Date of Award

Spring 2002

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Jane T. Merritt

Committee Member

Kathy Pearson

Committee Member

John Kuehl

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.H47 D93 2002


The debate over the role of religion in the Revolution and Founding of America continues to rage despite years of fruitless wrangling. The obvious influence of Enlightenment thought on these events has led many historians to focus exclusively upon reason's authority, abandoning consideration of religion as a substantive force entirely and concluding it to be incompatible with Enlightenment ideology. Reason and religion, however, were neither incompatible nor mutually exclusive in the Founding. In both their revolutionary struggle for independence and their erection of a governmental framework, the Founders unquestionably utilized Enlightenment rhetoric and reason. This alone, though, was insufficient firs to galvanize the American people into revolutionary action and then to secure their possession of freedom by controlling corruption. Religion was both the indispensable spark that lit the revolutionary fire, giving meaning to rational resistance theory, and the moral flame whose fervent heat the new government depended upon to fuel and control its enlightened engines.

To establish such a position for religion in America's Revolution and Founding, the words and writings of Americans and the Founders themselves must be carefully examined. Sermons, pamphlets, and letters reveal religion at the revolutionary core while the notes of the Constitutional debates of 1787 taken down by James Madison and others provide evidence of the same centrality in government. Equally important are texts like the Federalist Papers, John Adams's Defence of the Constitutions, Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, and commentaries on America by outsiders like Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. To reveal the central position accorded religion, a wide array of letters and texts by many different Founders, including Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, James Wilson, John Witherspoon, Benjamin Rush, and Benjamin Franklin, have been scrutinized.


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