Christian Nation? The United States in Popular Perception and Historical Reality

By T. Adams Upchurch | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The American “Exemplars”
Founders Who Led by Example

THE BIT PLAYERS

Thus far this study has inquired into the religious background of American culture, the philosophical underpinnings of separation of church and state, and the ways various forces coalesced to form the national civic religion. It now follows to consider how some of the specific Founders viewed religion and helped shape the destiny of the country with it. To begin, it should be noted that most (but certainly not all) of the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution were born and raised in the 1730s and 1740s, the decades of the Great Awakening in America and of a great outpouring of Enlightenment thought in Europe. They were thus products of a radical period in Western civilization when competing ideological forces worked against one another. It would have been virtually impossible for them to have grown up in the civilized parts of the American colonies during this time and not felt the effects of that tug-of-war. Both radical spiritualism and intellectualism vied for the attention of their young, impressionable minds. Some imbibed more of the one, while some absorbed more of the other, and each individual character was molded accordingly.

Some of the youngsters who gravitated toward the traditional, conservative Christianity of the day, including an affirmation of an establishment of religion—regardless of denominational preference—included John Jay, an Episcopalian, mild Deist, and Federalist from New York who became the first president of the American Bible Society (ABS) and first Chief Justice of the

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