“The men, to make a State, must be religious men”

The historiography of American religion has routinely associated religious politics and religious social movements with so-called Evangelical fervor. Religious, political, and social engagement by Evangelical Protestants have been treated as outpourings of revivalism or pietism by historians who understandably note the presence of Evangelical Christians in the leading reformist movements of the Nineteenth Century, particularly the abolition of slavery and temperance. Randall Balmer and Laura Winner in their Protestantism in America argued that the “largest impetus” for the “frenzy of charity” that characterized northern society came from “Evangelical fervor.” Evangelicals, particularly in the northern states, “forged a close link between faith and good works.” In northern cities “evangelicals were beset by problems they blamed on immigration, alcohol, Catholicism, and general indifference to the Bible and the church.” Northern Evangelicals believed, according to Balmer and Winner, “the only cure was Protestant piety.” Henry Clay Fish, a Baptist minister, moaned that nothing could save northern cities but a “powerful revival of religion.” [1]

The continued reliance on Evangelical as a taxonomical tool to describe aspects of American Protestantism obscures the fact that the necessity of a religious politics was not an assumption of a particularly revivalist or pietistic sect of American Protestants, but was an expectation that extended across Protestant groups in the Nineteenth Century. George Washington Doane, Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey and a convinced high churchman, took aim at both irreligion and pietism in his Fourth of July address at Burlington College in 1849. Doane’s aims were neither revivalistic nor pietistic. They were in fact much more modest but at some time more foundational. Religious leadership was a baseline necessity for the maintenance of the state. “The men, to make a State, must be religious men. States are from God. States are dependent upon God. States are accountable to God. To leave God out of States, is to be Atheist.”

Doane denied that he argued for ritualism or pietism as a necessity for the state. He was not applying a social expectation of even a specific type of piety. Nor was he asking citizens to swallow hypocrisy. “I do not mean, that men must cant. I do not mean, that men must wear long faces. I do not mean, that men must talk of conscience, while they take your spoons.” Instead, Doane spoke of men “who feel, and own, a God.” He precluded a merely theistic construction by applying Protestant conceptions of sin to the men who should lead the state by referencing “men, who feel, and own, their sins. I speak of men, who know there is a hell.”  Leadership of the state acquainted with Protestant conceptions of sin would naturally also know Protestant conceptions of atonement. Doane envisioned men “who think the Cross no shame. I speak of men, who have it in their heart, as well as on their brow. The men that own no future, the men that trample on the Bible, the men that never pray, are not the men to make a State.”[2]

Assertions that the state needed religious men for its fundamental maintenance were not new, particularly revolutionary, nor inconsistent with religious disestablishment. Mark David Hall argued that the Revolutionary generation retained a belief in the necessity of a religious public square. Doane, and most religious Americans, believed that religious men were necessary for that maintenance. His was not a plea for religious revival nor a scolding demand for religious activism in pursuit of utopia or sectarian theocracy. They were pleas from a cleric for something as fundamental as societal maintenance and stability. [3]

[1] Randall Balmer and Laura F. Winner, Protestantism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 59-60,

[2] George Washington Doane, “The Men to Make a State: Their Making and Their Marks,” in Wliiam Croswell Doane ed., The Life and Writings of George Washington Doane Vol. IV (New York: D. Appleton, 1861), 239.

[3] Mark David Hall, Did America Have A Christian Founding? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), xxiii-xviii.


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