4 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 37 (1989-1990)
Religion in the thought of Some of the Leading American Founders

handle is hein.journals/ndlep4 and id is 49 raw text is: RELIGION IN THE THOUGHT OF SOME OF THE
LEADING AMERICAN FOUNDERS
THOMAS L. PANGLE*
INTRODUCTION
In trying to understand the deepest moral and philosophic
foundations on which the American founders built our consti-
tutional order, it is indispensable that we at some point address
in a sustained way their views on the place and role of religion
within the new republic. Not only is this theme obviously of
the greatest intrinsic interest, but I believe that nothing can
reveal so sharply the distinctive character of the founders'
republicanism or republican political theory. For the founders
on this momentous point broke sharply with the previous tradi-
tions of republican theory and practice.
I. RELIGION AND THE REPUBLIC BEFORE THE FOUNDING
Prior to the founding of the United States, it had been the
general consensus in theory, a consensus supported by the
almost universal testimony of history or of empirical example,
that public, civil religion was an essential bulwark of any strong
and healthy republic. This conception of the place of religion
in republican or democratic life went hand in hand with the
view that republican or democratic society depended, more
than any other society, on a virtuous citizenry: a citizenry
whose individual members were dedicated to self-restraint and
even self-sacrifice in the name of the common good. Religious
sanctions reinforcing such virtue were regarded as essential or,
at any rate, as of the greatest efficacy. Thus, the greatest theo-
rist of democracy known to the founders, Montesquieu, had
taken republican Rome as his model of a virtuous republic.
Montesquieu wrote: Rome was a ship held by two anchors,
religion and morality, in the midst of a furious tempest.''
* Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto; A.B. 1968,
Cornell University; Ph.D. 1972, University of Chicago. This article is adapted
from a talk presented to the Notre Dame Law School in March 1988 as part of
the Thomas J. White Center Lecture Series. Professor Pangle's latest book
develops the ideas and claims in this article more fully. See T. PANGLE, THE
SPIRIT OF MODERN REPUBLICANISM: THE MORAL VISION OF THE AMERICAN
FOUNDERS AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF LOCKE (1988).
1. C. MONTESQUIEU, THE SPIRIT OF THE LAws 119 (T. Nugent trans.
1949).

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