Thursday, May 7, 2009

John Adams Regrets His Call to Prayer

At American Creation Brian Tubbs accurately notes John Adams' call to prayer as President. He also notes the ironic dynamic that the prayer sounded Trinitarian but Adams himself was a unitarian.

It should also be noted that Adams regretted that call to prayer and claims that it cost him the Presidency against Jefferson.

As Adams explained, the prayer made him and America sound more "orthodox," less religiously pluralistic than they really were. As he noted:

The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President.” This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson’s The Founders on Religion, 101-02.


Brian Tubbs said...

Bravo, Jon! Well done!

I tried not to overstate my post re: Adams' resolution.

And while Adams felt the resolution cost him politically AND later came out strongly against government "meddling in Religion," I think his context was that the government should be drawn into squabbles between various sectarian groups and factions.

I think we go too far if we read into Adams' letter a disapproval of the nation relying on God.

Kristo Miettinen said...

I would add that, in keeping with what I have said of church organization, the Presbyterians were, alongside the paleo-Orthodox, suspect in American radical protestant eyes, for teaching a strong church, a church capable of being a "national" church (like the church of Scotland). Note the fears expressed by Adams of a tendency to establishment.

So Jon, it is not that Adams wanted to be more pluralistic (nor that the American public wanted to be more pluralistic), but rather that certain forms of Christianity - orthodoxy most prominent among them, but Presbyterianism also - were discriminated against by radical American protestantism.

Adams, Franklin, et al railed against Presbyterianism on many occasions.

Brad Hart said...

I think this pretty much supports J.L. Bell's comment in the post below.