The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents
From Truman to Obama
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Georgia Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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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...
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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...
Harry S. Truman
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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...
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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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...
John F. Kennedy
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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...
Lyndon Baines Johnson
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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. ...
Richard M. Nixon
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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...
Gerald R. Ford
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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...
James Earl Carter Jr.
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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...
Ronald Wilson Reagan
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“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...
George Herbert Walker Bush
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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...
William Jefferson Clinton
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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...
George W. Bush
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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. ...
Barack Hussein Obama
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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...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History