Title page for ETD etd-05222010-151216

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author McBride, Spencer Welles
URN etd-05222010-151216
Title The Courtship of Providence and Patriotism: The Founders' Perceptions of American Religion
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Burstein, Andrew Committee Chair
Isenberg, Nancy Committee Member
Stater, Victor L. Committee Member
  • continental army
  • continental congress
  • congressional prayer
  • christian nation
  • fast days
  • fasting and prayer
  • chaplains
  • jacob duche
Date of Defense 2010-05-07
Availability unrestricted
This thesis examines the religious language used by America’s Revolutionary leadership, particularly regarding days of fasting and prayer, the appointment of chaplains to the Continental Army, and the practice praying in the Continental Congress. These three occurrences indicate the presence of religious thought in the prosecution of the American Revolution and the establishment of an American nation. But it is an oversimplification to draw the conclusion that the founding of the United States was religious in nature simply because religious thought was involved in the process. Examining these three acts reveals the complex association of religious and political rhetoric, and at the same time helps to make sense of public religious expressions made by America’s political leadership in the Revolutionary context. By analyzing the language surrounding the proclamation of fast days, the appointment of chaplains, and the offering of prayer in Congress, we can achieve a better understanding of the role religion played in promoting a patriotic identity and securing a greater sense of American nationhood.

In proclaiming fast days, appointing chaplains, and participating in congressional prayer, America’s Revolutionary leadership utilized the language of American providentialism, the belief that God intervened in the affairs of mankind and that America was ordained by God to play a pivotal role in that plan. Ultimately, this thesis argues that the founders’ public use of religious rhetoric, particularly that of providentialism, reveals less about the founders’ personal religious beliefs and more about how they perceived the religiosity of their constituents. The founders’ use of religious language to illicit a patriotic response from Americans indicates that they perceived most Americans possessed a non-secular, essentially Christian worldview.

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