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So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over…

by Forrest Church

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1513143,734 (4.1)2
Today's dispute over the line between church and state (or the lack thereof) is neither the first nor the fiercest in our history. In this retelling of the birth of the American body politic, religious historian Forrest Church describes our first great culture war-a tumultuous yet nearly forgotten conflict that raged from George Washington's presidency to James Monroe's. On one side of the battle, the proponents of order--Federalists, Congregationalists, New Englanders--believed that the only legitimate ruler of men is God. On the other side, the defenders of liberty--republicans, Baptists, Virginians--cheered the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and believed that only the separation of church and state would preserve man's freedom. Would we be a nation under God, or with liberty for all? In this vigorous history, Church offers a new vision of our earliest presidents' beliefs, reshaping assumptions about the debates that still reverberate across our land.--From publisher description.… (more)
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Are we a nation under God, or with liberty and justice for all?
  uufnn | Mar 30, 2014 |
The Debate That Shaped the Nation

Did George Washington really say: "I do solemnly swear... so help me God" during his inauguration? By all accounts, religion was not just one of the talking points of the Founding Fathers, according to Forrest Church, it was the most important one.

Throughout the history of the United States, the debate over faith and the role of religion has dominated the political discourse since the pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock. With the importance of the subject matter laid for all to bare, we come to the substance of five US Presidents and Church's interpretation of their faith.

"So Help Me God" is a great biographical account of each President, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. The book is really 5 books rolled into one. Church really leaves no stone unturned as he scours the Presidential archives.

As for the interpretations, Church stays mostly with the traditional historiography which is quite surprising considering he had direct access to the archives. We already know Washington was the strongest supporter for religious liberty. Adams was the most liturgical. Monroe was a secularist whose support for separation of church and state actually helped the nation become more pious.

In other words, there isn't much that is groundbreaking in this book. But still, the narrative is interesting enough. The role of religion appears as contentious back then as it is today. The more things change the more they stay the same. This is a good book for those who want a refreshing take on the contemporary culture wars. ( )
  bruchu | Dec 27, 2008 |
An excellent examination of the nation’s early struggle with the relationship between Church and state. The author perceives the issue of one between order (those who wanted a blurred boundary) and liberty (those who wanted a very distinct and rigid separation). He explores at length both the private faith of the first five presidents and the attitude of their administrations towards the relationship between Church and state. Very detailed, but very readable. ( )
  derekstaff | Feb 26, 2008 |
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Today's dispute over the line between church and state (or the lack thereof) is neither the first nor the fiercest in our history. In this retelling of the birth of the American body politic, religious historian Forrest Church describes our first great culture war-a tumultuous yet nearly forgotten conflict that raged from George Washington's presidency to James Monroe's. On one side of the battle, the proponents of order--Federalists, Congregationalists, New Englanders--believed that the only legitimate ruler of men is God. On the other side, the defenders of liberty--republicans, Baptists, Virginians--cheered the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and believed that only the separation of church and state would preserve man's freedom. Would we be a nation under God, or with liberty for all? In this vigorous history, Church offers a new vision of our earliest presidents' beliefs, reshaping assumptions about the debates that still reverberate across our land.--From publisher description.

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