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Christian History & BiographyFaith & the American Presidency
Issue 99 | 2008


 ARTICLE TOOLS

We Shall Answer to God
Every elected president has referred to God, providence, or a "higher power," in an inaugural address. Whether this says more about the president's personal faith or the expectations of the audience, such statements show the close connection between American politics and the public expression of religious belief.

"And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of His providence."
—JOHN ADAMS

"Finally, it is my most fervent prayer to that Almighty Being before whom I now stand, and who has kept us in His hands from the infancy of our Republic to the present day,that He will so overrule all my intentions and actions and inspire the hearts of my fellow-citizens that we may be preserved from dangers of all kinds and continue forever a united and happy people."
—ANDREW JACKSON

"I should not dare to enter upon my path of duty…did I not permit myself humbly to hope for the sustaining support of an ever-watchful and beneficent Providence."
—MARTIN VAN BUREN

"I deem the present occasion sufficiently important and solemn to justify me in expressing to my fellow-citizens a profound reverence for the Christian religion and a thorough conviction that sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true and lasting happiness …"
—WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON

"I can express no better hope for my country than that the kind Providence which smiled upon our fathers may enable their children to preserve the blessings they have inherited."
—FRANKLIN PIERCE

"In assuming responsibilities so vast I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land against the mischiefs which without His guidance might arise from an unwise public policy… ."
—JAMES POLK

"And let us not trust to human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at all times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid and His blessings upon our labors."
—GROVER CLEVELAND

"The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world. So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly—to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men— to the achievement of His will to peace on earth."
—FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

"At such a time in history, we who are free must proclaim anew our faith.This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws.This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man's inalienable rights, and that make all men equal in His sight."
—DWIGHT EISENHOWER

"Under this covenant of justice, liberty, and union we have become a nation—prosperous, great, and mighty. And we have kept our freedom. But we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure.We have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit. … If we fail now,we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored."
—LYNDON JOHNSON

"We shall answer to God, to history, and to our conscience for the way in which we use these years."
—RICHARD NIXON

"I have just taken the oath of office on the Bible my mother gave me a few years ago, opened to a timeless admonition from the ancient prophet Micah: 'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God' (Micah 6: 8)."
—JIMMY CARTER

1869-771945-531961-63
PRESIDENT TERM DATES DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION
George Washington 1789-97 Episcopalian (theistic rationalist*)
John Adams 1797-1801 Congregationalist; Unitarian
Thomas Jefferson 1801-09 Episcopalian (theistic rationalist*)
James Madison 1809-17 Episcopalian (theistic rationalist*)
James Monroe 1817-25 Episcopalian (deist?)
John Quincy Adams 1825-29 Unitarian
Andrew Jackson 1829-37 Presbyterian
Martin Van Buren 1837-41 Dutch Reformed
William Henry Harrison 1841 Episcopalian
John Tyler 1841-45 Episcopalian (deist?)
James Polk 1845-49 Presbyterian; Methodist
Zachary Taylor 1849-50 Episcopalian
Millard Fillmore 1850-53 Unitarian
Franklin Pierce 1853-57 Episcopalian
James Buchanan 1857-61 Presbyterian
Abraham Lincoln 1861-65 Presbyterian
Andrew Johnson 1865-69 Christian (no specific denomination)
Ulysses S. Grant Presbyterian; Methodist
Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-81 Methodist
James Garfield 1881 Disciples of Christ
Chester Arthur 1881-85 Episcopalian
Grover Cleveland 1885-89 Presbyterian
Benjamin Harrison 1889-93 Presbyterian
Grover Cleveland 1893-97 Presbyterian
William McKinley 1897-1901 Methodist
Theodore Roosevelt 1901-09 Dutch Reformed
William H. Taft 1909-13 Unitarian
Woodrow Wilson 1913-21 Presbyterian
Warren Harding 1921-23 Baptist
Calvin Coolidge 1923-29 Congregationalist
Herbert Hoover 1929-33 Quaker
Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-45 Episcopalian
Harry Truman Southern Baptist
Dwight Eisenhower 1953-61 Presbyterian
John F. Kennedy Roman Catholic
Lyndon Johnson 1963-69 Disciples of Christ
Richard Nixon 1969-74 Quaker
Gerald Ford 1974-77 Episcopalian
Jimmy Carter 1977-81 Baptist (former Southern Baptist)
Ronald Reagan 1981-89 Disciples of Christ
George Bush 1989-93 Episcopalian
William Clinton 1993-2001 Baptist
George W. Bush 2001- Methodist (former Episcopalian)

*The term "deist" is often used for a number of early presidents and founding fathers, though this causes confusion. For some of these founders, historian Gary Scott Smith prefers the term "theistic rationalism," which mixed elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, and relied foremost on reason. Unlike deists, theistic rationalists believed that God was active in the world and that prayer was therefore effectual. They contended that religion's primary role was to promote morality, which was indispensable to society.



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