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The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America
Frank Lambert

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2003

Paperback | 2006 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691126029
344 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400825530 |
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How did the United States, founded as colonies with explicitly religious aspirations, come to be the first modern state whose commitment to the separation of church and state was reflected in its constitution? Frank Lambert explains why this happened, offering in the process a synthesis of American history from the first British arrivals through Thomas Jefferson's controversial presidency.

Lambert recognizes that two sets of spiritual fathers defined the place of religion in early America: what Lambert calls the Planting Fathers, who brought Old World ideas and dreams of building a "City upon a Hill," and the Founding Fathers, who determined the constitutional arrangement of religion in the new republic. While the former proselytized the "one true faith," the latter emphasized religious freedom over religious purity.

Lambert locates this shift in the mid-eighteenth century. In the wake of evangelical revival, immigration by new dissenters, and population expansion, there emerged a marketplace of religion characterized by sectarian competition, pluralism, and widened choice. During the American Revolution, dissenters found sympathetic lawmakers who favored separating church and state, and the free marketplace of religion gained legal status as the Founders began the daunting task of uniting thirteen disparate colonies. To avoid discord in an increasingly pluralistic and contentious society, the Founders left the religious arena free of government intervention save for the guarantee of free exercise for all. Religious people and groups were also free to seek political influence, ensuring that religion's place in America would always be a contested one, but never a state-regulated one.

An engaging and highly readable account of early American history, this book shows how religious freedom came to be recognized not merely as toleration of dissent but as a natural right to be enjoyed by all Americans.


"A responsible, clearly written analysis of the currently disputed mindset of the Founding Fathers regarding the role of religion in American society. Numerous quotations from the personal and professional writings of the Founding Fathers themselves bring a refreshing vitality to Lambert's work while simultaneously dispelling the absolutized assumptions of contemporary conservatives and liberals alike."--Religion and Liberty

"Lambert has made a major contribution to US religious, constitutional, and political history with this superb book."--Choice

"Lambert's book epitomizes the virtues of narrative history, not least in the clear and straightforward prose style that propels the narrative from Jamestown through the elections of 1800. . . . [Lambert] is especially skillful at simultaneously sketching a large portrait of historical change over time and filling in that picture with evocative vignettes and first-person accounts."--Andrew R. Murphy, Christian Century

This is an excellent book that captures the progression from religious conformity to religious freedom in early America. . . . [It] provides a fine, scholarly overview of the emergency of religious freedom in the fledgling nation."--Derek H. Davis, Journal of Religion


"Lambert has crafted an excellent survey on religion and the state in early America--deft, succinct, and well researched. With crystal clear prose, Lambert offers a wonderfully lucid text for general readers and students, yet one also studded with insights of great profit to historians of American religion and culture."--Leigh E. Schmidt, Princeton University

"Although Lambert explores a difficult interpretive question, the origins of the separation of church and state in America, he does so with fine narrative style. The prose is crisp and lucid, and his argument is solid and convincing."--Patrick Griffin, Ohio University

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