First Topic – Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush
Religion has been a major part of the presidency since George Washington's first inaugural address. Despite the mounting interest in the role of religion in American public life, we actually know remarkably little about the faith of our presidents. Was Thomas Jefferson an atheist, as his political opponents charged? What role did Lincoln's religious views play in his handling of slavery and the Civil War? How did born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter lose the support of many evangelicals? Is George W. Bush, as his critics often claim, a captive of the religious right? On this President’s Day, Gary Smith answers these questions and many more. He takes a sweeping look at the role religion has played in presidential politics and policies. Drawing on extensive archival research, Smith paints compelling portraits of the religious lives and presidencies of eleven chief executives for whom religion was particularly important. We will examine what each of its subjects believed and how those beliefs shaped their presidencies and, in turn, the course of our history.