Resistance to Tyrants, Obedience to God

Reason, Religion, and Republicanism at the American Founding

Contributions by Jeffrey A. Bernstein, Maura Jane Farrelly, Robert Faulkner, Matthew Holbreich, Jonathan Israel, Peter McNamara, Carla Mulford, Vincent Philip Muñoz, Danilo Petranovich, Eran Shalev, Aristide Tessitore Edited by Dustin A. Gish, Daniel P. Klinghard

Publication date:

28 August 2013

Length of book:

276 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739182192

Both reason and religion have been acknowledged by scholars to have had a profound impact
on the foundation and formation of the American regime. But the significance, pervasiveness,
and depth of that impact have also been disputed. While many have approached the American
founding period with an interest in the influence of Enlightenment reason or Biblical religion,
they have often assumed such influences to be exclusive, irreconcilable, or contradictory. Few
scholarly works have sought to study the mutual influence of reason and religion as intertwined
strands shaping the American historical and political experience at its founding. The purpose of
the chapters in this volume, authored by a distinguished group of scholars in political science,
intellectual history, literature, and philosophy, is to examine how this mutual influence was
made manifest in the American Founding—especially in the writings, speeches, and thought of
critical figures (Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Carroll), and in later works by key interpreters of
the American Founding (Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln).

Taken as a whole, then, this volume does not attempt to explain away the potential opposition
between religion and reason in the American mind of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries, but instead argues that there is a uniquely American perspective and political thought
that emerges from this tension. The chapters gathered here, individually and collectively, seek
to illuminate the animating affect of this tension on the political rhetoric, thought, and history
of the early American period. By taking seriously and exploring the mutual influence of these
two themes in creative tension, rather than seeing them as diametrically opposed or as mutually
exclusive, this volume thus reveals how the pervasiveness and resonance of Biblical narratives
and religion supported and infused Enlightened political discourse and action at the Founding,
thereby articulating the complementarity of reason and religion during this critical period.
Was America a city upon a hill, or was it just a skirmish in the larger battle between Ancients and Moderns? The essays in this volume reject these familiar alternatives and propose a third way. In so doing, they contribute to our growing understanding of the Enlightenment while at the same time forcing us to consider early American political thought in its own terms. Gish and Klinghard have put together a volume that should be essential reading for students of the early republic and for students of the Enlightenment.