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List of U.S. Presidential religious affiliations

From Academic Kids

This is a list of the religious affiliations of Presidents of the United States. The particular religious affiliations of U.S. Presidents can affect their electability, shape their visions of society and how they want to lead it, and shape their stances on policy matters. For example, a contributing factor to Alfred E. Smith's defeat in the presidential election of 1928 was his Roman Catholic faith. In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic president he would do as Pope John XXIII would tell him to do. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and several other presidents were accused of being infidels during election campaigns -- and at other times.

Throughout much of American history, the religion of past American presidents has been the subject of contentious debate. Some devout Americans have been disinclined to believe that there may have been agnostic or even non-Christian presidents, especially amongst the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a result, apocryphal stories of a religious nature have appeared over the years about particularly beloved presidents such as Washington and Lincoln. On the other hand, secular-minded Americans have sometimes downplayed the prominence that religion played in the private and political lives of the Founding Fathers.

Episcopalians are extraordinarily well represented among the presidents. This is in part because the Episcopal Church was the state religion in some states (such as Virginia) before their Constitutions were changed. Before the American Revolution, the Episcopal Church was the American branch of the Church of England. The first seven presidents listed below with Episcopalian affiliation were also the first seven from Virginia, and five of those were among the six presidents most closely identified with Deism. Since there have seldom been any churches of Deism, strictly speaking Deist is not an affiliation in the same way Episcopalian is; it is included in the list below, however, to give a more complete view of the religious views of the presidents.

The church closest to the White House is also Episcopal, and has been attended at least once by nearly every president since James Madison. St. John's Episcopal Church, just across Lafayette Square north of the White House, and built after the War of 1812, is one of about five sometimes referred to as "the Church of the Presidents".

Many people are interested not only in the religious affiliations of the presidents, but also in their inner beliefs. Some presidents, such as Madison and Monroe, were extremely reluctant to discuss their own religious views at all. In general, it is difficult to define with any certainty the faiths of presidents, because no one can truly be sure what relationship (if any) exists between another person and his deity, and because presidents, as public officials, have generally remained within the mainstream of American religious trends.

With regard to Christianity, distinguishing affiliation from belief can be somewhat complicated. At issue, to a certain extent, is "What counts as belonging to a church?" Must one be a communicant to belong, or is baptism or even simple attendance sufficient? Are Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and independents who generally hold Jesus in high regard, but do not believe he was divine, to be counted as Christians or not? Numerous presidents changed their affiliations and/or their beliefs during their lives. George Washington, for example, gravitated from conventional Christianity as a youth towards Deism as he aged.

Contents

List of Presidential religious affiliations/beliefs (by President)

  1. George WashingtonDeist; Episcopalian (VA)
    • The religious views of George Washington are a matter of some controversy. There is strong evidence that he (like many of the Founding Fathers) was a Deist - believing in Divine Providence, but not believing in divine intervention in the world after the initial design. Before the revolution, when the Episcopal Church was still the state religion in Virginia, he served as a vestryman (lay officer) for his local church. He spoke often of the value of religion in general, and he sometimes accompanied his wife to Christian church services. However, there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian church and he would regularly leave services before communion - with the other non-communicants. When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia mentioned in a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at all on communion Sundays. Long after Washington died, asked about Washington's beliefs, Abercrombie replied: "Sir, Washington was a Deist." Various prayers said to have been composed by him in his later life are highly edited. He did not ask for any clergy on his deathbed, though one was available. His funeral services were those of the Freemasons.
  2. John AdamsUnitarian (MA)
  3. Thomas JeffersonDeist; Episcopalian (VA)
    • Though a vestryman (lay officer) of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, his beliefs were primarily Deist. Unlike its effect on Congregational churches, Deism had little influence on Episcopal churches, which have a more hierarchical structure making them slower to modify their teachings. Of only three things Jefferson chose for his epitaph, one was the 1786 Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. Jefferson's views are considered very close to Unitarian [2] (http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/thomasjefferson.html). The Famous UUs (http://www.famousuus.com/) website says: [3] (http://www.famousuus.com/bios/thomas_jefferson.htm)
      "Like many others of his time (he died just one year after the founding of institutional Unitarianism in America), Jefferson was a Unitarian in theology, though not in church membership. He never joined a Unitarian congregation: there were none near his home in Virginia during his lifetime. He regularly attended Joseph Priestley's Pennsylvania church when he was nearby, and said that Priestley's theology was his own, and there is no doubt Priestley should be identified as Unitarian. Jefferson remained a member of the Episcopal congregation near his home, but removed himself from those available to become godparents, because he was not sufficiently in agreement with the trinitarian theology. His work, The Jefferson Bible, was Unitarian in theology..."
    • A remarkable quote from a letter Jefferson wrote to a Dr. Woods indicates that in fact he possessed considerable antipathy towards Christianity:
      "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."
    • See Wikiquote (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson) and Positive Atheism (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/jefferson.htm) for many more similar quotes.
  4. James MadisonDeist; Episcopalian (VA)
    • In 1779 the Virginia General Assembly deprived Church of England ministers of tax support, but in 1784 Patrick Henry sponsored a bill to again collect taxes to support churches in general. Madison's 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance was written in opposition to another bill to levy a general assessment for the support of religions. The assessment bill was tabled, and instead the legislature in 1786 passed Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom, first submitted in 1779. Virginia thereby became the first state to disestablish religion — Rhode Island, Delaware, and Pennsylvania never having had an established religion.
  5. James MonroeDeist; Episcopalian (VA)
  6. John Quincy AdamsUnitarian (MA) [4] (http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/johnquincyadams.html)
  7. Andrew JacksonPresbyterian (NC/SC)
    • became a member about a year after retiring the presidency
  8. Martin Van BurenDutch Reformed or no affiliation (NY)
    • Van Buren did not join any church in Washington, nor in his home town of Kinderhook (village), New York. The sole original source to claim that he did join a church – in Hudson, New York – is Vernon B. Hampton, in Religious Background of the White House (Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1932). The basis for this claim has not been found.
  9. William Henry HarrisonEpiscopalian possibly (VA)
    • Harrison died just one month after his inauguration. After funeral, rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC said Harrison bought a Bible one day after his inauguration and planned to soon become a communicant.
  10. John TylerDeist; Episcopalian (VA)
  11. James K. PolkPresbyterian; later Methodist (NC/TN)
    • Raised Presbyterian, Polk had never been baptized due to an early family argument with the local Presbyterian minister in rural North Carolina. Polk's father and grandfather were Deists, and the minister refused to baptize James unless his father affirmed Christianity, which he would not do. At age 38, Polk had a religious conversion to Methodism at a camp meeting, and thereafter he thought of himself as a Methodist. Out of respect for his mother and wife, however, he continued to attend Presbyterian services. Whenever his wife was out of town, or too ill to attend church, however, Polk worshipped at the local Methodist chapel. On his deathbed less than 4 months after leaving the Presidency, he summoned the man who had converted him years before, the Rev. John B. McFerrin, who then baptized Polk as a Methodist.
  12. Zachary TaylorEpiscopalian (VA)
  13. Millard FillmoreUnitarian (NY)
    • In the early 1830s, he worked to overturn the New York test law that required all witnesses in New York courts to swear an oath affirming their belief in God and the hereafter.
  14. Franklin PierceEpiscopalian (NH)
    • 1850: unsuccessfully worked to abolish that portion of the New Hampshire Constitution which made the Protestant religion the official religion.
    • 1853 inauguration: affirmed instead of swearing the oath; did not kiss Bible
    • 1861: 4 years after retiring the presidency, he was baptized, confirmed, and became a regular communicant in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, in Concord, NH.
  15. James BuchananPresbyterian (PA)
    • raised Presbyterian, he joined its church after he retired the presidency
  16. Abraham LincolnDeist; no affiliation known (KY/IN/IL)
    • For much of his life, Lincoln was undoubtedly Deist (see [5] (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/steinlinc.htm), [6] (http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/john_remsburg/six_historic_americans/chapter_5.html)). In his younger days he openly challenged orthodox religions, but as he matured he kept his Deist views more to himself, and would sometimes attend Presbyterian services with his wife. He loved to read the Bible, and even quoted from it, but he almost never made reference to Jesus, and is not known to have ever indicated a belief in the divinity of Jesus.
    • A number of pastors have claimed a late conversion for Lincoln, but these are hard to substantiate.
      • One notable claim is an entry in the memory book The Lincoln Memorial Album—Immortelles (edited by Osborn H. Oldroyd, 1882, New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., p. 366) attributed to An Illinois clergyman (unnamed) which reads "When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus."
        • Other entries in the memory book are attributed by name. See a discussion of this story in They Never Said It, by Paul F. Boller & John George, (Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 91).
      • Some pastors date a conversion following the death of his son Eddie in 1850, and some following the death of his son Willie in 1862.
      • Rev. Dr. Ralph Randolph Gurley was pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington D.C., which Lincoln attended with his wife when he attended any church. Rev. Gurley made no claims of Lincoln converting.
  17. Andrew Johnsonno affiliation (NC/TN)
    • Some sources refer to Johnson having Baptist parents. He accompanied his wife to Methodist services sometimes, belonged to no church himself, and sometimes attended Catholic services - remarking favorably there was no reserved seating. Accused of being an infidel, he replied: "As for my religion, it is the doctrine of the Bible, as taught and practiced by Jesus Christ." (See The Age of Hate, 1930, by G.F. Milton, p. 80.)
  18. Ulysses S. Grantno affiliation known (OH)
    • Grant was never baptized into any church, though he accompanied his wife to Methodist services. Many sources list his religious affiliation as Methodist based on a Methodist minister's account of a deathbed conversion. He did leave a note for his wife in which he hoped to meet her again in a better world.
  19. Rutherford B. Hayesno affiliation (OH)
    • In his 1890 17 May diary entry, he states: "I am not a subscriber to any creed. I belong to no Church. But in a sense satisfactory to myself, and believed by me to be important, I try to be a Christian and to help do Christian work." (page 435)
  20. James GarfieldDisciples of Christ (OH)
    • In his early adulthood, Garfield sometimes preached and held revival meetings.
  21. Chester A. ArthurEpiscopalian (VT/NY)
  22. Grover ClevelandPresbyterian (NJ/NY)
  23. Benjamin HarrisonPresbyterian (OH/IN)
    • Harrison became a church elder, and taught Sunday school
    • Franklin Steiner, in his book The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents[7] (http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/franklin_steiner/presidents.html), categorized Harrison as the first President who was unquestionably a communicant in an orthodox Church at the time he was elected
  24. Grover ClevelandPresbyterian (NJ/NY)
    • During his second (non-consecutive) term, Cleveland included mention of Jesus Christ in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, something no other President had ever done.
  25. William McKinleyMethodist (OH)
    • McKinley believed the U.S. government had a duty to help spread Christianity and Western civilization to the rest of the world.
  26. Theodore RooseveltDutch Reformed (NY)
  27. William Howard TaftUnitarian (OH)
  28. Woodrow WilsonPresbyterian (VA/GA/NJ)
  29. Warren G. HardingBaptist (OH)
  30. Calvin CoolidgeCongregationalist (VT/MA)
  31. Herbert HooverQuaker (IA/OR/CA)
  32. Franklin D. RooseveltEpiscopalian (NY)
  33. Harry S. TrumanBaptist (MO)
  34. Dwight D. EisenhowerJehovah's Witness; later Presbyterian (TX/KS/PA)
    • Brought up Jehovah's Witness, Eisenhower abandoned that before joining the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. (See [8] (http://www.adherents.com/adh_presidents.html), [9] (http://www.premier1.net/~raines/eisenhower.html), and [10] (http://www.adherents.com/largecom/fam_jw.html).) He was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian church in a single ceremony 1953February 1, just weeks after his first inauguration. He is the only president known to be baptized, or to be confirmed, or to become a communicant while in office. Eisenhower was instrumental in the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the 1956 adoption of "In God We Trust" as the motto of the USA, and its 1957 introduction on paper currency. The chapel at his presidential library is intentionally inter-denominational.
  35. John F. KennedyRoman Catholic (MA)
  36. Lyndon JohnsonDisciples of Christ (TX)
  37. Richard Nixon – raised Quaker (CA)
  38. Gerald R. FordEpiscopalian (NE/MI)
  39. Jimmy CarterBaptist, born again (GA)
  40. Ronald ReaganDisciples of Christ (IL/CA)
  41. George H. W. BushEpiscopalian (MA/CT/TX)
  42. Bill ClintonBaptist (AR)
  43. George W. Bush – raised Episcopalian, at age 40 became Methodist, born again, religious teetotaler (CT/TX)

List of Presidential religious affiliations (by religion)

External links

Further reading

  • Steiner, Franklin, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents: From Washington to F.D.R., Prometheus Books/The Freethought Library, July 1995. ISBN 0879759755

Presidential trivia lists

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