The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama


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 nave 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.


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 in any significant way the evaluation of any president’s religious faith given in these pages. in September 2011, for example, the Kennedy Library released tapes of interviews conducted with Jacqueline Kennedy several months after her husband’s assassination. Although her words would have provided color and detail, they support the revisionist interpretation of John F. Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism found in this book.

My thanks to the following alumni and students of the College of William and Mary who assisted in preparing this publication during the halfdozen years of its research and writing: Katelyn R. Browne, Jack E. Cohen, Leah R. Giles, Ann E. Glennie, Andrew E. Jungclaus, Jarrett W. Knight, Anna L. Krause, Susan M. Metallo, Wistar W. Murray, Hannah R. Perry, and Maggie E. Southwell. Additional thanks go to the staffs of the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary, the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, and the nation’s presidential libraries.

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