Date of Award

Spring 2011

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Dr. Creston Davis


This thesis project, The Influence and Legacy of Deism in Eighteenth Century America, examines deism’s impact as a theological system on American life and culture in the eighteenth century. Beginning with a basic definition of the term deism, a historical background is included. Next, the work of Galileo, Bacon, Newton, and Locke is examined for its impact on eighteenth century thought as well as early deist writers such as John Toland, Matthew Tindal, and Lord Herbert of Cherbury.

Moving onto America in the eighteenth century, colonial newspaper articles, letters, and other documents are examined that contain references to deism. Colleges such as Yale and Harvard are also discussed in reference to curriculum. The reaction of American churches and specifically, theological leaders such as Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight are explored with mention of speeches and printed documents that address deism during the period.

The last section of the paper addresses the works of American deist writers such as Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer and Thomas Paine. Their ideas are examined and how they influenced the deist movement. Lastly, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are discussed in regards to their private faith and the potential influence of deism on their public policies. Wrapping up the paper, deism’s disappearance at the end of the eighteenth century is explained and the entire movement summarized. Overall, the thesis focuses strictly on deism in eighteenth century American and its influence and lasting impact on American culture and life.