Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers

Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers

by Brooke Allen


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In her lively refutation of modern claims about America's religious origins, Brooke Allen looks back at the late eighteenth century and shows decisively that the United States was founded not on Christian principles at all but on Enlightenment ideas. Moral Minority presents a powerful case that the unique legal framework the Founding Fathers created was designed according to the humanist ideals of Enlightenment thinkers: God entered the picture only as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuous by his absence. The guiding spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Ms. Allen explains, was not Jesus Christ but John Locke. In direct and accessible prose, she provides fascinating chapters on the religious lives of the six men she considers the key Founding Fathers: Franklin, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. Far from being the conventional pious Christians we too often imagine, these men were skeptical intellectuals, in some cases not even Christians at all. Moral Minority presents unforgettable images of our iconic founders: Jefferson taking a razor to the Bible and cutting out every miraculous and supernatural occurrence; Washington rewriting speeches others had crafted for him, so as to omit all references to Jesus Christ; Franklin and Adams confiding their doubts about Christ's divinity; Madison expressing deep disapproval over the appointment of chaplains to Congress and the armed forces, and of what we would now call "faith-based" initiatives. Enlivened by generous portions of the founders' own incomparable prose, Moral Minority makes an impassioned and scintillating contribution to the ongoing debate-more heated now than ever before-over the separation of church and state and the role (or lack thereof) of religion in government.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781566637510
Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
Publication date: 10/25/2007
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 529,907
Product dimensions: 5.84(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Brooke Allen's Twentieth-Century Attitudes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She has also written Artistic License. Her critical writing appears frequently in the Times Book Review, the Atlantic Monthly, The New Criterion, the Hudson Review, the Nation, and the New Leader. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Preface     xi
Franklin     3
Washington     26
Adams     49
Jefferson     70
Madison     103
Hamilton     122
1787 and Beyond     137
The World That Produced the Founders     148
Two Letters from Jefferson on the Common Law and Christianity     185
Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments"     191
Notes     199
A Note on Sources     217
Index     223

What People are Saying About This

Darryl Hart

[A] careful and provocative reading of America's skeptical Founding Fathers...Allen's book is a welcome counterweight.

Heather MacDonald

Allen lucidly demolishes the fundamentalists' revisionist historyof the Constitution as a religiously-inspired project...[A]n elegant and riveting defense.

Peter Matthiessen

[Allen's] customary clear and intelligent an added pleasure, enhancing the considerabel interest of a fine small book.

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Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well written, easy to read book detailing the religious lives and political positions of the American founders. The author attempts to demonstrate through the founders own words that the United States was not, in fact, founded as a Christian nation.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Tidy Little Dynamo of a Book Brooke Allen's 'Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers' could hardly be more necessary coming as it does during the reign of a President who uses federal funds to directly promote religion and a Supreme Court that refuses to allow review of same (Hein v. FFRF). As Allen demonstrates in this tidy little dynamo of a book our primary founders were men of the Enlightenment, skeptical of faith and devoted to reason. Allen's subjects are Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Allen presents six biographical essays focusing as her preface states on their "attitudes toward religion in general, and Christianity in particular". A final chapter that takes up nearly a quarter of the book's 183 pages gives the reader a concise summary of the Enlightenment background as well the 16th-17th century religious turmoil in England from which these leaders ultimately sprang. We read of David Hume refuting intelligent design in 1757 and of retaining a `deliberate doubt' due to lack of evidence. Hume concluded that "the whole is a riddle, an aenigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspense of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny." One only wishes that Hume had lived to see Darwin blast away these doubts a century later. Allen does not uncover much new, but she brings it together in an imminently interesting and admirably concise way. George Washington does not give up any secrets, but the evidence suggests at least by strong negative inference that Washington was not a Christian or at most a very half-hearted one. He generally declined to take the sacrament and when a preacher called him on this behavior as setting a bad example for others Washington agreed and never attended church on sacramental Sunday again! (Perhaps more interesting, Allen discloses that most worshippers at least in Washington's church typically departed before taking the sacrament). An excellent antidote to the nonsense passed around as 'common knowledge' these days. This reader appreciates more and more a writer who can make her point without drowning the reader in needless repetition. Allen succeeds. Very highly recommended.