Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Reader 1

John J. Pitney

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© 2017 Ellen I. Lempres


While the United States was founded upon the premise of religious freedom, religious rhetoric has pervaded presidential addresses since the Founding. While such addresses were rare at the Founding because constitutional interpretation restricted presidents’ ability to campaign and communicate directly with the American people, the inaugural address is one speech that has existed since George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. During presidential inaugurations, presidents introduce themselves as presidents and establish their policy directions for their presidencies. In this context, according to the role of the rhetorical presidency, early presidents used religious rhetoric in order to unite the nation under a unitary God, connecting the nation under common values and orienting the democracy as pre-destined by God for success. As distance increased from the American Revolution, presidents began to use religion in more personal ways, using religious rhetoric and even Scripture to support their policies, while continuing to use religion in unifying ways. By the beginning of the twentieth century, presidents began to appeal to the people more publicly, actively campaigning for their policies. In this context, religion began to be used as a tool of persuasion to advance presidents’ policies. This trend continued into the Cold War, when presidents invoked religion in order to establish America’s identity in a religious framework against an anti-religious, anti-democratic enemy, while simultaneously using specific religious allusions on the domestic front to further their policies in sometimes divisive ways. As the Cold War concluded, presidents continued to use religion to advance their own policies, appealing to certain audiences through religious rhetoric and making pleas for their policies through religious allegory.