by Kung Fu Zu 8/17/13
By Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe. For most of the first one hundred and fifty years after his death, George Washington’s biographers portrayed him as a Christian gentleman. Then during the early to mid-twentieth century this began to change. Especially within the last sixty years, progressive scholars have claimed George Washington was a Deist along with others of the founding period such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
The authors’ purpose in writing this book was to find out which thesis is true. They have a produced a long summer’s read in coming to their conclusion.
The book starts by explaining in what ways the authors believe the views on Washington’s religion have changed over the years. They then list the specific points used by modern historians as proof that Washington was not a Christian. These points include Washington’s “rare use of the word God” or the mention of “Jesus,” his “reticence in speaking about religion,” his “neglect in taking the Eucharist,” his “sporadic church attendance,” and his membership in the Masons. Then, for clarity’s sake, the authors give a detailed definition of Deism, particularly as it was understood in eighteenth century America and England.
After this, the authors give an abbreviated review Washington’s life and times. They then address the specific points on which Washington’s modern biographers have based their claim of Washington’s Deism. In the endeavor to do this, they have used a mountain of primary source materials including writings and interviews of Washington’s family, friends, subordinates, military comrades, government colleagues, as well as his personal and private papers and speeches.
The authors conclude that Washington was indeed a Christian gentleman, and specifically say he was what would be called a low Church Anglican typical of his time and place. They further maintain that given the amount of primary source material available, it is hard to understand how modern biographers could come to any other conclusion. After plowing though this book, I have to agree with them.
While the book does a great service by getting to the truth, and demolishes the modern progressive theme of Washington’s Deism, there are some things which I find could be improved.
The single largest fault of the book is its repetitiveness. In order to insure there is no question about the accuracy and veracity of their information and conclusions, the authors use and re-use certain material in a number of different chapters. Given this fact, I believe the authors could have presented their case just as convincingly using many less pages. Finally, the book has a certain cut-and-paste feel about it and the writing does not exactly remind one of Dickens.
Washington’s Sacred Fire is not a casual read. The book is a best seller, but I suspect it has been more bought than read. The body of the book is about seven hundred pages and there are over four hundred pages of appendices and notes. It is not easy to read, but if you love history, George Washington, and are the type who reads footnotes, this might be a book for you. • (1626 views)