Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation examines the politicization of clergymen during the American Revolution and explains the direct impact this process had on the development of a national polity and a distinct American national identity in the early republic. Both during and after the Revolution, clergymen utilized providential rhetoric and biblical symbolism to assign greater religious and moral significance to political events. Focusing on the period between 1775 and 1800, this dissertation describes and analyzes the extent to which national political leaders relied on local clergymen when securing independence and thereafter inventing a new nation. Ultimately, it argues that clergymen were essential to these processes as political figures, and not merely as religious leaders giving a spiritual perspective of Revolutionary events to their congregations. This dissertation thoroughly evaluates the political participation of clergymen in six key moments in the processes of American state-formation and nation-building: 1) the political benefits of days of fasting and prayer declared by the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War; 2) the political origins and impact of congressional prayer; 3) the way loyalist, moderate, and patriot clergymen navigated the social tumult of the war; 4) the key political roles of clergymen as Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the ratification debates of 1787-88; 5) the partisan activity of ministers as political party’s emerged in the 1790s; 6) and the creation of the “myth of the Christian president” as a result of the Federalists’ political calculations in the election of 1800 and in the decades that immediately followed. Dismissing the “Christian Nation” question as an entirely inadequate construct by which historians can capture the complexity and ambiguity of early American political culture, this dissertation breathes new life into the discussion of the role religion played in the politics of the founding era.



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Committee Chair

Andrew Burstein



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History Commons