The New United States: A “Christian Nation”?

Politicians and pop history writers squabble endlessly about whether America was founded as a “Christian nation.” Skeptics routinely point to the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, in which American officials declared that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion” and “has in itself no character [Read More…]

The Constitution “Divinely Inspired”? Ben Franklin Answers

Last week I posted about a Ted Cruz rally at which Glenn Beck argued that the Constitution and the Bible were both “sacred scriptures.” What would the Founding Fathers think about this? It so happens that, in a little-noticed 1788 editorial, Ben Franklin directly denied that the Constitution was “divinely inspired.” But as usual with the [Read More…]

Why the Founding Fathers Spoke the King James Bible

One of the besetting problems of “Christian America” history writing is that it often interprets biblical quotes from the Founders as evidence that they were personally devout. Sometimes personally devout Founders did also speak in the language of the King James Bible, of course. But a broader range of Founding Fathers – including the skeptical [Read More…]

Top Five Books on Benjamin Franklin

What are the best books on the ever-fascinating founder Benjamin Franklin? As I have been writing a religious biography of Franklin for Yale University Press, I have been getting to know the vast literature on Franklin. Here are my suggestions for where to start. 1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A no-brainer, as this eminently readable [Read More…]

Ben Franklin, Anti-Catholicism, and the Founding of the University of Pennsylvania

Historians have generally cast the founding of the University of Pennsylvania (or the College of Philadelphia) in 1755 as a step toward secular education in America. While the early college met in the great evangelist George Whitefield’s preaching building, Ben Franklin was the brains behind the school. As I noted in an an earlier post, [Read More…]

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…]


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