Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Founders on Religion

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Founders on Religion

Article excerpt

THE FOUNDERS ON RELIGION by JAMES H. HUTSON Princeton University Press, 280 pages, $19.95

James Hutson offers reliable quotations by the Founding Fathers on religion. Hutson himself says that recent "quote books" on religion and the founding display "a cavalier attitude toward factual accuracy." As chief of the manuscript division at the Library of Congress, Hutson brings some much-needed scholarly credibility to this genre.

The book also represents, with great balance, the Founders' differing religious viewpoints. While all the Founders believed in a powerful Providence, there was a split between those who affirmed the tenets of traditional orthodox Christianity and those who subscribed to an Enlightenment-influenced "theistic rationalism." While orthodox Christianity dominated the views of the population at large and probably a statistical majority of those who signed the Declaration and framed the Constitution, an unconventional Unitarian theology seemed to engage the minds of certain key Founders-among them, those who played the most prominent roles in declaring independence and drafting the Constitution. …

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