I did not know it at the time, but this book really began in my late teens and early twenties. During these years I was fortunate to work closely with several remarkable leaders who, despite operating in very different fields and with very different styles, shared a common determination. Each was committed in some fashion to honoring the often competing demands of human agency, transcendent love, and effective rule. Their memorable struggles first opened my eyes to the nobility and difficulty of such a task.
As a concrete scholarly endeavor, this book began at Duke University in Sandy Kessler's graduate course on Early American Political Thought. Besides introducing me to a subfield of political science where I could satisfy my interests in philosophy, politics, and history (interests initially stoked by a set of outstanding undergraduate teachers, namely Don Sorenson, David Magleby, and Frank Fox), Professor Kessler provided an inspiring introduction to a number of the classic texts that serve as the grist for this study. I completed his course with two convictions. One was that notions of Christian love, or charity, had played a greater role in the development of American political thought and practice than the voluminous secondary literature suggested. The other was that not only had some of early America's most philosophically minded and influential statesmen considered the merits and challenges of trying to make Christian love the basis of a political virtue, their insights were sage enough to remain relevant to our day—a day as vexed as ever over the appropriate role of religion in our public life. Animated by these two thoughts, I began a dissertation under the thoughtful and efficient direction of Ruth Grant and a dissertation committee (Michael Gillespie, Stanley Hauerwas, Sandy Kessler, and Tom Spragens) that was different, demanding, and congenial enough to stretch me to my limits but not beyond.