Hellfire Nation The Politics of Sin in American History James A. Morone

Publication date:
11 Jul 2004
Yale University Press
592 pages: 235 x 156mm
43 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

This insightful new conceptualization of American political history demonstrates that—despite the clear separation of church and state—religion lies at the heart of American politics. From the Puritan founding to the present day, the American story is a moral epic, James Morone says, and while moral fervor has inspired the dream of social justice it has also ignited our fiercest social conflicts.

From the colonial era to the present day, Americans embraced a Providential mission, tangled with devils, and aspired to save the world. Moral fervor ignited our fiercest social conflicts—but it also moved dreamers to remake the nation in the name of social justice. Moral crusades inspired abolition, woman suffrage, and civil rights, even as they led Americans to hang witches, enslave Africans, and ban liquor. Today these moral arguments continue, influencing the debate over everything from abortion to foreign policy.

Written with passion and deep insight, Hellfire Nation tells the story of a brawling, raucous, religious people. Morone shows how fears of sin and dreams of virtue defined the shape of the nation.


James A. Morone, professor of political science at Brown University, is also the author of The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government.

"In a beautifully written book, Morone has integrated the history of American political thought with a perceptive study of religion's role in our public life. Seeing the American story as a moral tale is always instructive, and Morone shows how it is impossible to grapple with our continuing effort to 'redeem and reform' ourselves absent an understanding of the nation's faith-communities. May Hellfire Nation encourage Americans to discover (or rediscover) the ‘moral dreams that built a nation.’”—E. J. Dionne Jr., syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics and They Only Look Dead

"This is American history the way I like it, prodigiously researched and vivaciously told. Mr. Morone has a knack for peeling off veneers, for locating the surprising fact, for adopting the unexpected and illuminating slant. He is a rarity, a scholar who is never boring."—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine