no reliable and impartial compendium of the founders' own remarks on religious matters that clearly answers the question. This book fills that gap. A lively collection of quotations on everything from the relationship between church and state to the status of women, it is the most… See more details below
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What did the founders of America think about religion? Until now, there has been no reliable and impartial compendium of the founders' own remarks on religious matters that clearly answers the question. This book fills that gap. A lively collection of quotations on everything from the relationship between church and state to the status of women, it is the most comprehensive and trustworthy resource available on this timely topic.
The book calls to the witness stand all the usual suspects--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams--as well as many lesser known but highly influential luminaries, among them Continental Congress President Elias Boudinot, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, and John Dickinson, "the Pennsylvania Farmer." It also gives voice to two founding "mothers," Abigail Adams and Martha Washington.
The founders quoted here ranged from the piously evangelical to the steadfastly unorthodox. Some were such avid students of theology that they were treated as equals by the leading ministers of their day. Others vacillated in their conviction. James Madison's religious beliefs appeared to weaken as he grew older. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, seemed to warm to religion late in life. This compilation lays out the founders' positions on more than seventy topics, including the afterlife, the death of loved ones, divorce, the raising of children, the reliability of biblical texts, and the nature of Islam and Judaism.
Partisans of various stripes have long invoked quotations from the founding fathers to lend credence to their own views on religion and politics. This book, by contrast, is the first of its genre to be grounded in the careful examination of original documents by a professional historian. Conveniently arranged alphabetically by topic, it provides multiple viewpoints and accurate quotations.
Readers of all religious persuasions--or of none--will find this book engrossing.
Martin E. Marty
"Seeking to let the Founders speak for themselves on religion, James Hutson has succeeded in producing a book of quotations that is not agenda driven and duly satisfies the canons of historical scholarship."--Terry Eastland, Books & Arts
"[James H.] Hutson offers quotes on religion not only from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other famous Founding Fathers but also from less well known figures, like Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress, and the Founding Mothers Abigail Adams and Martha Washington. . . .This well-rounded selection of quotes provides fascinating reading material good for discussion."--C. Robert Nixon, Library Journal
"James Hutson comes at this project from a different perspective than most. . . . Dr. Hutson is a historian and tries hard to be fair. He organizes the material by subject rather than by author. The strength of his decision is that it underscores the depth and breadth of the Founders' religious interests. . . . This is a most interesting book!"--Jeff Zell, Dallas Morning News
"The book . . . represents, with great balance, the Founders' differing religious viewpoints. . . . All in all, this is the most balanced collection of quotations representing the Founders' religious views published thus far."--Jonathan Rowe, First Things
"[James H. Hutson is] a scholar friendly to religion--one who shows little bias in his writings and in his current work. Thus since the Founders differed so much from each other, Hutson offers some conflicting and contradictory comments by these leaders."--Martin E. Marty, The Christian Post
"The Founders on Religion might go a long way toward settling disputes...[Hutson] takes us straight to the sources, with some surprising results. In easy-to-reference form, he shows the founders loved their country but were quite capable of thinking outside the pew."--Susan Campbell, The Hartford Courant
"In easy-to-reference form, he shows that the founders loved their country but were quite capable of thinking outside the pew."--Kevin Eckstrom, Winston-Salem Journal
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The Founders on ReligionA Book of Quotations
By James H. Hutson
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Following are extracts from letters written by Charles Carroll of Carrollton to his alcoholic son, Charles Carroll, Jr. The younger Carroll, as his anguished father frequently reminded him, had been the beneficiary of everything that wealth and parental affection could provide: financial security, a good education, an impressive home. In addition, Carroll, Jr., married a model wife from an excellent Philadelphia family who presented him with attractive children. But the younger Carroll could not conquer his addiction to alcohol, which wrecked his life. Charles Adams, the second son of John and Abigail Adams, was also an alcoholic who died young and in disgrace.
It will add great comfort to the few years I may have to live to see you persevere in the resolution which you have taken ... If you have not the resolution of perseverance you will degrade your character, shorten a miserable life, and that of an affectionate wife, who to escape the afflicting scene she has daily witnessed and for the sake of her health has been constrained to abandon her home. I earnestly, advise you to call in religion to your aid; never rise or go to bed without humbling yourself infervent prayer before your God, and crave his all powerful grace to overcome your vicious and intemperate habit; meditate on the end of your creation, and the dreadful consequences of not fulfilling it; keep your mind and body usefully occupied ... avoid idle companions addicted to the same failing; which has hitherto overcome all your good resolutions of amendment, and probably theirs. Idleness, says Solomon, is the root of all evil, and St. Paul, that evil communication corrupts good morals. All your endeavours to conquer the dreadful and degrading habit you have contracted, will be of no avail unless you abstain from tasting, even from smelling all ardent spirits.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Charles Carroll, Jr., April 27, 1813. Carroll Papers (microfilm), reel 2, Library of Congress.
I entreat you to comply strictly with my advice: refrain entirely from ardent spirits and strong malt liquors, and use wine with great moderation. Without a reformation you can not reasonably expect your wife to love you. I beg you will seriously reflect of an hereafter; religion will afford you the greatest of all consolations, and its powerful influence will aid you to get the better of your dreadful habit.
Ibid., May 25, 1813, reel 2.
I need not urge the necessity of your conquering entirely the fatal habit to which you have been so many years a slave; without a perfect and complete mastery of it, you know you can enjoy no peace of mind no comfort in this life, and the thought of your dying without reformation and repentance of the consequences in the next is most dreadful.
Ibid., June 1, 1815, reel 3.
In writing to you I deem it my duty to call your attention to the shortness of this life, the certainty of death, and of that dread judgment, which we must all undergo, and on the decision of which a happy or miserable eternity depends. The impious said in his heart, there is no God. He would willingly believe there is no God; his passions and the corruption of his heart would feign persuade him that there is not; the stings of conscience betray the emptiness of the delusion: the heavens proclaim the existence of God, and unperverted reason teaches that he must love virtue, and hate vice, and reward the one and punish the other.
Keep in mind, and reflect frequently and seriously on the passage in the Apocalypse: "Audivi Vocem de calo dicentem mihi scriebe Beati mortui qui in Domino moritentur; amodo jam dicit spiritus ut requiescant a laboribus suis; opera enim illorum sequuntureos."
The wise and best of the ancients believed in the immortality of the soul, and the Gospel has established the great truth of a future state of rewards and punishments; a series of prophecies from the expulsion of Adam and Eve out of paradise to within a few hundred years of the coming of Christ announcing that event, and all fulfilled in his person, leave no room to doubt of the truth of Christianity and of the words of Christ; he foretold the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, his resurrection, the conversion of the Gentiles, and the last and general judgment: how can we doubt of the latter, when all the others have been realized? How abject, how degraded, how despicable must the mind of that man be, who wishes to persuade himself, from the dread of punishment in a future state, the inevitable consequence of vice unrepented in this, that he is not of a nature superior to that of his dog and horse, limited like them to a transitory existence, and relinquishing the hope and belief of a glorious immortality, the sure reward of a virtuous life. O! The fatal effect of unbridled and habitual vice, which can pervert and blind the understanding of a person well educated and instructed!
My desire to induce you to reflect on futurity, and by a virtuous life to merit heaven have suggested the above reflections, and warning: despise them not; on the making them the daily subject of your thoughts, they can not fail to impress on your mind the importance of reform and repentance. The approaching festival of Easter, and the merits and mercies of our Redeemer ... have led me into this chain of meditation and reasoning, and have inspired me with the hope of finding mercy before my judge and of being happy in the life to come, a happiness I wish you to participate with me by infusing into your heart a similar hope. Should this letter produce such a change it will comfort me, and impart to you that peace of mind, which the world cannot give, and which I am sure you have long ceased to enjoy.
Ibid., April 12, 1821, reel 3.
[Charles Carroll, Jr., died, April 3, 1825-Ed.]. I presume that he expressed anguish and repentance for the life he led; the course of which both of us have more cause to lament than his end. He has appeared before a judge, the searcher of hearts and most merciful. Let us pray that he has found mercy at that dread tribunal.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Mrs. Charles Carroll, Jr., April 12, 1825. Ibid., reel 3.
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What People are saying about this
Frank Lambert, author of "The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America" (Princeton)
David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and biographer, author of "John Adams" and "Truman"
Kenneth P. Minkema, Yale University
Mark A. Noll, author of "America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln"
Walter Isaacson, author of "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"
Meet the Author
James H. Hutson is chief of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. He has been a faculty member of the History Departments at Yale University and the College of William and Mary. His books include "John Adams and the Diplomacy of the American Revolution; To Make All Laws: The Congress of the United States, 1789-1989; Religion and the Founding of the American Republic;" and, most recently, "Forgotten Features of the Founding: The Recovery of Religious Themes in the Early American Republic".
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