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The Faiths of the Founding Fathers Hardcover – May 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (May 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195300920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195300925
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.1 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In demystifying what has been argument fodder for over 200 years, religion scholar Holmes (A Brief History of the Episcopal Church; A Nation Mourns) sorts through the carefully constructed (and ambiguous or contradictory) versions of the personal beliefs the United States's founding fathers presented to the outside world to present a sound case for what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others did or didn't do on Sundays. Holmes's subjects were acutely sensitive both to the dangers of state-sponsored religion as well as their reputations as leaders and went to what might seem like absurd lengths to cloak their religious leanings (Washington, for instance, rarely mentions church in his journals and, when he did attend, would leave service prior to communion), making Holmes's research and conclusions feats of deduction based on clues gleaned from letters, government documents, second- and third-hand accounts and educated speculation about motivations. Despite its strong points (including a wonderful epilogue on the religious beliefs of presidents from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush), the desiccating tone is one of technical scholarship that may turn off casual readers looking for a narrative history of this hot-button issue.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Against the Religious Right's insistence that the Founding Fathers were conventional Christians, Holmes pits facts about religion and religious language in late colonial and early republican America. He doesn't consider all the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution, and he concedes that private convictions are ultimately unknowable. Hence, his evidence is partial and circumstantial. Yet his argument is very persuasive. After precis of religion in the colonies circa 1770, the Anglican tradition in America, and deism, which was then at the height of its influence, he turns to Franklin and the first five presidents, inspecting their church attendance, observance of sacraments, and the terms they used to refer to the deity and religion. All six seem more deistic than orthodox; that is, they inclined against the Trinity and other supernatural concepts. To point up their practical deism, Holmes invokes the contrasting orthodoxy of the presidents' wives and daughters (Abigail Adams, however, was as deistic as John) and three other founders (Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay). A modest but definite triumph of temperate historical argumentation. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Stick with Dr. Holmes!
Leaders of current Christian evangelical churches are happy to have people believe that the founders were, well, Christian evangelicals.
R. Hardy
This book was very well written.
Kevin W. Mundt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

140 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes along with American Gospel : God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham and found The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes to be superior as far as learning the most about the founding fathers and what they believed along with what their wives believed and how they reared their children.

What makes this book a book you hate to set down is the indepth and interesting history of not only what they believed but how their beliefs evolved as they grew and matured. The first chapter deals mainly with the varies sects in the American colonies in the late 1770's, and how it varied from New England to the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies.

Chapter 3 is awesome as the author discusses The Enlightenment Religion of Deism. In fact I believe that if most Americans were to read this chapter they may well call themselves Deists. Then in Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, the authors specifically writes indepth about the Religious Views of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. He also writes about Paine whom I have grown to admire even more! In chapter 11 the author writes about the wives and children of the founding fathers and why Christian orthodoxy was so appealing to the women. As on page 111 where the author notes 'Third, any religion a woman embraced had to address suffering. In early America women constantly faces the specter of suffering, both physical and emotional,' and 'Fourth, Deism may not have accounted for the abundant mystery of life satisfactory enough to persuade women.' On page 110 he had noted 'Second, women were barred from another institution that propagated Deism: college. Young men would enter such institutions as Harvard or William and Mary, read and discuss such authors as Paine, Voltaire, Rousseau, Allen and Palmer, and often change their views of Christianity.'

Cannot recommend this book highly enough!!
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Hoodlum on May 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book quite carefully, I had to scratch my head in bemused wonder when I encountered the reviewer's words "the desiccating tone is one of technical scholarship that may turn off casual readers looking for a narrative history of this hot-button issue." The tone is not one of "technical scholarship" at all. Nor is the prose at all dry. More accurate, I think, to say that this book is well informed by a lifetime of reading in American religious history and is hence as judicious and balanced in its judgments as anyone could possibly hope for; in its tone, then, it is not "technical" but well informed. And the style is not desiccated (!) but instead warm and welcoming. The book is written in clear, well-crafted sentences devoid of academic jargon and pretentiousness: prose that consistently keeps the reader in mind, indeed welcomes them.

For example, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers begins with a chapter called "Religion in the American Colonies in 1770": a topic that could seem dry but which, in Holmes's hands, becomes a richly appealing account, a well-narrated story of what a visitor to this country would have encountered in 1770 up and down the Atlantic Seaboard--a surprisingly variegated landscape of religions.

The succeeding chapters provide all that the beginning inquirer would want to know about the religious beliefs not only of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, et al., but also of the wives and daughters of the Founding Fathers. There are surprises here as well. Holmes carefully and clearly delineates the differences between a Deist and an orthodox Christian--and the gradations between these two religious stances.

Beyond everything else, this book is a terrific introduction to American religion.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By J. Hardwick on November 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The "Faiths of the Founding Fathers" by David L Holmes is a treasure that should be read by all Americans who are interested in what the founding generation believed regarding religion and faith. It is hard to imagine that the individual faiths of the founding generation should be such a contentious issue but they are. All one has to do to prove this is to search on Amazon and see just how many books that one can find on this issue alone.

The book has a wealth of information but it is presented in an easy to read format that will appeal to lay readers and professionals alike. Unlike many books on the subject, it is short, sweet and to the point. However, it must be noted that Holmes does something that is quite strange with his book.

He actually focuses on the theological beliefs of the founding generation. Far too many books claim to focus on what the founders believed but only put forth a few pages on the subject and then move onto their real goal which is to state a political position and then claim the founders would agree with them.

Holmes does not fall into this all too common trap but instead begins with a focus on early American theological beliefs and then continues by focusing on the primary founders of the United States. In this way he lays out what the founders, their wives, their children and the country in general believed in regards to the theological. Thus, he maintains the focus on their faith where it should be.

What we learn is that the founding fathers and mothers were complex people that cannot easily be defined yet so many try to do so. This book shows why easy definitions are incorrect and that such ploys should be avoided.
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