God in America Essay: Did the President’s Religious Beliefs Have an Impact on America?
Religion in the US is characterized by high adherence level. The United States’ first constitution amendment protects the religion by preventing the government from exercising any authoritative powers over religion. This implies that there is free exercise of religion in the United States. It is apparent that politicians in America discuss their religion publically during the campaigns. Notably, several religious figures appear to be politically active. They largely influence people especially when they get into power. This essay focuses on the former American presidents by examining their religious beliefs and the impacts of these beliefs on America.
George Washington 1789-1797
George Washington is the US first president. Since he held office, his religious beliefs have been the debate’s subject. The faith of George Washington has been categorized at times as mainline Protestant Christianity, Free Masonry, deist, and evangelical Christianity. However, Washington was raised and married in Episcopal church. This church is the branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States. However, Washington rarely took communion. Also, his church attendance was sporadic. There is no evidence on whether Washington a Christian. However, claims from evangelical Christians portray that he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. Washington could mention Jesus Christ concerning morality on rare occasions especially in public speeches.
George Washington was labeled a deist, but he did not seem to be one. A deist is a person who perceives God as a clockmaker, as well as a being who doesn’t interfere with the world he had created. Washington was in contrary to this belief. He believed that God can answer prayers and respond to human need. One of Washington’s experiences in the battlefield Washington admitted that apart from being given human protection, he experienced God’s protection that is beyond human protection. Washington kept a secret on his personal life because, in his diaries, he did not portray belief or non-belief. Due to this secret, the debate on Washington’s religious background has been kept alive. However, the is little room for the debate about the commitment of George Washington to religious liberty as well as his belief on the association of religion with morality. The experience that Washington gained through leading the Continental Army as well as fledging the nation facilitated in shaping his opinion that bigotry and religious intolerance caused divisions that were dangerous where unity was needed. 
George Washington expressed the link that exists between morality and religion. In his farewell speech, Washington states that the indispensable supports involve religion and morality which lead to political prosperity. He warns that morality cannot be maintained in the absence of religion. Religious principle defines morality. Irrespective of Washington’s religious beliefs, he worked tirelessly to bestow morality and virtue to several different people in the United States. Washington’s thought of unifying virtues played a vital role in establishing a successful and responsible democracy in America. This implies that his religious beliefs helped to create the democracy that is present in the current America.
John Adams 1797-1801
John Adams behaved in a manner that is contrary to that Washington’s behavior. He did not hide any secret on his religious beliefs because he could go to church regularly. Adams was raised in a Congregational church that had been established in the state of Massachusetts which was his home state. Adams later broke from the Congregational church and became a Unitarian. A Unitarian is a Christian, who does not believe that God exists in the Trinity. He believes that God exists as an individual being. However, Adams pretended to be a Christian by professing belief in a form of Christianity that is simpler and less mysterious. Adam’s first letter to Jefferson portrays condemnation of the superstition he believed it had corrupted the Christianity. As he talks, he addresses the question of an afterlife. Adams points out he believes on the future state where people will meet again. He also suggests that if there is no future, then he should believe in no God. Adams’s religious belief has posed a great impact in America. Being a Unitarian is one of the key drivers of Unitarianism in the United States. He also encourages most Christians through his belief that there is life after death and people who have died will meet again in the future state. This belief has facilitated in boosting the Christian’s moral to some extent.
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
Jefferson was convinced that it was not the state’s business to coerce the religious conformity. He, therefore, made the liberty’s defense, the hallmark of his career. Jefferson managed to draft the declaration of independence in the year 1776. In 1777, he introduced a Bill whose main objective was to provide religious freedom to the Virginia legislature. In 1787, Jefferson also urged James Madison, who was his friend and colleague to conduct a constitutional amendment by including a religious liberty’s written guarantee. Jefferson was campaigning to end the support of religion by the state. This campaign raised various concerns about his personal religious beliefs. This doubts on religion later led to issues during Jefferson’s presidential campaign. He was vilified by his Federalist opponents as an atheist, as well as a libertine. He referred those people who were harassing him as “irritable tribe of priests”. He also compared his prosecution to resemble the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jefferson’s struggle for liberty and freedom has a great positive impact in the US religion. He believed that the religion needs to free from the government’s control. His efforts led to the constitutional amendment where everybody has freedom of worship in the United States.
James Madison 1809-1817
James Madison was the fourth US president. He was born in Virginia in the year 1751 into a prosperous family that owned slaves. He was raised and baptized in the Anglican church. He, therefore, undertook his studies under a Presbyterian schoolmaster before he got enrolled at the College of New Jersey. Madison completed his studies and returned to his home state Virginia. Found that in this region, there was the growing tension between his Anglican Church, the established church, as well as the arrival of members of the dissenting faiths in the colony. Madison was also shocked when he came to realize that several Baptist ministers had been jailed for spreading the gospel without licenses. Madison, therefore, committed himself to fighting for the conscience’s liberty. He this liberty of conscience with religious liberty. Madison emphasized on the Bill that was drafted by Jefferson in 1777 that was aiming to establish religious freedom by guaranteeing the freedom of conscience, as well as separating the practice of religious freedom from the control of authoritative powers of the state. Madison supported the amendment due to the political pressure. Unlike his predecessors like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, he divulged less about his individual faith. From the observation of James Madison’s religious belief, it is worth saying that he collaborated with Thomas Jefferson to ensure freedom in exercising religious activities.
James Monroe 1817-1825
There is no much information about the religious views of James Monroe. However, it is apparent that he was brought up in the Anglican Church because all the people in the colonial Virginia were raised up in the Anglican Church. Early biographers revealed that Monroe in his sentiments, he was extremely reticent. The lack of information on Monroe’s religious background has led to Monroe being labeled as a Deist, unaffiliated and Episcopalian.
John Quincy Adams 1825-1829
John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian like his father. He was brought up in the liberal Congregational church, where his parents were attending. Adams also died a Unitarian. He had a good perception on the Bible whereby he once celebrated it because when read completely and keenly, the Bible seems to be a collection of all books in the world that plays an important role of making men happy, good and happy. However, during his inauguration ceremony after becoming the American Bible Society’s president, Adams omitted the Bible and placed his hand on the US constitution instead of placing the hand on the bible. Adams had a belief that enthusiastic and miraculous excesses of religion were dangerous. Adams referred to his religiously orthodox colleague in school and highlighted that he cannot waste his time to interact with people who claim to be religious but are characterized by inconsistent absurdities.
Andrew Jackson 1829-1837
Despite the regular attendance of the and subscribing to general Christian principle, President Andrew Jackson was spiritually converted after leaving the Whitehouse. When he became a communicant in the Presbyterian church, he found that he could not forgive his enemies especially those who abused and attacked him while in power. While serving as a president, he avoided issuing proclamations for prayer and fasting’s national day. Jackson later wrote a letter on June 12, 1832, where he declared that he did not want to act beyond the limits provided in the constitution to disturb the freedom and security enjoyed by the religion. This indicates that Jackson respected the religion in America he ensured that there is freedom of worship in America because he knew its importance.
Martin Van Buren 1837-1841
The religious history of Van Buren is a lingering rumor about his loud voice that is heard by the church congregation as he sang. While at home, Van Buren attended a Dutch Reformed church but when was in Washington D.C, he used to visit St. John’s Episcopal Church. Although Van Buren attended the two churches, there is no evidence that shows him being a member of either church.
William Henry Harrison 1841
He was not a member of any church, and little is not about his religious belief. However, he is often listed as Episcopalian. The day after his inauguration, Harrison bought a bible but sadly he died a month later. After his death, there were claims from the St John’s Episcopal Church’s minister that Harrison intended to become a communicant at the holy communion on the following Sabbath. It is a great hour for presidents to attend church functions because it indicates a symbol of political stability and the good relationship that exist between the church and government. America is defined by this stability that was established by the founding fathers.
John Tyler 1841-1845
He is often labeled as Episcopalian though little is known about his spiritual life. Following Tyler’s death, a friend claimed that he was a staunch Christian, who believed the atonement of Jesus Christ as well as in the efficacy of blood to cleanse every all stain of mortal sin. This indicates a strong Christian faith portrayed by American leaders.
James Knox Polk 1845-1849
Pork is remembered to be a member of Presbyterian Church because he was born into a Presbyterian family. However, he was never baptized. His mother made some efforts by inviting her Presbyterian pastor to ensure that Polk gets baptized. Polk insisted that he would be baptized by a Methodist pastor who he had promised earlier that he would be baptized in the Methodist church. However, he died before being baptized, and he was baptized a Methodist while he was dead. This religious background of Polk portrays the significance of baptism in the religion. Every religious person needs to be baptized to seal the covenant with the Creator.
Zachary Taylor 1849-1850
Much information about Tylor’s religious belief is not available, but it is apparent that he was an Episcopalian. Like other presidents such as Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, Tylor avoided any attempt of issuing a proclamation to call for a national day of fasting and praying. In his letter of 5th November 1849, Tylor thanks God for the abatement of various problems in America especially the pestilence that had attacked America. However, he provides room for governors from various states to conduct the proclamation of the Thanksgiving. In this way, Taylor portrays good qualities of a religious leader who understands that God is the one who ends problems. His spiritual belief had a large impact on America by establishing the mentality that everything is possible with God.
Millard Fillmore 1850-1853
He was brought up in a Methodist household. In 1831, he became a Unitarian though he had shown little interest in religion. Also had a strong stand like that of Thomas Jefferson that religion should be completely separated from the state by insisting that politics and religion should not be mingled. As he was campaigning for the presidency, he found himself in an antagonizing debate with his rival who was known as Gov. William Seward. The debate about whether Catholic schools should be supported using public money. Seward advocated that money should be given to sectarian institutions. On the other hand, Fillmore contended that public tax money should not be used to support any sectarian institution. From this context, it can be deduced that Fillmore was a leader who focused on the growth and development of all spheres of life especially the spiritual and economic spheres. His religious belief and philosophy, impacted positively in America to ensure that America becomes a better place.
Franklin Pierce 1853-1857
He is remembered as a person who liked socializing and hard partying at his young age. This made him have little interest on religious persuasion. He married Jane Appleton, who was a devoutly religious lady. She appeared to oppose most of Pierce’s actions. This couple experienced a lot of challenges due to the death of all their children. Pierce and his wife failed to understand why they were undergoing through much pain. The family came to believe later that it was God’s punishment. Jane Pierce developed a belief that God had taken their 11-year-old son so that her husband could concentrate on the presidency. On the other hand, Franklin Pierce developed a belief that God had punished him for his sins. Due to various problems he experienced, Pierce’s tenure was somber and characterized with disappointments which eventually made him extremely unpopular.
James Buchanan 1857-1861
Buchanan was also brought up in a Presbyterian family. His church attendance was regular, and he also contributed to various denominations. Despite joining the Presbyterian church during his presidency, he decided not to be a communicant while serving as a president. This is because of the honor of religion that he had, and he did not want to mix the religion with politics. He believed that if he mixed religion and politics, he would appear to be the hypocrite. Notably, his honor for religion had largely impacted America in a manner in which religion is respected and adhered to at the present times.
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865
Lincoln’s faith was based on the faith of his parents who had raised him in their Baptist faith. This faith was characterized by a stern predestination’s Calvinist theology and the evangelistic favor. He later came to develop his religious believe and emerged as America’s most theological president. Lincoln’s religious beliefs suggested that God always supports a better side, and He cannot support two rivals at the same time. He came to describe his personal understanding about God as he imagined providence. He summed up his thoughts about God on a piece of paper that had a title “Meditation on the Divine Will”. In this thoughts, he pointed out that the will of God prevails. Lincoln’s religious beliefs impacted on humanity in America that led to the end of slave trade after the signing of emancipation proclamation by Lincoln.
Andrew Johnson 1865-1869
He claimed to be religious, but the fact is he did not belong to any church. Johnson was also accused of being an infidel. He responded to the judge that follows the deeds of Jesus Christ and that most churches at the time could teach the doctrine of the Bible, but the deeds were against the doctrine. He believed in justice and equality, and that is why he liked the Catholic church after observing the manner in which it treated the reach and the poor. His religious beliefs established the fundamental principles of a religion that has no social status as well as a religion characterized by equality and justice.
Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877
He was also not a member of any church and was never baptized. However, Grant was often labeled a Methodist since his wife was a Methodist. He did not like to attend religious services and he clearly declared to his cousin through writing that people are not obliged to go to church. This situation can lead to a non-religious society where crime rates are very high.
To conclude, the religious beliefs of American presidents led to tremendous effects on America. Some of these impacts include the religious freedom and the liberty of conscience that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were fighting for. It is observed that most American presidents adhered to the religion in which they were raised. However, some of the presidents shifted to different denominations at their old age. Some kept their religious affairs to be secret, and that is why there is little information about their spiritual beliefs.
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- Anderson, Ray Sherman. Theological Foundations for Ministry: Selected Readings for a Theology of the Church in Ministry. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2009.
- Simon, Emily, and Sheppard Kaufman. The American presidents. Itasca, IL: Disney Educational Productions, 2010. ↑
- Noll, Mark A. “Theology in Colonial America.” America’s God, 2012, 19-30. doi:10.1093/0195151119.003.0002. ↑
- Bancroft, George, and Russel B. Nye. The History of the United States of America from the Discovery of the Continent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. ↑
- Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ↑
- Jones, Lindsay. Encyclopedia of Religion. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=125721. ↑