No book from the American founding era was more accessible or familiar than the English Bible, specifically the King James Version, and book was more frequently alluded to or quoted from in the political discourse of the age. Widely respected and referenced by both pious and skeptical founders, the English Bible shaped significant aspects of public culture, including language, letters, arts, education, and law. It was also among the diverse intellectual and political influences-including English constitutionalism, republicanism, and Enlightenment liberalism-that informed the ideas of the American founding. These facts alone, however, reveal little about how and for what purposes the founding generation used the Bible in their political discourse and, more important, how the Bible influenced their political culture. Drawing on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the founding era, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers examines the founders' diverse uses of the Bible in political discourse, ranging from the essentially literary to the profoundly theological. Recognition of these distinct uses is important, says Daniel Dreisbach, as it is misleading to read spiritual meaning into primarily political or rhetorical uses of the Bible or vice versa. The founding generation looked to the Bible t only for its rich literary qualities but also for insights on human nature, civic virtue, political authority, and the rights and duties of citizens, as well as for political and legal models they sought to emulate in their polities. This exploration of the Bible's often neglected place in late-eighteenth-century political culture enriches our understanding of the ideas that contributed to the founding of the American constitutional tradition.
Daniel L. Dreisbach is a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. He received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia. He has written extensively on the intersection of religion, politics, and law in the American founding.