We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents

From Truman to Obama

David L. Holmes

Publication Year: 2012

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, an acclaimed look at the spiritual beliefs of such iconic Americans as Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson, established David L. Holmes as a measured voice in the heated debate over the new nation's religious underpinnings. With the same judicious approach, Holmes now looks at the role of faith in the lives of the twelve presidents who have served since the end of World War II.

Holmes examines not only the beliefs professed by each president but also the variety of possible influences on their religious faith, such as their upbringing, education, and the faith of their spouse. In each profile close observers such as clergy, family members, friends, and advisors recall churchgoing habits, notable displays of faith (or lack of it), and the influence of their faiths on policies concerning abortion, the death penalty, Israel, and other controversial issues.

Whether discussing John F. Kennedy's philandering and secularity or Richard Nixon's betrayal of Billy Graham's naïve trust during Watergate, Holmes includes telling and often colorful details not widely known or long forgotten. We are reminded, for instance, how Dwight Eisenhower tried to conceal the background of his parents in the Jehovah's Witnesses and how the Reverend Cotesworth Lewis's sermonizing to Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War was actually not a left- but a right-wing critique.

National interest in the faiths of our presidents is as strong as ever, as shown by the media frenzy engendered by George W. Bush's claim that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher or Barack Obama's parting with his minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Holmes's work adds depth, insight, and color to this important national topic.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (94.0 KB)
pp. i-v


pdf iconDownload PDF (58.0 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (55.0 KB)
pp. ix

No president’s story is complete until his death—and even then, reevaluations frequently occur. In the case of a sitting or recent president, assessments are especially subject to change. In certain ways, a book or chapter on such a president resembles a first draft. This book went to press in the summer of 2011. In the months since, more than a dozen works on the postwar presidents have appeared. None changes...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (82.4 KB)
pp. xi-xiii

The founders of the United States, both its leaders and ordinary citizens, had a problem: what to do about religion in the new republic. Those who had immigrated from Europe, remembering everything from corruption to holy wars, knew that in the hands of civil authorities religion could by force of law be used, and that rulers had used it. Heads of state might employ preferred faiths to endorse their own selfish policies, show favoritism in the public, or...

read more

Harry S. Truman

pdf iconDownload PDF (174.8 KB)
pp. 1-23

In 1907, when Harry Truman was working on the family’s farm in Grandview, Missouri, the rector of the Episcopal church in nearby Independence led a systematic canvass of his city’s religious membership. According to this survey, the population of Independence that year fell into the following religious categories...

read more

Dwight D. Eisenhower

pdf iconDownload PDF (168.2 KB)
pp. 24-44

As a general and as a president, Dwight David Eisenhower worked to keep the religious side of his childhood private. He and his brothers succeeded so well that some of what biographers have written about the family’s religious heritage is either inaccurate or incomplete. Eisenhower did not join a church until he was sixty-three years old. His religious background in the River Brethren, in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and...

read more

John F. Kennedy

pdf iconDownload PDF (227.3 KB)
pp. 45-75

When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a candidate for president, his religious affiliation made a great deal of difference to many Americans. The question of Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism animated the 1960 election. It provided an analog to such elections as those of 1800 and 1928, when the religions of Thomas Jefferson and Al Smith played a crucial role. In 1960, many Americans...

read more

Lyndon Baines Johnson

pdf iconDownload PDF (179.2 KB)
pp. 76-98

Lyndon Baines Johnson (known as “LBJ” during his political career) never made a public display of his religion. “He was always very reticent about his version of Christianity,” one biographer wrote. “This caused many to assume he was unmoved by religion.”1 In 1967, however, Johnson’s visit to one church occupied national and international news for many days. ...

read more

Richard M. Nixon

pdf iconDownload PDF (183.2 KB)
pp. 99-123

Richard Milhous Nixon—the middle name came from his mother’s German heritage—was born in Yorba Linda, a small town southeast of Los Angeles. He was raised in the evangelical wing of Quakerism. “No one,” Nixon wrote, “could have had a more intensely religious upbringing.”1 The Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers) emerged from the left, or radical, wing of the Puritan movement in England. The Puritans attempted...

read more

Gerald R. Ford

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.6 KB)
pp. 124-142

If history considers Thomas Jefferson as an Episcopalian rather than as a Unitarian, then Gerald Rudolph Ford was the eleventh member of the Episcopal church to serve as president. That he was an active, believing Episcopalian was well known during his presidency. Raised in Illinois, Ford’s mother, Dorothy Gardner, attended finishing school and a year of college. In 1912, after a short relationship, she fell in...

read more

James Earl Carter Jr.

pdf iconDownload PDF (211.8 KB)
pp. 143-172

When James Earl (“Jimmy”) Carter was elected president, a largely secular press corps spent substantial time pondering the meaning of such terms as “evangelical” and “Southern Baptist.” At one of his early press conferences, Carter declared that if reporters wanted to know what a Baptist believed, they needed only to read the New Testament. Being a Southern Baptist...

read more

Ronald Wilson Reagan

pdf iconDownload PDF (188.7 KB)
pp. 173-196

“I see two primary threads jumping out of my father’s storyline,” Ron Reagan wrote in My Father at 100: “[a] fierce desire to be recognized as someone noteworthy, even heroic; and his essentially solitary nature.” In his recent biography of his father, President Reagan’s youngest son continues...

read more

George Herbert Walker Bush

pdf iconDownload PDF (150.5 KB)
pp. 197-214

The old house in Beijing that served as a makeshift church was unremarkable, ill-kept, and for the American envoy and his wife, a far cry from the traditional Episcopal sanctuaries of home. The services were in Chinese. The ministers were Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian. The Sunday congregation—about a dozen in all, typical for this house-church—included a mix...

read more

William Jefferson Clinton

pdf iconDownload PDF (196.6 KB)
pp. 215-239

William Jefferson Clinton was born into a southern family descended from a long line of struggling farmers named for founding fathers. On his mother’s side, he was of Irish and Cherokee heritage. His biological father’s lineage is difficult to determine, but the family name is Scots. His maternal grandmother, Edith Grisham Cassidy, grew up a Methodist. His grandfather, James...

read more

George W. Bush

pdf iconDownload PDF (211.5 KB)
pp. 240-269

George W. Bush represents the one president since World War II who converted to evangelicalism from a background in mainline Protestant Christianity. His conversion, which occurred in the mid-1980s, became central not only to his life but also to his political outlook. Not since the year 1900 had Christianity played such a role in a presidential campaign as it did in 2000. ...

read more

Barack Hussein Obama

pdf iconDownload PDF (347.9 KB)
pp. 270-320

During Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, voters asked whether a Protestant Christian with two Muslim grandparents, a Muslim father, a Muslim stepfather, and a first name that means “blessed” in Swahili and Arabic had ever been a Muslim himself. In 2007 a rumor circulated that Obama had attended a radical Muslim school in Indonesia as a child. In Florida, Jewish...


pdf iconDownload PDF (400.7 KB)
pp. 321-378


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 379-396

Further Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF (53.9 KB)
pp. 397

E-ISBN-13: 9780820339634
E-ISBN-10: 0820338621
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820339634

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History