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Faith and the PresidencyFrom George Washington to George W. Bush$
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Gary Scott Smith

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300604.001.0001

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 George Washington and Providential Agency

 George Washington and Providential Agency

(p.21) Chapter One George Washington and Providential Agency
Faith and the Presidency

Gary Scott Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Although the religious convictions and practices of many presidents have been ignored, Washington’s have been closely scrutinized and endlessly debated. Some authors have portrayed the Virginian as the epitome of piety, while others have depicted him as the patron saint of skepticism. Washington was a life-long Episcopalian, but the fact that he said almost nothing publicly or privately about the precise nature of his beliefs has evoked competing claims that he was a devout Christian, a Unitarian, a “warm deist”, and a “theistic rationalist”. One point, however, is not debatable: Washington strongly believed that providence played a major role in helping the United States win the Revolutionary War and function successfully as a republic. Arguably no president has stressed the role of providence in the nation’s history more than Washington. His religious convictions are clearly evident in the pivotal role he played in helping establish religious liberty and toleration as key principles of the new nation. As president, Washington was the first major spokesperson and practitioner of American civil religion, and after his death he became a principal figure in its development.

Keywords:   civil religion, deist, Episcopalian, faith, piety, providence, religious convictions, religious liberty, Revolutionary War, theistic rationalist

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