‘Faith Of Founding Fathers’ Revisits Christian Leanings Of 6 Early Leaders, Wives

thefaithsofthefoundingfathersAmericans tend to be in one of two camps concerning the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Those who believe the leaders were Christians determined to create the republic as a Christian nation. The other camp believes the country was founded in a secular manner with care being taken to “build a wall” between church and state.

In The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (2006) author David L. Holmes succinctly analyzes the religious leanings of six Founding Fathers. These six are:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe

His examination, among other things, focuses on the words these men used when talking about God in a personal letter to a family or a friend. Reading these letters bypasses the political persona of the leaders and shows what they said in private.

Holmes zeroes in on specific words these men used concerning God or their use — or nonuse — of Christian phrases. For example, a Deist usually avoided traditional Christian phraseology using “the Grand Architect” instead of “God,” while Christians like John Adams would sprinkle “Redeemer of the World,” or “the grace of His Holy Spirit” throughout a letter.

Besides these six men, Holmes examines the men’s wives and a few of their children to see what family traditions and beliefs were passed on. The book concludes with a two-to-three paragraph about each of the modern presidents — beginning with Gerald Ford and ending with George W. Bush (who was president when the book was published).

Even though I found the whole book intriguing, the most interesting section was Holmes’ discussion, at the beginning of the book, about the religious climate during the Revolutionary War era. In this section, Holmes reports which church denominations existed in each of the 13 colonies, and their specific beliefs. This detailed account provided a picture of the variations of Christian doctrine and dogma that existed when the country was born.

Rated 5 out of 5: The Faiths of the Founding Fathers is an interesting read and a great introduction into the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers. It also sheds some light on how those beliefs played out publically. With only 185 pages the book is also a quick read.

Categories: American History, American Revolutionary War, Books I have read

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2 thoughts on “‘Faith Of Founding Fathers’ Revisits Christian Leanings Of 6 Early Leaders, Wives

  1. Did Holmes include any of these quotes from Benjamin Franklin?

    “Those Doctrines delivered by our Saviour and the Apostles, which are absolutely necessary to be believed, are so very plain, that the meanest Capacities, may easily understand ’em.”

    “I would advise these Reverend Gentlemen impartially to read the Scriptures.”

    “If Hemphill endeavoured to subvert [the Doctrine of Christ’s Satisfaction], he will not only be condemned by them, but by all good Christians.”

    “It is the Duty of every christian Minister to explode such Errors, which have a natural Tendency to make Men act as if Christ came into the World to patronize Vice, and allow Men to live as they please.”

    “Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all Iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar People zealous of Good-Works. And there is scarcely a Chapter in the whole Gospels or Epistles from which this Doctrine can’t be prov’d.”

    “They should acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah promised by the Prophets, the Son of God.”

    “I am conscious I believe in Christ, and exert my best Endeavours to understand his Will aright, and strictly to follow it.”

    “Christ by his Death and Sufferings has purchas’d for us those easy Terms and Conditions of our Acceptance with God, propos’d in the Gospel, to wit, Faith and Repentance.”

    If not, I would recommend that you read my book Franklin on Faith and compare it to Holmes’s work. You can find my book on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1506127355

    • Holmes’ book is a short book, so he would not have included all those quotes.

      However, his theory that Franklin was a Deist is fairly well substantiated by Franklin’s own words including his letter to Ezra Stiles near the end of Franklin’s life.

      I’m not a historian, but my reading of Franklin’s works suggest Franklin was a master of playing his cards close to the chest when speaking in a public or semi-public arena. Concerning religion, he seems mostly a realist. He said, “religion will be a powerful regulator of our actions, give us peace and tranquility within our minds, and render us benevolent, useful and beneficial to others.” So as a politician/Founding Father he understood the power of religion to offer moral guidance to a society. The pragmatic side of him must have known it was crucial — especially for the young nation — for he also said, “If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion, what would they be if without it.”

      If he was a devout Christian, he bypassed one of the most common methods of proving it — church attendance. He chose early in his youth to avoid Sunday worship and used the day, over the course of his life, to educate himself.

      Thanks for your comments. If you haven’t read Holmes’ book — it is a nice, short introduction to the topic.

      I will add your book to my list of books to read.

      – Charlie

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