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God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution Hardcover – October 5, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Kidd directs his magnifying glass on a rare slice of the American Revolution: its religious aspects. The organization of the work is more topical than chronological, giving a chapter’s worth of attention to matters of racial equality, slavery, revivalism, chaplains, the Constitution, and the 1800 election of Jefferson as president. If there are common threads running throughout, they are the questions: How was the Revolution influenced by religion, and how was religion affected by the Revolution? Kidd is quite adept at providing answers while explaining the complicated connections between religion, politics, freedom, and patriotism that make up the Revolutionary period. After reading this, some may wonder why religion is so shortchanged in other Revolutionary treatments. In his epilogue, the author also has something to say about the notion of a Christian America, a topic that is particularly relevant today. --Wade Osburn


Rodney Stark, author of God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
“A truly ‘revolutionary’ book, in all the right ways.”

George Marsden, author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life
“Thomas Kidd does an excellent job of providing a readable and notably comprehensive account of the varied roles that the religion played in the era of the American Revolution.”

Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
“With this lively, crisply written, broadly researched, and unfailingly thoughtful study, Thomas Kidd illuminates the central importance of the religious ideas and sentiments undergirding the American Revolution and the early nation. Kidd explains why Americans, despite their remarkable religious and philosophical diversity, were able to unite effectively around broadly shared tenets of ‘civil spirituality,’ which included a shared commitment to the sacred ideals of religious liberty—tenets and ideals that still profoundly inform and influence the conduct of American life today.”
Mark Noll, author of America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
“This deeply researched, clearly organized, and well written book illuminates a complex and often controversial history. The Revolutionary and Constitutional periods were neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘godless’ as these terms are used in modern polemics. Instead, patriots and leaders of the early United States united to support disestablishment and common principles about the need for virtue to insure republican freedoms, despite holding different personal beliefs. Thomas Kidd is a remarkably sure-footed guide through this treacherous historical terrain.”
Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University
“At last, a history of religion and the American Revolution that addresses the revolutionary war in substantial detail. Thomas Kidd brilliantly examines the role of religion in the Revolution, and explores the intersection of religion and the Republic, neither of which can be fully understood without reference to the other. Kidd demonstrates in persuasive detail how the idea of religious liberty informed the meaning of the Republic at its deepest level.”
Peter A. Lillback, President of The Providence Forum and author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire
“Thomas Kidd offers an important critique of the mainstream interpretations of the American Revolution. God of Liberty reveals the central role that the Christian faith played in the revolutionary era. The surprising partnership of devout believers and deistic doubters to secure America’s victory makes for fascinating reading.”
“[A]n important contribution to American religious history.”
Library Journal
“Kidd argues that religion was inextricably linked to the American Revolutionary movement, his book will prove of interest both to readers in American Colonial religion and Colonial history, with his inclusion of unfamiliar sources extending the appeal…”
Christian Century
“With impressive command of the primary sources and deft historical analysis, Kidd has produced an indispensable survey of religious life during the Revolutionary era… all the more remarkable for its breadth…  One of the many virtues of this book is that Kidd is a careful and judicious historian… he points out—correctly—the errors of both present-day secularists on the left, who insist that the founders barred religious voices from political discourse, and the church-state separation deniers on the right.  The lesson of American history is that although church and state are institutionally separate, morality and freedom are seldom at odds and that, in fact, they are mutually reinforcing.”
Washington TimesChoice
“Kidd delineates a religious consensus that emerged to propel the American revolt and shape the resulting republic…a well-substantiated treatment.”
“Thought-provoking, meticulously researched… a salutary reminder of the role religious belief played in the founding of our country. It is all the more valuable because that story clearly is in danger of being expunged from the historical record or even twisted into an example of the political hypocrisy of a time when God was often invoked but allegedly ignored.”
“Kidd directs his magnifying glass on a rare slice of the American Revolution: its religious aspects. . . . After reading this, some may wonder why religion is so shortchanged in other Revolutionary treatments.”
Christianity Today
“Balanced without being bland, lucid in the telling, Thomas Kidd’s chronicle corrects the excesses both of those who overstate the degree to which America was founded as a ‘Christian nation’ and of those who seek to minimize the formative role of religion in the new nation’s character.”
The Oklahoman 
“Full of information about the religious situation of the colonial, revolutionary and early periods of America. The religious and political situation was as complicated then as now. . . . highly recommended to those interested in religion's effect on the early days of America.”
Christian Book Previews
“Kidd delves into the lives of religious reformers, political leaders, and military commanders to provide a background of the American Revolution in a more focused and unique perspective. It is a breath a fresh air from the clichéd historical textbooks that only address broad themes of the time period. . . .  God of Liberty is an enlightening book, full of fresh perspectives and well-explained points.”

The Weekly Standard
“[An] eloquently argued study. . . . Kidd is careful not to adopt an explicitly ‘Christian nation’ view of the role of religious faith, especially evangelical Christian faith, in the nation’s founding.  He demonstrates effectively the variety of faiths among Americans of the revolutionary era, including an increasingly visible community of Jews. But he is unequivocal in stating that the majority of Americans at the time were Christian believers of some kind or other, and that the evangelical component of them (Patrick Henry, for example) played a formative role in creating the new republic.”
Books & Culture
“Reckoning with the Revolutionary era’s many religious dimensions is the mission undertaken, and carried off marvelously, in Thomas Kidd’s God of LibertyGod of Liberty effortlessly straddles the divide between scholarly and popular history, uniting academic rigor with a pleasing readability.  It deserves, and hopefully will receive, an audience well beyond the ivory tower…[an] unfailing fair-minded book.”


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002351
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Licona on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
God of Liberty, an even-handed, scholarly treatment of the Revolutionary era, ranks in my top ten favorite books. I have found myself on numerous occasions irritated by the obvious bias of historians on both sides who have an obvious agenda in the "history" they present. Thomas Kidd does a masterful job deciphering the religious and secular culture of this period. With a particular reliance on primary sources, Kidd brings to light questions pertinent to our own situation today. What did Jefferson mean by a "wall of separation?" "Was America founded as a Christian nation?" Yes and no. Kidd tells it like it is without glossing over issues some may want to ignore. Our founding fathers were a group of people with very different religious persuasions who came together for the cause of liberty. All agreed liberty and equality were bequeathed by our Creator. The "wall of separation" and the freedom of religion were won by a uniting of the evangelicals and the rationalists to bring about the disestablishment of a state supported denomination. Jefferson "saw religion as an indispensable bulwark of the Republic, and he would never have entertained the idea that government should be hostile to religious exercise...He simply believed that the government should never preference any denomination..." Kidd also warns against claims that Providence is on one particular side. All we have to do is remember that both sides of the Civil War claimed God was on their side to know this is dangerous territory. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Founding era and/or knowing the thoughts of the Founders on issues we face today.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Kidd's book "God of Liberty" rises miles above the editorializing that so often characterizes writing about religion in the American founding. He saves his own commentary until the very end of the work and allows the people of the revolutionary generation to speak for themselves. In the work we meet preachers, pamphleteers, revivalists, and famous founders in all their religious conviction and ambiguity. Kidd leans heavily on primary sources, and his bibliography is an absolute treasure trove for further reading.

Kidd's work is full of details that educate, inspire, and often amuse. The narrative sweep of the work covers the stirrings of the Great Awakening, the millennial (end of the world) expectations Christian leaders attached to every event from the end of the Seven Years War to the election of Jefferson, the anti-bishop and anti-Catholic bigotry and paranoia that fed anti-British frenzy, the struggle to disestablish state churches in the colonies, the role of army chaplains in the revolutionary war, the views of the founders on the connection between virtue and freedom, the revivals that constantly swept across the country, the idea of equality emerging from the Bible and exhorted in Christian preaching (derived from Acts 17 - "God has made from one blood all nations of men"), the salutary omission of religion in the constitution and the ensuing controversy in ratification, and the religious controversy surrounding the election of "radical atheist" Thomas Jefferson. The whole story culminates in what Kidd terms the growth of a "nexus of religion and freedom" in which liberty of conscience and religiously inspired civic mindedness worked together to secure freedom, nourish religion, contributing to the country's vitality and strength.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
God of Liberty by John Kidd is a well-written history of the impact the Christian faith had upon the thinking of our Founding Fathers and the inhabitants of our nation during the years of our country's formation. Unbiased and non-revisionist, Kidd simply presents the facts--and they are fascinating. Though there was a broad range of religious beliefs among our Founding Fathers, one cohesive point of unity was that the Founding Fathers believed that for our nation to succeed and endure, the citizens of our country would need a strong moral foundation. And that moral foundation would come through the biblical principles of the Christian faith. The government would not allow for the establishment of any one Christian denomination--there would be no state church as was the case in France and England--but the government of the United States of America would support and encourage every denomination of the Christian church. This was a well-written, well-researched, and informative book.
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Format: Hardcover
Other than for popular (and imaginary) images of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge, there is relatively little mention of religion in connection with the American Revolutionary War. I am always wary of "histories" that rewrite history to paint our Founders as god-fearing proto-evangelicals. But as Thomas Kidd persuasively explains in "God of Liberty," the pre-war colonies were rife with religious ideas and drama. These were managed skillfully, and perhaps with luck and happenstance, and helped tip popular opinion toward victory for the colonials.

The American colonies, as described in Thomas Kidd's "God of Liberty" were a fractious and varied lot. Deists, like Jefferson and Madison, rubbed shoulders with dyed-in-the-wool Anglicans like Sam Adams, and with radical evangelists among the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians. In today's world, these groups might be bitter enemies. But the pre-revolutionary period gave each a stake in the same game: putting an end to state sponsorship of the Anglican Church. The Deists wanted the freedom to follow reason rather than superstition. Non-Anglicans wanted to establish their own churches and end sanctioned harassment by Anglicans. Not to mention that they were sick of having their taxes spent on supporting the state-run church.

The book starts with the Great Awakening of the 1740s, a time of religious fervor in America where many desired personal redemption and a more emotionally-charged religious experience. This awakening of the spirit coincided with the belief that the millennium foretold by the Bible was imminent, and that God would intervene on the side of the virtuous. These feelings, combined with nascent rebellious stirrings, merged into a hatred for the tyranny symbolized by British rule.
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