The Origin of “In God We Trust”

The national motto “In God We Trust” has a complicated and contested history. Even though the phrase first appeared on American coins during the Civil War, it was only officially adopted as the national motto in 1956, during the Cold War era. Where did the phrase come from before the Civil War? There seems little [Read More...]

The Ex-Baptist Pastor Who Popularized Ben Franklin’s Electrical Experiments

James Delbourgo’s A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America offers a remarkable account of Ebenezer Kinnersley, a Baptist pastor who lost his Philadelphia church position due to his opposition to the Great Awakening. Kinnersley then improbably became the greatest popularizer of Ben Franklin’s discoveries in electricity. Kinnersley was born in Gloucester, England, [Read More...]

Benjamin Franklin, Skepticism, and The Enlightenment

As I have written previously at the Anxious Bench, I am skeptical about “The Enlightenment.” This ideologically-freighted term implies the inexorable progress of scientific humanist thought. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the theory goes, such enlightened thinking triumphed over “dark” religious views. Among the Enlightenment’s many problems today is that classic secularization theory lies in [Read More...]

What Is Deism?

The claim that any of the Founding Fathers were deists generates pushback among certain conservatives. This helps to account for the firestorm of controversy (which I covered for WORLD Magazine) over David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies and the book’s subsequent abandonment by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Barton argued that until late in life, Jefferson was an orthodox, Trinitarian [Read More...]

Ben Franklin’s Calvinist Father

Greetings friends! Writing here from beautiful and chilly St Andrews, Scotland, where we are spending the semester. I have just begun to write a new book on Ben Franklin and religion, and am discovering more and more what a thoroughly Calvinist background Franklin had. I have written before about his beloved Calvinist sister Jane. Today [Read More...]

Hating One’s Enemy in Early America

1755 was one of the bleakest years in the history of Britain’s American colonies. That year, Britain launched a massive campaign to stop French aggression in the Ohio river valley, in the early stages of the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War). Benjamin Franklin tried to warn British General Edward [Read More...]

Benjamin Franklin, George Whitefield, and the Founding of the University of Pennsylvania

Many people are not aware of the vital friendship between Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. Franklin became Whitefield’s key publicist and printer in the colonies in the early 1740s, and their relationship lasted until Whitefield’s death in 1770. They also exchanged friendly letters on many topics. One of the most fascinating exchanges between them came [Read More...]