Tag Archives: Federalists

Jefferson and Christianity

In recent days the space not taken up by discussions of, say, the Cincinnati gorilla, has been taken up online by  a vibrant discussion about Thomas Jefferson and Christianity. Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, even as his beliefs in “Christianity” diverged strongly from orthodox Christianity. How should we evaluate this?

The conversation was kicked off by a presentation by Peter Onuf and Annette Gordon-Reed on C-Span. It played out on twitter. Recent posts by John Fea and Ben Park have also addressed this.

Rather than rehash the issues raised, in my brief time I want to raise one other historical point. We could also ask: how did Jefferson’s contemporaries view his faith?

It’s worth noting that some of Jefferson’s contemporaries were quite suspicious. Due to his writings in places like Notes on the State of Virginia and various correspondence, many of Jefferson’s opponents questioned his faith.

I see this most clearly in a political editorial in 1800 that asked its readers if they wanted to vote for “God and a Religious President” [i.e., John Adams] or “Jefferson…and NO GOD.”

A more sustained statement of this idea came from two New York ministers, John Mitchell Mason and William Linn. After parsing Jefferson’s public utterances, they asserted that Jefferson was an infidel (one who maliciously rejected Christian truth) and so not to be trusted.

Or, as they claimed in a second pamphlet:

Christians! Lay these things together: compare them; examine them separately, and collectively: ponder; pause; lay your hands upon your hearts; lift up your hearts to heaven, and pronounce on Mr. Jefferson’s Christianity. You cannot stifle the emotions; nor forebear uttering your indignant sentence–infidel!!

(“The Voice of Warning to Christians,” 1800)

Now, Linn and Mason didn’t speak for everyone, and you could suggest that their claims were at least partially politically motivated. Still, as ministers, they claimed their duties forced them to point out Jefferson’s heterodoxy. To some believers of his day, Jefferson’s beliefs seemed suspicious.

Politics, you say? Would there be a book out there that talked about religious and political conflicts in the early republic? Maybe one involving the Federalists? Oh, that’s right: this one.

 

 

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Alexander Hamilton, After a Delay

I try to link (relatively) quickly to material elsewhere, but this one got away from me.

Early in March I posted a blog post on “Religion and Hamilton.” I contended that the smash Broadway hit Hamilton would be great for teaching, not only about the American Revolution in general but about religion in the American Revolution in particular.

Since I’ve published the piece, I’ve found several things:

1. The piece got mentioned on John Fea’s blog.

2. There are a lot of fans of the musical–and rightfully so!

3. The piece has resonated, which seems like a good thing for a piece about music.

So, in case you missed it, check the piece out!

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Talking John Adams, Religion, and Democracy

Earlier this spring, I gave away copies of Amy Kittelstrom’s new book, The Religion of Democracy.

Not only were two (!) lucky readers recipients the book, but I had a chance to read it, as well.

Today I had the chance to give a few reflections on the book at the Religion in American History blog.

Although I try to identify her central claims, my main goal is to assess her treatment of John Adams. Now, I have some opinions about John Adams, since he figures significantly in Patriotism and Piety.

So, in the review, I try to define how Kittelstrom uses Adams in her larger story. I then offer, briefly, an alternative interpretation. Not surprisingly, I think my emphases are better and more representative of Adams’ whole life.

And, what I don’t highlight in the piece, but which I think is implied, is that a much fuller interpretation is present…in Patriotism and Piety.

So, read the review and then read my fuller treatment of Adams…in the book.

President_John_Adams_(1735-1826)_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)_wiki

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A Great Review of Patriotism and Piety

The semester is over and my grades are entered. I’ll now be transitioning to other activities for this summer.

I arrived at my office this morning to learn that a review of Patriotism and Piety had gone online over night.

Neil Dhingra wrote an extended and really thoughtful review on the “Living Church” blog: “Americans Have Always Been Arguing Over Religion.”

Dhingra describes the book’s argument effectively, and he picks up on many of the central characters and moments from the book.

Dhingra even spices things up with a dramatically colorful introduction:

Philip Larkin famously said that sexual intercourse began in “nineteen sixty-three,” and many Americans doubtless imagine that religious controversy migrated here soon after the post-coital cigarette. Jonathan Den Hartog’s new book, Patriotism & Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation, shows that intense religious argument, particularly about infidelity, has been part of the history of the United States nearly from the start. And it only had a little to do with sex.

I appreciated the review because Dhingra not only took the book seriously, but he stepped back from the book to make very valuable points about nationalism, national identity, and the place of religion in American political life.

I highly recommend the review. Read it all here.

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Houston Recap

In my last post, I pointed out I still needed to blog about my Houston trip from early last week.

The trip went really well. I was pleased to be hosted by John Wilsey of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen his blog “To Breathe Your Free Air,” make sure to check it out! John and I had some great conversations about religion in the American Revolution and its continued import for understanding the world today.

The event was hosted by the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. I am glad they made it possible, and enjoyed meeting its associate director, Trey Dimsdale.

I was able to give a luncheon address on “Federalists, Religion, and Public Engagement,” which drew on some themes from Patriotism and Piety. Students were engaged, and I especially appreciated the students who followed up after the talk. A picture of my speaking even made it online:

The trip was also great for other personal connections. I got to talk with Miles Mullin again. Check out his contributions at the Anxious Bench. Phillip Sinitierre also joined us for a meal. Phil’s book on Joel Osteen will be out this fall–you won’t want to miss it! Finally, I was glad to meet the patristics scholar Stephen Presley.

The trip went quickly, but thanks to all who made it work!

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Mad Tom, Political Conflict, and Religious Conflict

We don’t have a lot of political cartoons from the very early republic, but lately I have very much appreciated one called “Mad Tom in a Rage.”mad-tom-in-a-rage

As you can see, it shows the Devil and Tom Paine working to pull down the Federal Government.

To my mind, this says a lot about how Federalists saw the religious and political conflict of the early republic.

Today, I analyze the cartoon over at the Religion in American History Blog.

But, there’s another reason I think the cartoon is worth talking about: it forms the artwork for my book!

 

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Religion and the American Revolution, July 2014 edition

It’s the middle of summer, and what better way to reinvigorate the blog, than with a post about Religion and the American Revolution!

In honor of the 4th of July week-end, I posted on this subject at the Religion in American History blog.

In this post, I talked about a volume recently released, entitled Faith and the Founders of the American Republic, edited by Daniel Dreisbach and Mark Hall. The volume featured 14 scholars (including myself!) writing on the subject.Dreisbach and Hall

Although I’m definitely self-interested, I think this is an important volume that moves the conversation forward toward better understanding of the topic.

As I say in my review:

These authors are writing as serious scholars deeply desiring to understand the past properly. This is no polemic–indeed, the editors entirely bracket any contemporary reflections. Rather, by bringing in multiple voices, the editors have shown that religion in the founding period operated in multiple ways and interacted with Enlightened and secular political thought to create a distinctive American mix.

It’s well worth the read.

Further, you’ll get insight into how religious commitments shaped the political culture of the period how such commitments shaped several important founders. My chapter on this latter topic features Elias Boudinot, an important Presbyterian from New Jersey–and a character who plays a big role in my forthcoming book. So, get a sneak peak into understanding Boudinot with this chapter! And, sample the other chapters while you’re at it!

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