The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
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The period of the American founding was filled with individuals of unusual interest as historical actors and unusual significance for the history of the United States. A recent burst of literary and televised attention has made John and Abigail Adams nearly as familiar to contemporary Americans...
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Two weaknesses in much of the scholarship on the American founding inspired this collection of essays. First, there has long been a tendency to discount or ignore the role of religion in the American founding in general, and in the political thought of influential founders in particular. Second, much that has been...
1. Famous Founders and Forgotten Founders: What’s the Difference, and Does the Difference Matter?
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Consider the political career of Roger Sherman (1721–1793) of Connecticut, a largely self-taught man, devout Calvinist, and lifelong public servant.1 He was one of only two men who signed the three great expressions of American organic law: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution.2 He was a delegate...
2. The Way of Duty: Abigail Adams and Religion
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According to Adams family lore, when the Reverend William Smith preached the sermon at his daughter Abigail’s marriage ceremony on October 25, 1764, he chose for his text Luke 7:33: “For John came, neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and Ye say ‘He hath a Devil.’”1 Even in the mid-eighteenth century’s still...
3. Samuel Adams: America’s Puritan Revolutionary
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Although scholars debate how important religion was to many of the nation’s founders, they unanimously agree that Samuel Adams was one of the most devout. If George Washington is the “indispensable man” in winning the Revolutionary War and insuring that the new republic succeeded...
4. Oliver Ellsworth’s Calvinist Vision of Church and State in the Early Republic
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Oliver Ellsworth (1745–1807) is, unfortunately, an obscure person to most twenty-first-century Americans—even to historians. But he was well-regarded in late-eighteenth-century America and played an influential role in creating our federal republic. James Madison wrote that he “always regarded [Ellsworth’s] talents of a high order...
5. Alexander Hamilton, Theistic Rationalist
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The study of Alexander Hamilton’s religion presents a daunting, but interesting, challenge to the historian. Most biographers discuss the early religious influences on Hamilton and his apparent piety during his youth, then mention his religion briefly or not at all until the final years of his life. Hamilton is...
6. Patrick Henry, Religious Liberty, and the Search for Civic Virtue
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The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom ranks among the foremost documents in the history of American liberties. In sweeping terms it placed the rights of conscience—the freedom to believe and to worship without pressure or coercion of any kind—beyond the reach of the state. Thomas Jefferson...
7. John Jay and the "Great Plan of Providence"
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In 1809, the Congregationalist minister and author Jedidiah Morse wrote the retired statesman John Jay to ask for advice about writing a history of the American Revolution. Jay responded that “a proper history of the United States . . . would be singular, or unlike all others.” Jay believed...
8. Thomas Paine’s Civil Religion of Reason
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Although Thomas Paine (1737–1809) spent only about a quarter of his life in North America, he deserves to be counted among the founders of the United States and as a champion of republican government. Common Sense, which Paine published in 1776, just thirteen months after he arrived in Philadelphia...
9. Anglican Moderation: Religion and the Political Thought of Edmund Randolph
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Edmund Randolph (1753–1813), a central actor in Virginia’s revolutionary and constitutional politics from the 1770s to the 1790s, was in many ways a conventional figure. A staunch republican, he celebrated those exemplary Virginians who, he believed, had led Virginia through two foundational, constitutional...
10. Benjamin Rush and Revolutionary Christian Reform
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At exactly nine in the morning on July 4, 1788, as a cloudy but rainless sky hung over Philadelphia, the bells of Christ Church joyously announced the beginning of the Grand Federal Procession.1 Partisans of the recently ratified Constitution had created an unprecedented public extravaganza to celebrate...
11. Roger Sherman: An Old Puritan in a New Nation
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By any measure, Roger Sherman is a forgotten founder. He is virtually unknown to the American public, and history and government professors know little about him other than that he helped craft the Connecticut Compromise. Yet as Daniel L. Dreisbach suggests, Sherman deserves to be better...
12. Mercy Otis Warren on Church and State
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Among the forgotten founders, Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814) has been particularly neglected. As a woman she was never eligible to hold elected or appointed office. Yet because of the particular circumstances of her upbringing and her social position as an adult, she was one of the few women...
For Further Reading
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Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2009