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American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  1,529 Ratings  ·  229 Reviews
The American Gospel–literally, the good news about America–is that religion shapes our public life without controlling it. In this vivid book, New York Times bestselling author Jon Meacham tells the human story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith, and how they ultimately created a nation in which belief in God is a matter of choice.

At a time when our country seems div
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published April 4th 2006)
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Caroline I just read The Quartet by Joseph Ellis, it gave a fascinating account of the events leading up to the creation of the Constitution and how the prime…moreI just read The Quartet by Joseph Ellis, it gave a fascinating account of the events leading up to the creation of the Constitution and how the prime movers in that process managed to make it happen against a lot of opposition.(less)

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Dec 19, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
"In God We Trust", the official motto of the United States of America, emblazoned on places as important as the Supreme Court and as basic as an off-colour Lincoln penny. That simple, but powerful, sentiment fuels Meacham's exploration of the basis of religion in America, offset by the Founding Fathers' constitutionally entrenched separation of Church and State. By no means was this division as longstanding as the presence of people in the original colonies, for the early residents had fled Engl ...more
Skylar Burris
Jon Meacham appears to take a genuinely moderate approach to his examination of the role of religion in American history. He argues that America was not founded as a Christian nation, but he also declines to classify it as a purely secular nation where religion must be expunged from the public sphere. In clear, concise language, he relates the role religion played in America from the founding of Jamestown to Ronald Reagan, although he is rather sporadic in his approach, often flying through grea ...more
Jan 08, 2009 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I hear the claim that America needs to get back to being a "Christian nation," it makes me uncomfortable, and the reason is that the "gospel" of American public religion and the gospel of true Christianity are two different things. American public religion is based on the "God of Nature" of many of the Founding Fathers; even the Christian ones signed on to a view of the public God of America who is similar to the God of Christianity but does not, at least as far as I can tell, require and m ...more
Bernard A.
Feb 24, 2013 Bernard A. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my years as a minister, I came to believe that The United States of America was founded as a Christian nation and, somehow, fell away from the true faith. As most Fundamentalists, I believed that America is the New Israel, chosen by God to be a haven of holiness and a light to the world, the Shining City on a Hill.

It took me years to break out of that mindset. In "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation," Jon Meacham puts order to what I had put together on my
Josh Tatum
Aug 23, 2007 Josh Tatum rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers who like Newsweek and are uninformed but curious about Church and State in U.S. history.
Shelves: churchandstate
Don't get me wrong, this book covers all the basic points of American religious history. Meacham does a decent job of telling the important - not just the popular - stories of the American religious experience; however, it is written like a Newsweek feature piece. It uses broad sweeps and makes broad generalizations, supported by the evidence that suits the author. Meacham's thesis is stereotypically Episcopalian: when confronted with a choice, Americans chose the middle. While it is true that a ...more
Brian Eshleman
Feb 08, 2017 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fcl
Rational, wise, balanced, gracious, these are not words that often surround or explode from the subject. They are, however, fitting descriptors for the author's tone in this book. This is fitting, somehow, since he seems to take the same approach to his biographical subjects.
Kevin Press
Sep 01, 2012 Kevin Press rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It probably won't come as a surprise that I found Meacham a bit dismissive of aetheism, but this book is very worthwhile just the same. It explains the misperceptions many of us have about the notion of a separation of church and state in the U.S. Meacham argues convincingly that it is practically impossible to separate the two. The Founding Fathers' notion of God-given, or natural rights are fundamental to our understanding of the U.S.

But it is just as incorrect to describe the U.S. as a Christ
Scott Rhee
Nov 10, 2015 Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The atmosphere of our country is unquestionably charged with a threatening cloud of fanaticism, lighter in some parts, denser in others, but too heavy in all.” ---Thomas Jefferson, 1822

“Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sens
Steven Peterson
Dec 11, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting reflection on the role of religion in public life and government in the United States. Meacham's basic thesis is that the Founding Fathers "got it right." With respect to Jefferson (sometimes referred to as "Jefferson the atheist" in his own time) (page 4): "Jefferson surveyed and staked out an American middle ground between the ferocity of evangelizing Christians on one side and the contempt for religion of secular philosophes on the other. The right would like Jefferson ...more
Andrew Georgiadis
A deeply researched work with profoundly un-intellectual conclusions

Religious moderation is the preachment in these pages. To disavow religion in public life would be contrary to the delicate balancing act performed by the Founders, who were occasionally agnostics but more likely Christians or Deists, and skeptics all. Our greatest minds were motivated to varying degrees by religious faith – and now we have a work where Meacham boldly supports it as a core of the American experience (i.e. nothin
Sep 24, 2012 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't give too many 5 star ratings, but American Gospel was most deserving. This scholarly and thoughtful book about religion in American is a good refresher course in the American history and includes many facts not commonly taught. Starting with the colonists at Jamestown and ending with September 11, Meacham discusses how faith and religion played a part in the founding and development of our country. The last chapter is one of the best essays on the place of religion in America that I have ...more
Dec 19, 2016 Dee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
In the Notes and Acknowledgments, the author states that he wanted " give readers a sense of the scope and nature of a debate that is even older than the Republic. After a thorough reading of "American Gospel," I have to say that he succeeded. Jon Meacham has taken a difficult topic, and despite a slip or two where he seemed to slide toward personal opinion, the overwhelming majority of the book is a balanced view of religion in America. The book encompasses events from the Founding of Amer ...more
Jun 25, 2010 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cathy C
Author Jon Meacham attempts to “put the storms of the present in perspective—that we, in our time, could draw lessons from recalling how the Founding Fathers and more than two centuries of American presidents understood the delicate, sometimes corrosive, sometimes corrective connection between faith and politics.”

Meacham explores how beliefs in God shaped framing of our Constitution. “The American gospel is that religion shapes the life of the nation without strangling it.”

What I take away from
Apr 19, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have owned this book for about two years and it kept finding its way to the middle of the stack of books waiting to be read. Then it was the selection for a book discussion group, so I pulled it out. Excellent book. Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, takes an historical look at religion in the United States, especially the religious beliefs of many of the Founding Fathers to try to discover what place they believed religion should legitimately play in the Revolutionary period and in ...more
Bob Price
Dec 23, 2012 Bob Price rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Talking about religion can get you trouble. Talking about Politics can also get you in trouble. Talking about both of them at the same time can get you killed.

Tackling a difficult subject like the place of religion in the United States is problematic at best and dangerous at worse. And yet, Jon Meacham is able to approach the subject with a critical, yet humble method. American Gospel represents Meacham's attempt to document almost 250 years of American religious history and is a laudable attemp
Laura LeAnn
Jul 16, 2012 Laura LeAnn rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Meacham does an incredible job of maintaining a very moderate, middle-of-the-road perspective and explanation of the place of religion in the United States. He uses a wide variety of historical records to show the founders, presidents, and others were complex individuals with regards to their political ideals and religious views. As the author writes, this is not really a history of religion in the United States or a history of its founding, but is really an essay covering vast periods of US his ...more
Colleen Browne
Mar 01, 2013 Colleen Browne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Although by no means an exhaustive review of the subject, Meacham's book does a great job of explaining the difference between what he calls the public God and the private God. The public God is the god of nature referred to by Jefferson, Lincoln, TR, FDR, and most of the leaders in our history. It refers to kind of a generic god that is not specific. It can be Christian or non-Christian, or even atheist. He also discusses the Evangelicals of the last 40 years or so who have attempted to push th ...more
Blaine Welgraven
Dec 10, 2016 Blaine Welgraven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pithy, enjoyable examination of the role of public religion in American history, Meacham's work strikes a consistently moderate tone as he deftly examines the theological and political beliefs of pivotal American figures.
Cynthia Karl
Dec 31, 2008 Cynthia Karl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So often one hears "we need to return to the faith of our Founding Fathers" or words to that effect. This book is well worth reading to remind us that the Founding Fathers were a diverse group of men who wisely refrained from overt references to a particular religion - the Constitution does not mention a creator or god at all; the Declaration refers to a creator but there is no mention of Christ. (I did not know that there were Jewish people in the US as early as the 17th century.) I like the ph ...more
Todd Martin
Mar 27, 2009 Todd Martin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
American Gospel looks at the history of religion in the US focusing particularly on the country's founders. The main theme of the book reinforces the fact that the founders never intended the US to be a christian (or any other religious denomination) nation, but that religion has always played a role in public life. He also discusses the idea of a wall of separation between church and state and that it is never perhaps as clear as we might like.

Unfortunately this analysis is not a terribly deep
Judy Vastine
Aug 15, 2010 Judy Vastine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a little difficult(one reviewer said dense, and I agree) to read but am glad I did and believe more people should read the book. It's always better to get your information from source documents and not popular culture entertainment figures.

The United States was was meant by the founders to be a nation of religious tolerance, end of story.

My favorite passage: "Will you drive from your shores and from the shelter of your constitution all who do not lay their oblations on the same alta
Jun 07, 2012 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Current politicians and all Americans should read this book before stating that the founding fathers established a Christian Nation. They were, for the most part, Christians, but the God of whom they reference in the founding documents of this country is more expansive - Nature's God - allowing the right of religious freedom to be secured by all religions. But for those Americans who believe God or religion should not be part of public discourse, this book isn't going to lend them ammunition to ...more
Dec 31, 2008 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books, 2008
Neil and I listened to this on the way home for the Holidays. It was boring. And I disagree wtih Meacham's thesis that American's (including the founding fathers) want to have a generic God who will be there when we need Him and will "bless America", but will not be specific enough to endorse a state church. I am "religious", but think that with the plurailty of relgious and agnostics in the US, a secular approach would be better. But besides my disagreement with his thesis, the book was way too ...more
Nov 26, 2007 Margie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I appreciate the book. It points me in specific directions to do more research. And I appreciate the tone he takes. But I would have preferred that he either focus on the founding fathers, or do a broad look at how their religious views influenced all of the presidents. Instead he devotes about half the book to the founders, then skims a few selected presidents up to the present. It's a bit too scattershot.
This book begins with the religious views of the founding fathers and how they wanted to balance public religion with government but continues mentioning many later presidents right up into the Reagan administration illuminating the relationship between religion and politics in American history though solid information, inspiring quotations, and interesting anecdotes.

"It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand on its own."
-Thomas Jefferson

Jon Meacham has officially surpassed David McCullough as my favorite historian and biographer. Meacham masterfully threads a theme through his books. American Lion and The Art of Power were incredible and I'm glad I went back and found American Gospel.
Dec 20, 2009 Charly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone, especially history fans
this was a really interesting piece regarding the evolution of the US and the "public god" that has been incorporated into our history and government without the god of a particular religion being dominant.
really interesting use of the writings of the many icons of our history from colonial times to the near present.
Aug 21, 2007 Gwynne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the worse histories of religion and politics that I've read (and I have a lot to go on). The narrative meandered, evidence was unconvincing, and the argument was somewhat tortured. If you're interested in the subject, you're better off with books on religion and God that deal with specific periods.
Everton Patterson
Good historical survey of American public religion. Should be read by those who believe that America was founded as either a Christian or purely secular country. Neither of these is true. As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
Annemarie Donahue
Just once I wish an historian would study the Treaty of Tripoli so we can (once and for all) stop pretending that America was "founded on christianity". Freaking foolish, and very dangerous.
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Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek, a Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author and a commentator on politics, history, and religious faith in America.
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“Democracy is easy; republicanism is hard. Democracy is fueled by passion; republicanism is founded on moderation. Democracy is loud, raucous, disorderly; republicanism is quiet, cool, judicious – and that we still live in its light is the Founders' most wondrous deed.” 0 likes
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