In recent years, controversies over abortion, school prayer, and religious cults have raised new questions about the delicate balance between church and state, between true believers and civic authority. John West shows that America’s Founders had already anticipated and answered such questions by carefully defining religion’s proper role in politics.
West sheds new light on how the Founders tried to solve this fundamental theological-political problem and shows to what extent their solution worked in practice in the early decades of the new nation. West contends that the Founders and their immediate successors encouraged religion to play a dynamic, positive role in politics. This was not surprising, he argues, because in that era both church and state supported civic authority through a shared moral vision.
This can clearly be seen, West demonstrates, in Christian political activism from the election of 1800 to 1835-a period that witnessed evangelical challenges to Cherokee removal, the delivery of Sunday mail, dueling, and other practices evangelicals deemed inconsistent with the moral order. These reform-minded evangelicals, West argues, were the period’s most politically active religious adherents and thus provided the most stringent test of the Founders’ attempts to devise a solution to the theological-political problem.
Illuminating these neglected episodes in the history of religion and politics, West adds enormously to our understanding of early American church-state conflict. As such, his book will be enlightening for anyone interested in the political role of religion in America’s past, evangelical religion in contemporary politics, and the current “culture wars.”
This fair-minded and cogent study provides much to admire.William and Mary Quarterly
Anyone truly concerned about the moral revival of America’s civic life can learn from this fine book.Crisis
West’s account of the evangelicals’ efforts to assert a public religious influence within the Founders’ ambiguous guidelines is exemplary. It begins to accomplish for its period what Richard J. Carwardine’s magisterial Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America has done for the following three decades.Journal of American History
Well-written, well-researched, highly readable, and provocative.American Review of Politics
West masterfully links the founders’ religious understanding with the emergence of evangelical activism in the early republic.American Historical Review
A long-overdue contribution to rethinking the role of religion in American politics. This book not only demonstrates the influence religious reformers exerted in the development of early American politics, but offers a persuasive account of the irreplaceable role of evangelical Christianity on the republican stage.The University Bookman
A fresh, well-researched, and exceedingly well-balanced account of religious-political connections in the early republic. West’s concentration on evangelical Protestants is entirely justified, since this was the era in which such Protestants became overwhelmingly the dominant religious force in the nation. But this work is also outstanding on the views concerning political-religious interaction among the major Founding Fathers. It has much to offer for those who debate religious-political connections in the late twentieth century. “Mark A. Noll, author of Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s
This keenly revisionist analysis of religion’s role in the political issues that divided the new nation enriches our understanding of the period. It deserves a wide readership.John B. Boles, author of The Great Revival: 1787-1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind