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The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America [Kindle Edition]

Frank Lambert
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

How did the United States, founded as colonies with explicitly religious aspirations, come to be the first modern state whose commitment to the separation of church and state was reflected in its constitution? Frank Lambert explains why this happened, offering in the process a synthesis of American history from the first British arrivals through Thomas Jefferson's controversial presidency.

Lambert recognizes that two sets of spiritual fathers defined the place of religion in early America: what Lambert calls the Planting Fathers, who brought Old World ideas and dreams of building a "City upon a Hill," and the Founding Fathers, who determined the constitutional arrangement of religion in the new republic. While the former proselytized the "one true faith," the latter emphasized religious freedom over religious purity.

Lambert locates this shift in the mid-eighteenth century. In the wake of evangelical revival, immigration by new dissenters, and population expansion, there emerged a marketplace of religion characterized by sectarian competition, pluralism, and widened choice. During the American Revolution, dissenters found sympathetic lawmakers who favored separating church and state, and the free marketplace of religion gained legal status as the Founders began the daunting task of uniting thirteen disparate colonies. To avoid discord in an increasingly pluralistic and contentious society, the Founders left the religious arena free of government intervention save for the guarantee of free exercise for all. Religious people and groups were also free to seek political influence, ensuring that religion's place in America would always be a contested one, but never a state-regulated one.

An engaging and highly readable account of early American history, this book shows how religious freedom came to be recognized not merely as toleration of dissent but as a natural right to be enjoyed by all Americans.

Editorial Reviews


A responsible, clearly written analysis of the currently disputed mindset of the Founding Fathers regarding the role of religion in American society. Numerous quotations from the personal and professional writings of the Founding Fathers themselves bring a refreshing vitality to Lambert's work while simultaneously dispelling the absolutized assumptions of contemporary conservatives and liberals alike.

From the Inside Flap

"Lambert has crafted an excellent survey on religion and the state in early America--deft, succinct, and well researched. With crystal clear prose, Lambert offers a wonderfully lucid text for general readers and students, yet one also studded with insights of great profit to historians of American religion and culture."--Leigh E. Schmidt, Princeton University

"Although Lambert explores a difficult interpretive question, the origins of the separation of church and state in America, he does so with fine narrative style. The prose is crisp and lucid, and his argument is solid and convincing."--Patrick Griffin, Ohio University

Product Details

  • File Size: 1057 KB
  • Print Length: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 28, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM546
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,927 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
107 of 121 people found the following review helpful
This book is the best on its subject which I have come across in a very long time -- after a fairly long course of reading books on US church-state relations over the years -- in history, law, policy...
I came to Lambert now after wading through a score or so of recent books on this -- tracts, I'll call most of the others, because they were nearly all horribly-biased. This has been part of a personal project to explain, and defend, the extraordinary depth and richness of US religiosity to some overseas friends. Foreigners never do understand how we can have such strong religious activity and belief, here in the US, while at the same time we maintain a "wall of separation" between church and state.
Lambert does an admirable job of explaining this -- and he does it fairly, with great balance, and with wonderful style in his writing. He has a point of view himself, but he does not let it become a bias -- anyone possessing any of the many opinions which exist, on these issues, can get much out of reading this book.
Lambert is a master of the topical and well-timed historical anecdote: he weaves these together, gently, in an entertaining and informative account of the US Colonial record on the difficulties of accommodating "varieties of religious experience". But he also has a keen historian's eye for the value of generalizations. He confines his text very carefully to his chosen historical period, 1600-1800. But he is not at all afraid to draw out a universal theme, occasionally, from his account of what those little bands of English expatriates and descendants of same were doing, or thought they were doing, back then in their "13 colonies".
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christian Nation, Secular State February 5, 2005
This very good book is a concise history of church-state relations in Colonial and Revolutionary America from the early British settlements to the election of 1800. Lambert describes the nature of early religous establishments, the increasing diversification of American religion, the impact of the Enlightenment and radical Whig ideology, and the emergence of church-state separation after the Revolution. There will be little new in this book for scholars of this period but this is definitely the best overview I have seen on this very contentious topic. Aimed at a broad audience, The Founding Fathers is written well, organized well, and is objective.

Lambert comes to this subject from an interesting perspective. His prior major work has been on the history of 18th century evangelism and his is an expert on Colonial religous practice. He particularly stresses that most of the colonies were founded originally with established churches and that establishment crumbled under the pressures of religous diversification. By the mid-18th century, the colonies contained a remarkably diverse set of Protestant sects and even some Catholics. This religous diversity, some of which arose from immigration and some from separatist movements within established churches, placed great strains on established churches. The mid-century Great Awakening resulted in further diversification and undermined the authority of the parish system throughout the colonies. Around the same time, the Enlightenment, with its Deistic views, and radical Whig ideology, with its emphasis on individual liberty, were becoming increasingly influential in the Colonies. All these factors converged to form a widespread belief that individuals, not the state, should determine religous faith.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Frank Lambert, professor of history at Purdue University, does an excellent job of surveying this complex topic over a 200-year period. He does so thoroughly, yet concisely, in only 296 pages. While making generalizations at times, he often illustrates his points with quotations from original sources of the time period.

He begins by criticizing extremists on both sides of the issue, and proceeds to present a balanced approach. However, as I will explain at the end of this review, he shows his bias at the end.

Lambert's thesis is this: America WAS first settled by people who wanted to make it a Christian nation, whether Puritans in New England, Anglicans in Virginia, or Quakers and others in Pennsylvania. These early founders had a vision of making America "a city on a hill," a model Christian commonwealth. However, two major influences led the founding fathers to establish a government that separated church and state. These two influences were the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. Men like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, who were influenced by the Enlightenment, felt that men should be free to use their own reason in matters of religion. The Baptists and others who benefitted from the rapid growth of "free" churches in the Great Awakening were persecuted by established churches and wished to have no established church, so they joined with men like Jefferson in calling for separation of church and state.

Lambert shows that there was great division over these issues, and gives interesting anecdotes and quotations from both sides. He quotes frequently from religious leaders on both sides of the issue.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative. Using this book for a project I ...
Very informative. Using this book for a project I am working on. It is for high school students and how the forefathers felt that religion was important when they writing the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Virginia K. Daly
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this in connection with a discussion with friends ...
I read this in connection with a discussion with friends over the first amendment. The book is a very thorough and well-documented look at what the founding fathers - the original... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Purchased from betterworldbooks on July 27th and received today on august 8th. Shipping was slow but the book was in excellent shape as described. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Debra Koch
5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly exploding myths
Lambert's book is not bombastic or partisan. He demolishes cherished myths with subtlety and nuance. Read more
Published on October 29, 2010 by T. Lutes
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuance and Honesty
Lambert offers a rare erudite examination of the issue of religion at the founding of our nation. Given the heated partisan rhetoric coming from all sides in this debate, it is... Read more
Published on June 7, 2005 by Bobbie L. Lutes
3.0 out of 5 stars Fair and balanced?
Lambert's book provides a valuable overview of sectarian strife in early America. His examination of Adams' view of church-state relations was especially helpful. Read more
Published on May 9, 2005 by Mark Aveyard
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, Accurate & Fair History of First Amendment
I have to agree with the other reviewers here (like Jack Kessler below):

This is a book that should be read by BOTH pro-separationists and anti-separationists. Read more
Published on August 19, 2004 by Thomas Luttrell
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, Well-Balanced Review of religion & the Constitution
What a well-balanced review of how religion started in the colonies. I believe this is a fair assessment although it contradicts an anti-religious & pro-religious viewpoint. Read more
Published on December 20, 2003 by Sheila Tillman
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