Religion & Republic

Christian America from the Founding to the Civil War

By Miles Smith


Publication Date: May 23rd, 2024.

About this book

A Protestant republic

In recent years, America’s status as a “Christian nation” has become an incredibly vexed question. This is not simply a debate about America’s present, or even its future–it has become a debate about its past. Some want to rewrite America’s history as having always been highly secular in order to ensure a similar future; others seek to reframe the American founding as a continuation of medieval Christendom in the hopes of reviving America’s religious identity today.

In this book, Miles Smith offers a fresh historical reading of America’s status as a Christian nation in the Early Republic era. Defined neither by secularism nor Christendom, America was instead marked by “Christian institutionalism.” Christianity–and Protestantism specifically–was always baked into the American republic’s diplomatic, educational, judicial, and legislative regimes and institutional Christianity in state apparatuses coexisted comfortably with disestablishment from the American Revolution until the beginning of the twenty-first century. 

Any productive discussion about America’s religious present or future must first reckon accurately with its past. With close attention to a wide range of sermons, letters, laws, court cases and more, Religion & Republic offers just such a reckoning.


Paperback | 350 pages | 6×9 | Published May 23, 2024 | ISBN 978-1949716313

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From The Book

“This book does not purport to posit that the United States was a Christian nation in the early nineteenth century, despite it being described that way perhaps with good purpose. My own belief is that the United States was a republic of Christians that were committed to what I have chosen to call “Christian institutionalism.” Early Republic Protestants wanted to maintain Christian principles in their nation’s various social and political institutions without sacralizing those principles or subordinating the American republic to a church.”

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Foreword – Kevin DeYoung

Acknowledgements

Preface

I.

Introduction

II.

Jefferson

III.

Legislation

IV.

Courts

V.

Sabbath

VI.

World

VII.

Indians

VIII.

Education

Ix.

Conclusion

Works Cited

About the Author

Dr. Miles Smith (Ph.D. Texas Christian University) is a trained historian. He attended university at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, and received his Ph.D. from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Smith’s research is on the U.S. South and the Atlantic world. He generally writes on intellectual history—ideas, religion, slavery and freedom, etc.—but occasionally dabbles in political history, too. Dr. Smith is also interested in Europe and in Latin America. He edits nineteenth century works of historical theology and is revising a religious biography of Andrew Jackson. Smith has written for popular outlets like Ad Fontes, Mere OrthodoxyThe Gospel CoalitionPublic DiscourseThe Federalist, and The University Bookman.




Religion & Republic is a history book first and foremost. Unlike some contemporary historians, Miles refrains from using history as a (rather obvious) Trojan horse for political and theological agendas. Miles wants to show us what was, not lay out a plan for what ought to be. And yet, if there is an implicit exhortation in the book, it is to consider again the wisdom of “Christian institutionalism.” In good conservative fashion, Miles reminds us that too often evangelicals have prioritized the individual or the nation-state, without giving much thought to the intermediate institutions that sustain human civilization. Christians can start by taking civil and social institutions seriously, not confusing them with the church or confusing the church’s mission with their mission, but taking them seriously nonetheless.”


– KEVIN DEYOUNG

From the Foreword

“If you are looking for a book that amplifies the partisan shouting matches over ‘Christian nationalism,’ Miles Smith’s Religion & Republic is not for you. But if you want an even-handed and illuminating assessment of the actual role Christianity played in the American founding and early republic, I can’t think of a better choice than this book.”


– THOMAS S. KIDD

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Much of the conversation about a Christian America has been marked by either ideological nonsense or historical superficiality — or worse. In this book Miles Smith offers a corrective that is both timely and deeply thoughtful. In Religion & Republic, Smith argues for a distinctively Protestant understanding that corrects much of the confusion that surrounds so many of the historical assertions made by evangelicals. This is a really important book that arrives at a critical moment in the American experience and will greatly illuminate many contemporary debates.”


– R. ALBERT MOHLER

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“In this excellent book, Miles Smith demonstrates that America was a Christian nation from 1789 to at least 1860.  He does so in a manner that will be persuasive to scholars and yet accessible to the general reading public. Moreover, he persuasively argues that contemporary Americans, especially Protestants, have much to learn from their predecessors.”


– MARK DAVID HALL

Distinguished Scholar of Christianity & Public Life, George Fox Unviersity

“The early American republic, Miles Smith argues persuasively in this learned study, was a nation of Christians who, notwithstanding commitments to nonestablishment and religious liberty, maintained social, political, legal, and educational institutions aligned with Protestant Christian traditions thought necessary to preserve social order and nourish the civic virtues required for republican government to succeed. Religion & Republic explores often overlooked chapters in American history and bristles with fresh insights that will inform and challenge scholars and polemicists inclined to see the early republic as the denouement of either Christian nationalism or secular liberalism.”


– DANIEL L. DREISBACH

Professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C.

“In this study of American Protestants and public institutions before the Civil War, Miles Smith not only recovers the nooks and crannies of Christian influence on the new nation. He also makes an astute point about the Protestant character of the society that grew out of a founding that was neither formally Christian nor explicitly secular. Readers should not approach this book with hopes for finding a manual for Christian nationalism. What they may find, all the more important, is an appreciation of the myriad of institutions beyond the church and the state that are congenial to religious norms, flexible for outsiders, and necessary for well-functioning societies.”


– D. G. HART

Associate Professor of History, Hillsdale College

“By any and every measure, Miles Smith’s first book, Religion and Republic: Christian America from the Founding to the Civil War, is a treat for the soul and a feast for the intellect.”


– BRADLEY BIRZER

Russell Amos Kirk Chair in Americna Studies, Hillsdale College
National Review


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