Lauren Albert's Reviews > Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

Founding Faith by Steven Waldman
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's review
May 07, 11

bookshelves: history-american, history-intellectual, politics, religion
Read on May 06, 2011

An intelligent and well-researched look at the thoughts, feelings and beliefs about religion of the Founding Fathers. When it comes down to it, there is no hard and fast "truth" about their intent. Not only did each of them have different positions, but, as Waldman shows, they often tempered them for political reasons. Better a partial win than a total loss:

“I believe there’s ample evidence that Madison wanted a strict separation of church and state. He wanted it locally; he wanted it nationally. But here’s a point that all of us Founding Father Lovers forget: It is not only their views that matter. Madison was in the business of building a political majority. We today may not pay attention to the other members of his legislative majority, but Madison sure did.” 154

Madison comes out as the hero in this book. He believed that religion would best flourish if left alone by the government:

“[Madison] and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-separation means being anti-God. How on earth does it follow that if you treasure religion, you’d want government touching it? Church and state, when married, bring out the worst in each other, Madison would say. If God is powerful, he does not need the support of the Treasury.” 201

Until the Civil War led to the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1866, the legal separation of church and state was only mandated for the federal government. It was a concession made necessary by the greater urgency of getting the Constitution passed.

Side bar: One interesting fact--George Washington forbade persecution of Catholics--they had been victimized by some soldiers. He knew the religious diversity of the troops of the Continental army and didn't want to alienate any of them.

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