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Pulpit and Nation

Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America
Spencer W. McBride

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939568 · $39.50 · Jan 2017
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813939575 · $39.50 · Jan 2017

In Pulpit and Nation, Spencer McBride highlights the importance of Protestant clergymen in early American political culture, elucidating the actual role of religion in the founding era. Beginning with colonial precedents for clerical involvement in politics and concluding with false rumors of Thomas Jefferson’s conversion to Christianity in 1817, this book reveals the ways in which the clergy’s political activism—and early Americans’ general use of religious language and symbols in their political discourse—expanded and evolved to become an integral piece in the invention of an American national identity. Offering a fresh examination of some of the key junctures in the development of the American political system—the Revolution, the ratification debates of 1787–88, and the formation of political parties in the 1790s—McBride shows how religious arguments, sentiments, and motivations were subtly interwoven with political ones in the creation of the early American republic. Ultimately, Pulpit and Nation reveals that while religious expression was common in the political culture of the Revolutionary era, it was as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.


Pulpit and Nation significantly advances discussion of the relationship between religion and politics in the American Revolutionary and early republican periods. The evidence McBride mounts in support of his thesis reflects extensive research. His argument is original and convincing.

Amanda Porterfield, Florida State University, author of Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation

Pulpit and Nation's examination of the mutual and often manipulative exchanges between elite clergy and politicians in the founding era illuminates how deeply questions of church and state animated American political culture then—and bedevil us still.

Sarah Barringer Gordon, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America

Heated debates concerning the role of religion in politics, and the presence—or absence of—the Christian beliefs of America’s founders are not merely recent developments but have been a part of the discussion from the colonial to the present time. The issues emerging from such deliberations are not as cut-and-dried as one would hope, and these issues are astutely examined by Spencer McBride in Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America.

Reading Religion

[T]his work is an indispensable addition to the study of religion in the Revolutionary and early national periods.


About the Author: 

Spencer W. McBride is a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers.

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