The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America

The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America

by Frank Lambert
Pub. Date:
Princeton University Press
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The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America

How did the United States, founded as colonies with explicitly religious aspirations, come to be the first modern state whose commitment to the separation of church and state was reflected in its constitution? Frank Lambert explains why this happened, offering in the process a synthesis of American history from the first British arrivals through Thomas Jefferson's controversial presidency.

Lambert recognizes that two sets of spiritual fathers defined the place of religion in early America: what Lambert calls the Planting Fathers, who brought Old World ideas and dreams of building a "City upon a Hill," and the Founding Fathers, who determined the constitutional arrangement of religion in the new republic. While the former proselytized the "one true faith," the latter emphasized religious freedom over religious purity.

Lambert locates this shift in the mid-eighteenth century. In the wake of evangelical revival, immigration by new dissenters, and population expansion, there emerged a marketplace of religion characterized by sectarian competition, pluralism, and widened choice. During the American Revolution, dissenters found sympathetic lawmakers who favored separating church and state, and the free marketplace of religion gained legal status as the Founders began the daunting task of uniting thirteen disparate colonies. To avoid discord in an increasingly pluralistic and contentious society, the Founders left the religious arena free of government intervention save for the guarantee of free exercise for all. Religious people and groups were also free to seek political influence, ensuring that religion's place in America would always be a contested one, but never a state-regulated one.

An engaging and highly readable account of early American history, this book shows how religious freedom came to be recognized not merely as toleration of dissent but as a natural right to be enjoyed by all Americans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691126029
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 02/27/2006
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi


PART ONE: Religious Regulation


English Heritage 21

The Crown and the Church 23

The Age of Faith 31

The Act of Uniformity, Religious Liberty, and Dissent 39


Transplanting the Church of England in the Chesapeake 46

"Nursing Fathers" of the Church 48

A Gentleman's Religion 58

Religious Outsider 67


Puritan Fathers and the "Christian Common-wealth" 73

"the religious design of [the Puritan] Fathers" 76

"Shields unto the Churches of New-England" 82

"a well-bounded Toleration" 89


A "Holy Experiment" in Religious Pluralism 100

The "Holy Experiment" 102

"a great mixt multitude" 109

Religion, Politics, and the Failure of the "Holy Experiment" 114

PART TWO: Religious Competition


"Trafficking for the Lord" and the Expansion of Religious Choice 127

Regulated Parishes 129

"a Sett of Rambling Fellows" 136

"as tho 'they had their Religion to chuse" 145


Deists Enter the Religious Marketplace 159

The New Learning 162

Science and Religion 167

Founder and "True" Religion 173


Whigs and Dissenters Fight Religious Regulation 180

Whig and Dissenting Traditions 182

Warning against "Spiritual Directors" 187

Dissent against the Standing Order 194

PART THREE: Religious Freedom


The American Revolution of Religion 207

Religion and Independence 210

Opposing Massachusetts's "oppressive establishment of religion" 219

Triumph of Religious Freedom in Virginia 225


Constitutional Recognition of a Free Religious Market 236

Religious Factions and the Threat to Union 241

The "Godless Constitution" 246

Ratification Contingent upon Religious Freedom 253


Religion and Politics in the Presidential Campaign of 1800 265

"...govern the name of the Lo: Jesus Christ" 268


"one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods" 280

Epilogue 288

Notes 297

Index 323

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