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Challenging carved-in-stone tenets of Christianity, deism began sprouting in colonial America in the early eighteenth century, was flourishing nicely by the American Revolution, and for all intents and purposes was dead by 1811. Despite its hasty demise, deism left a theological legacy. Christian sensibility would never be quite the same. Bringing together the works of six major American deists—Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, Elihu Palmer, and Philip Frenau—an dthe Frechman Comte de Volney, whose writings greatly influenced the American deists, Kerry Walters has created the fullest analysis yet of deism and rational religion in colonial and early America. In addition to presenting a chronological collection of several works by each author, he provides a description of deisms historical roots, its major themes, its social and political implications, and the reasons for its eventual demise as a movement. Essential readings from the three major deistic periodicals of the period—Temple of Reason, Prospect, and the Theophilanthropist—also are included in the volume. This is the first time they have been reprinted since their original publication. American deism is more than merely an antiquated philosophical position possessing only historical interest, Walters contends. Its search for a religion based upon the ideals of reason, nature, and humanitarianism, rather than the blind faith, scriptural inerrancy, and miracles preached by Christian churches at the time, continues to offer insight of real significance. Description Kerry S. Walters is professor emeritus of philosophy at Gettysburg College. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of 48 books, including Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels and Harriet Tubman: A Life in American History. This Kansas Open Books title is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.



Publication Date



University Press of Kansas


x, 394 pp.


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© 1992, by the University Press of Kansas. All rights reserved. Reissued 2021. The text of this book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License.

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Open Access

The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic