Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

By James H. Hutson | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

The spirit of a people often finds a more profound and lasting expression in its hymns and anthems, whether official or unofficial, than it does in its constitutions and laws. The official national anthem of the United States, "The Star-Spangled Banner," affirms:

Then conquer we must, for our cause it is
just--
And this be our motto, "In God is our trust!"

In its unofficial anthems that affirmation is, if anything, intensified, as in Samuel Francis Smith's "America" (to the tune, let it be remembered, of "God Save the King!"):

Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!

And with overtly Christian tones in Julia Ward Howe's "Battle-Hymn of the Republic."

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across
the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you
and me,
As he died to make men holy, let us die to
make men free,
While God is marching on.

And, perhaps most transcendently of all, with echoes both from the Book of Revelation and from Augustine City of God, in "America the Beautiful":

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

In each case, significantly, the credo comes in the closing stanza of the anthem; only the "Battle- Hymn of the Republic" keeps up the apocalyptic tone from beginning to end. But each poem expresses something special about the American faith experience: "In God is our trust"; "Great God, our King"; "While God is marching on"; "Thine alabaster cities gleam."

How was it possible for this tradition to coexist with what later generations have somewhat simplistically interpreted to be the Jeffersonian tradition of an absolute "wall of separation" between church and state? That is the intriguing historical question to which the fascinating assemblage of materials in

-vii-

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