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The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations [Hardcover]

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Item description for The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations by James H. Hutson...

What did the founders of America think about religion? Until now, there has been no reliable and impartial compendium of the founders' own remarks on religious matters that clearly answers the question. This book fills that gap. A lively collection of quotations on everything from the relationship between church and state to the status of women, it is the most comprehensive and trustworthy resource available on this timely topic.

The book calls to the witness stand all the usual suspects--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams--as well as many lesser known but highly influential luminaries, among them Continental Congress President Elias Boudinot, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, and John Dickinson, "the Pennsylvania Farmer." It also gives voice to two founding "mothers," Abigail Adams and Martha Washington.

The founders quoted here ranged from the piously evangelical to the steadfastly unorthodox. Some were such avid students of theology that they were treated as equals by the leading ministers of their day. Others vacillated in their conviction. James Madison's religious beliefs appeared to weaken as he grew older. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, seemed to warm to religion late in life. This compilation lays out the founders' positions on more than seventy topics, including the afterlife, the death of loved ones, divorce, the raising of children, the reliability of biblical texts, and the nature of Islam and Judaism.

Partisans of various stripes have long invoked quotations from the founding fathers to lend credence to their own views on religion and politics. This book, by contrast, is the first of its genre to be grounded in the careful examination of original documents by a professional historian. Conveniently arranged alphabetically by topic, it provides multiple viewpoints and accurate quotations.

Readers of all religious persuasions--or of none--will find this book engrossing.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Princeton University Press
Pages   288
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 5.4" Height: 1.1"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 31, 2005
Publisher   Princeton University Press
ISBN  0691120331  
ISBN13  9780691120331  

Availability  0 units.

More About James H. Hutson

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James H. Hutson is supervisory librarian at the Library of Congress. He has taught history at Yale University and served as assistant editor of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin.

James H. Hutson has an academic affiliation as follows - Library of Congress, Washington DC Library of Congress Library of Cong.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Colonial Period > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Revolution & Founding > General
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Government > Constitutions
4Books > Subjects > Reference > General
5Books > Subjects > Reference > Quotations
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Church & State

Reviews - What do customers think about The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations?

A little for everyone  Aug 16, 2006
The Founders on Religion edited by James H. Hutson is, like most books of quotations, not exactly a book that is fascinating to read straight through from cover to cover. It is more a book that you keep on the shelf to be used as a reference when preparing correspondence, a talk, or a blog entry on a particular topic. To that end, Hutson has simplified matters by categorizing the quotations by topic instead of by Founding Father. The drawback of such a sort is that you do not see the philosophy of any of the Founding Fathers. You could, on the basis of many of Thomas Jefferson's quotes for instance, consider him a devoutly religious man. Other quotations wherein he details his "picking and chosing" of bible selections, literally cutting some verses out of his bible while keeping others, indicates that his religion was one-of-a-kind. You also cannot see the changes in a particular person's viewpoint through their lifetime or to particular politically charged situations. We certainly see the politicians of our day emphasize different beliefs to fit the situation and there is no reason to think it was otherwise 200 years ago.

One of the things I found exceedingly interesting was how many of the ideas and beliefs that I had assumed were new and fundamental to the newly organized Mormon church in 1830 were, in fact, very much the topics of the day in the early 1800's. These were such things as the end of the world, the restoration of Israel, the return of the Ten Lost Tribes, and the origin of the American Indian. Growing up, Joseph Smith could have even heard discussions of these topics from John Adams himself, an idea I had never considered.

This book, although only mildly slanted in favor of Christianity and godly belief, is not comprehensive. It would be a useful addition to a reference bookshelf but certainly wouldn't be my first choice for Founding Fathers' quotes.
A Handy and Valuable Resource  Apr 19, 2006
James H. Hutson has done anyone who writes or speaks about religion a huge favor. By collecting our founding father's thoughts on more than 70 religious topics, he has offered insight into the extrordinary minds and convictions of the people who founded this country.

Quotations on the after-life, death of loved ones, divorce, child rearing, reliability of biblical texts, Judism and Islam are offered from founders who range from pious to unorthodox.

Calling on the usual -- and even some unusual -- suspects Hutson offers quotations that transcend time. The utterances prove provacative, warm, funny, heartfelt and wise. Hutson even includes quotations from two founding mothers - Martha Washington and Abigal Adams.

Well-researched, highly-usable and often amusing, this book is a must for history lovers and those who just like to think, write or discuss religion.
A book of quotations - not analysis of them  Feb 20, 2006
There is no question that many of the "Founding Fathers" were people of faith with deep religious convictions who felt the miraculous formation of this country was "guided by Providence." This is seen for one in The Declaration of Independance which references a "guiding higher power" several times. (Yet, the Constitution is silent about the same - go figure). In the search for historical context of such issues, this book serves the need for a reliable source of quotations that covers as wide a range of subject matter in an unbiased manner.

The author is a professional historian with the Library of Congress and former faculty member of Yale and William and Mary Colleges and has scoured many primary sources to assemble this collection of quotes of many key figures in the early formation of this country. Not surprisingly, the overall approach and tone is highly academic with meticulous referencing. Part of the motivation of this new compilation is the author's professional frustration for existing "quote books" on the same topic which, according to him, are riddled in bias and piecemeal scholarship. Maybe, but this book sets a clear tone of historical scholarship according to accepted practices in the field that should be acceptable to people of all persuasions.

It is important to realize this is a book listing quotations and not an analysis, distillation or commentary about them - or as to what they could imply today (for that, Jon Meacham's 2006 book, "American Gospel" is worth reading). The author merely presents the "data" and lets the reader come to his/her own conclusions. As such it is a valuable reference on the topic. What is unique about the organization here is that it is by TOPIC rather than by person being quoted. This allows one to zero-in on topics of most interest. For those most interested in chuch-state issues, several topics will give related quotes: America, American revolution, the Bible, Christianity, Christian nation, Church & State, Constitution, Law, Liberty of conscience, Providence, Freedom of Religion, Social unity of religion. If your interest is in the various faiths (or none) of the founders, topics include Athiesm, Calvinism, Catholicsm, Clergy, Ecumenicism, Creeds, Dieism, Episcopalians, Jesus, Jews, Presbyterians, Quakers, Unitarianism. Other unique topics that reveal some personal perspectives and beliefs are war, women, Islam, slavery, Native Americans, the afterlife, marriage, divorce and reason.

There are a few limitations and challenges to this book. The first is the 18th-century language which can be a bit hard to assimilate. I had to read many quotes several times to get the jist (they seem to like run-on sentences). Second, there is no context given with the quotes (by design to limit the size). As a quote should only be as good as its known context, this is a limitation to further analysis. For example, many readers would want to see the entire context of Jefferson's famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association where he first used the now-legendary phrase, "a wall of separation." And, as other reviewers note below, not all major figures are represented in the quotes - Thomas Paine for example. Last - and again one of context - is the fact that the views of some being quoted changed as they matured.

You'll find the many of the familiar quotes from Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Jay, Franklin, Dickinson, Rush and others of their faith in God, the belief in "Providence" as well as their views on many social customs and even their presonal struggles. But, as many of the quotes reveal, they also had equally-strong convictions to not impose or coerce others into a "state-mandated religion" - in keeping with the principle of "freedom of conscience" and free will that their beliefs required. This should not be so surprising since, after all, they came to this land from oppressive Europe to be free. To those already familiar with the topic, there should be some new gems the author dug up in more obscure sources that "offer readers a richer and livelier selection of statements about the religion of Founders than is now available." Some of these include several prominent women of that era.

So, in all, this seeems a reliable book that gives "a careful examination of the original documents by a professional historian that provides multiple viewpoints and accurate quotations." As such, it makes a valuable contribution to understanding what were the various personal beliefs of the founders and how they influenced the formation of the United States of America. Lastly, here is one quotation from Jefferson I thought was interesting and revealed how the Founder's beliefs provided a foundation for personal liberty that did not imply the goal of a unified religious society (as some rightly feared then and now). As the book shows, many were of the same mind as Jefferson.

"Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his almighty power to do, but by extend it by the influence of reason alone." (Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777).
Concise but not as fair as it should be.  Dec 16, 2005
I agree with the previous reviewer's sound and well-expressed assessment, but only up to a point. This book is skewed in that it includes only certain members of the Revolutionary generation and only certain kinds of quotations from the included members. As to those excluded, Thomas Paine is an astonishing omission. Paine was a central figure in the American Revolution to his time, and his AGE OF REASON is rightly deemed a major statement on religion that deserved closer attention. So, too, Ethan Allen, the leader of the Green Mountain Boys and a founder of Vermont, wrote a book in which he advanced a powerful argument for atheism and freethinking. Even as to the people quoted, Jefferson's rather disturbing comments on Judaism are carefully omitted -- some of the most pungent may be found in THE ADAMS-JEFFERSON LETTERS. All in all, it's a useful book, but not without problems of its own.
concise and fair  Nov 11, 2005
This is a nice little florilegium that will be useful to fair-minded readers. It's short enough to read at a sitting, and it's the work of a responsible professional -- none of the faked or doctored quotes that appear in similar compilations published by the religious right.

Readers seeking context for these quotations will have to look elsewhere, as they are generally presented without commentary. Jefferson's "wall of separation" draws a bare footnote that directs the reader to a chapter in a recent monograph, but gives no hint of what will be found there.

My only reservation about this is book is that omits Thomas Paine, except in that he appears as the target of two negative comments by other writers. Paine, the author of "Common Sense" and "The Crisis," surely has a far, far better claim to rank among the Founders than the likes of Elias Bodinot and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. He is also the only one of the Founders who actually published a book entirely devoted to religion that still has a place in the American literary canon: "The Age of Reason." Hutson's decision to suppress Paine's radical voice is a flaw in an otherwise excellent book.

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