Federalists and Democratic Republicans

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What were Alexander Hamilton's views on religion?

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Though a deeply devout young man in his teens, Hamilton eventually settled comfortably into the deism and religious skepticism so common among the revolutionary generation. In a nutshell, deism was religion rationalized. Deists accepted that there was a God, but they gave him a much more limited role in the maintenance of the universe than more orthodox Christians.

According to the deist view of things, God was like a gigantic watch maker who made the universe, started it up, and then stepped back to let it run all by itself. Thus there were no miracles or any other manifestations of divine intervention. These were simply archaic superstitions that had long since served their purpose and had no place in a more rational, enlightened age.

As well as being a deist, Hamilton was also deeply distrustful of organized religion, seeing it as a potential source of tyranny. The established Church of England had been a staunch defender of what many Americans regarded as British tyranny in the colonies, so it was only natural that Hamilton should be suspicious of any kind of organized religion.

What really worried Hamilton most of all, however, was religious fanaticism, which he saw as a real and present danger to the stability and good order of society. He knew only too well how the most abominable crimes had often been carried out throughout history in the name of God.

As a considered response to such dangers, he proposed a free market in religion in which people would choose whichever faith was right for them, thus ensuring that widespread tolerance would become the order of the day. This, he hoped, would diminish the power and influence of religious fanaticism, thus allowing different faiths to rub alongside each other with the bare minimum of friction and mutual animosity.

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As one of the United States' most important founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton displayed non-sectarian approach to religion which was characteristic of this group. His own faith had wavered throughout his life; he was a pious Christian in his youth, had turned to Deism as an adult, and had become more devout in his later years.

His political views toward religion mirrored those of the majority of the founders. He believed religion (by which he would have meant Protestant Christianity) played an important role in national virtue and stability, but he was not too dogmatic about the particular form (denomination, etc.) that religion took. This view is evidenced by President Washington's "Farewell Address," which Hamilton helped him draft.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.... And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Clearly, Hamilton believed that religion was necessary to the prosperity of the United States, but note that he and Washington did not declare a particular sort of religious practice--or even mention Christianity by name--in this speech.

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