Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

By James H. Hutson | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This volume has been prepared as a companion piece for the Library of Congress exhibition, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, which opens in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, June 4, 1998. James H. Hutson, the author of this volume, is also the curator of the exhibition, the Chief of the Library's Manuscript Division, and a distinguished scholar of early American history.

The wide variety of materials in the superb collections of the Library of Congress creates a unique national resource for mounting an exhibit on religion and the founding of the United States. The Library's Manuscript Division holds the major collections of the papers of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Founders most instrumental in establishing the church-state policy of the new nation, as well as the papers of many of their colleagues who also interested themselves in this issue--George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, for example. The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division contains thousands of pamphlets and broadsides covering all aspects of religion in early America. The iconography of early American religion can be seen in the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division; its sounds can be heard in the revival hymnals and psalm books held in the Music Division.

Like most exhibits at the Library of Congress, this one seeks largely to share with a broad audience interesting material in the Library's collections. The religious aspects of American history do not seem to have been the central subject matter of major exhibitions in large public institutions in recent years. Because of this general neglect, the historical importance of this particular subject, and the careful and balanced scholarship of Dr. Hutson, this volume should make an important contribution to broad public knowledge as well as provide valuable reading for viewers of the exhibition.

The exhibition (and the companion volume) are not intended to provide a comprehensive history of religion on the North American continent from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The exhibition focuses on the relation of religion to government during the Founding period and does not cover other significant subjects in the broader field of early American religion, such as the religious practices of Native Americans or religion in Spanish and French North America. In planning the exhibition, it became apparent that justice could not be

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