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Faith and the PresidencyFrom George Washington to George W. Bush$
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Gary Scott Smith

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300604.001.0001

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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Quest to Achieve an Abundant Life

 Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Quest to Achieve an Abundant Life

(p.191) Chapter Six Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Quest to Achieve an Abundant Life
Faith and the Presidency

Gary Scott Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Scholars have provided scant analysis of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal faith, regular use of religious rhetoric, relationship with religious constituencies and leaders, the impact of his religious convictions on his policies as president, or the role of religion in his four presidential campaigns. The Democrat, however, repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Bible, prayer, and Christian morality. In numerous speeches and letters, he urged Americans to work for spiritual renewal, promote social justice, and strive to achieve a more abundant material and spiritual life. He frequently asserted that God directed history, labeled himself God’s agent, and insisted that the United States would prosper only if its citizens sought divine guidance and followed biblical principles. His courage, confidence, and calm in dealing with the Great Depression and World War II sprang from his temperament, life experiences, and faith. Interested much more in the moral, character-building, and social justice emphases of Christianity than its theological or devotional aspects, Roosevelt’s faith was sincere but not intellectually sophisticated. Like his approach to politics, his faith focused more on action than contemplation, more on results than on principles. More than any other 20th-century president, Roosevelt managed to maintain cordial relations with Protestants (especially ones concerned about social justice), Catholics, and Jews. In September 1935, Roosevelt sent a letter to more than 120,000 “representative clergymen” to ask them for “counsel and advice”, particularly about the impact of his administration’s new social security legislation and public works program. His faith played a significant role in shaping the New Deal and his approach to international relations.

Keywords:   Bible, Catholics, Jews, morality, New Deal, Protestants, Roosevelt’s presidential campaigns, social justice, World War II

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