The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life

Edited by Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison
Foreword by Mark A. Noll

This interdisciplinary volume brings together essays on eleven of the founders of the American republic—Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Thomas Paine, Edmund Randolph, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, and Mercy Otis Warren—many of whom are either little recognized today or little appreciated for their contributions. The essays focus on the thinking of these men and women on the proper role of religion in public life, including but not limited to the question of the separation of church and state. Their views represent a wide range of opinions, from complete isolation of church and state to tax-supported clergy.

These essays present a textured and nuanced view of the society that came to a consensus on how religion would fit in the public life of the new nation. They reveal that religion was more important in the lives and thinking of many of the founders than is often portrayed and that it took the interplay of disparate and contrasting views to frame the constitutional outline that eventually emerged.

CONTRIBUTORS: Daniel L. Dreisbach, Edith B. Gelles, Gary Scott Smith, William R. Casto, Gregg L. Frazer, Thomas E. Buckley, S.J., Jonathan Den Hartog, David J. Voelker, Kevin R. Hardwick, Robert H. Abzug, Mark David Hall, Rosemarie Zagarri.

Daniel L. Dreisbach is professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University.

Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Political Science at George Fox University.

Jeffry H. Morrison is associate professor of government at Regent University.

ADVANCE PRAISE: “This collection of well-crafted essays probes the ‘religion and the founding’ question from a fresh angle. Its concentration on the second rank of founders pays rich dividends, since this focus uncovers more variety on religious issues than appear when looking only at the ‘Big Six’ of Washington-Franklin-John Adams-Madison-Hamilton-Jefferson. The pay off is to show not only how deep but also how various were the founders’ religious commitments. Historians, but also those concerned about religion in contemporary American politics, should take note—the editors have done a very fine job.” — Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

“There is no book comparable to The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life. It is a collection of eleven essays on the many neglected figures or, in some cases, the neglected church-state views of duly appreciated figures. The book’s appeal goes beyond the realm of constitutional doctrine. In addition to constitutional lawyers, constitutional historians, historians of religion in America, and those who study American political thought will all welcome and value the book.” — Gerard V. Bradley, University of Notre Dame Law School


“A surprisingly cosmopolitan meshing of different views (including contrasting opinions on just how much of a role religion should have in the public domain) evolves, in this excellent effort to assemble a depth and breadth of thought to reveal precisely how America’s founders viewed the church and the state.” — The Midwest Book Review

“The volume is engaging, informative, and valuable with thoughtful explorations of how all of these figures desired the same thing for America—the preservation of right and liberties but strove for them based on various religious principles. Because these people are little known, each essay naturally begins with a brief biography and their credentials. Some authors helpfully describe the historiography of the subjects before they progress to a discussion of their religiously informed political contributions.” — Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“Occasionally, an edited collection appears that transcends a narrow focus and demands that thinkers from varied disciplines consider its findings. Such is The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life . . . The pages collectively support a thesis that holds deep implications not just for history, political science, and law, but for political activists and legislators as well. Those interested in religious nature of the revolutionary period should consider themselves off the cutting edge of debate until they have read this book.” — The Journal of American History

“Few historical subjects cause more disagreement in American constitutional jurisprudence than church-state relations during the nation’s founding. In this valuable book, historians and historically minded political scientists and law professors probe beyond these arguments’ conventional boundaries. Every category of reader will profit from this fine book; its research is admirably wide and deep, and its standard of writing and argument is uniformly high.” —_Journal of American Studies_

“This edited volume of thirteen essays provides brief, well-written insights into the religious beliefs and attitudes of several Americans who played prominent roles in the founding of the United States. Its primary accomplishment is its reiteration of the broad range of religious perspectives that existed in the country at the time of its founding. The book will be of interest to general readers as well as to historians who may have been more inclined to focus on other aspects of the lives of its subjects.” — Journal of Church and State