The Founders on Religion

A Book of Quotations

Book Notice

The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005)

This book presents a collection of spiritual insight from some of early America’s most brilliant minds. Typically, we associate the Founders’ religious views only with the laws they created about church and state relationships, but Hutson opens a panorama of quotations that show the prominence of many areas of religious thought and discussion during the nation’s beginnings. The Founders on Religion is subject driven, rather than being arranged by speaker. This method successfully highlights the depth and breadth of religious topics of concern to the Founding Fathers. Subjects include addiction, the afterlife, children, divorce, education, Islam, prayer, profanity, war, women, and many more. The quotes come from fifteen men, several of whom were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and also from Abigail Adams and Martha Washington—two deeply influential wives of two politically important men.

As Chief of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, Hutson has access to endless primary sources from which he draws his quotes, thus eliminating the propagating errors in many well-known quotations as well as statements taken out of context. His strength is objectivism. Topical arrangement removes as much as possible the tendency to regurgitate oft-quoted passages that have been passed merely from one secondary source to another. Hutson has pulled these statements from primary sources in the Princeton, Yale, and Columbia University Libraries, along with the historical societies of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland—making his collection more in-depth than other quote compilers before him.

Hutson’s awareness of the Latter-day Saint community is strong. During the 2002 Winter Olympics, he brought the Library of Congress exhibition entitled Religion and the Founding of the American Republic to Provo, which resulted in the subsequent BYU publication of a lecture series associated with the exhibition. He also was on the organizing committee that hosted the two-day Library of Congress conference entitled “The Worlds of Joseph Smith” in May 2005. Rising above his many personal interests in religious subjects, Hutson is chiefly concerned that this collection of quotations accurately and objectively portrays the mature views of the Founding Fathers and wives. Latter-day Saint readers will be particularly interested in James Hutson’s work and commitment to preserving this nation’s great spiritual heritage. The only way we can appreciate America’s foundational values is to understand the minds and hearts of those who shaped the nation’s formation.

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