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Chapter Thirty-Two. Religion: George Washington, Anglican Gentleman

Mary V. Thompson

Subject History » Religious History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics churches, ideology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00034.x


There was a fair degree of consternation at Mount Vernon – among both staff and visitors – in 2003, when a member of the Washington family returned a pastel drawing, which had belonged to George Washington and originally hung in the Large Dining Room. The turmoil resulted from a conflict between the subject of this lovely work, the Virgin Mary, and what people thought they knew about George Washington's religious beliefs. Both Washington's own religious convictions, as well as those of his contemporaries in the Anglican Church of Virginia, have been the subject of debate for two centuries. For much of this time, Washington was considered a pietist or someone who is excessively or affectedly religious, a view which still prevails in popular culture ( Weems (1962) 9–16, 55–56, 180–186, 204; LaHaye (1987) 110–113). Still, the absence of any statement by Washington explicitly endorsing such traditional Christian beliefs as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and the inerrancy of the Bible has led to questions about whether he was actually a Christian ( Flexner (1965–72) 4:300, 442, 492; Henriques (2006) 166–185; Ellis (2004) 45, 151, 269). Historians for close to a century have identified him as a person who “lacked a personal religious faith” ( Jones (2002) 27) or as a Deist, someone who believes in a god who created the world, but then walked away from it, and is no longer ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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