In this study of the religious lives of six framers of the Constitution, which began as an article in The Nation, Allen (Twentieth-Century Attitudes) ably demonstrates the uncontroversial thesis that many of the founding fathers were not very devout. Franklin was a skeptic and a humanist who displayed outright ""contempt for the niceties of Christian observance."" Washington was, like other Virginia gentry, a vestryman in his local Episcopal church, but he was not especially pious. Adams's Puritan heritage left him with a commitment to hard work but not to Calvinism. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, appears as a devotee of reason and a champion of religious freedom, a cause in which Madison joined him. Hamilton's piety was mainly ""opportunistic,"" and the religiosity he evinced on his deathbed had ""no effect"" on his participation in American politics. In the concluding chapter, Allen summarizes the history of the Enlightenment, that philosophical watershed that ""produced the founders,"" and she ends by warning that Enlightenment values are now under threat. Allen's sparring partners are, of course, those representatives of the religious right who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation. Unfortunately, they are not likely to read this book, and those readers already generally inclined to agree with Allen-including most serious students of American history-won't learn anything new.
Reviewed on: 10/01/2006 Release date: 10/01/2006 Genre: Religion
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