The Soul of an American President
The Untold Story of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Faith
Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019, 240 pages
Book Review published on: April 2, 2021
Dwight David Eisenhower was a true American patriot. He served as the supreme commander of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy; the sixteenth Army chief of staff; and the supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe. His contributions to the Nation did not end when he left the military. On the contrary, Eisenhower served our country as the thirty-fourth president of the United States. Historians have conducted extensive research on the contributions this individual made both in war and peace. Biographers have examined many of his exceptional attributes, but they habitually miss one of the foundations of his strength: his guiding religious faith. In their book, The Soul of an American President: The Untold Story of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Faith, Alan Sears and Craig Osten, with the assistance of Ryan Cole, describe the religious journey of this outstanding leader through his life of distinguished service to our country. This book contains fourteen chapters and describes his childhood in Texas and Kansas, his military career, presidency, and retirement years. The theme throughout this book is the important role faith had on the personal life of Eisenhower and how his Christian values shaped his conduct as an Army officer and president.
The story begins with the birth of Eisenhower in Denniston, Texas, and later describes his youth in the small farm town of Abilene, Kansas. As he grew, the Eisenhower home placed great emphasis on prayers throughout the day and family held Bible studies once a week. By the time he was twelve, Eisenhower had read the entire Bible. His parents’ faith, and struggles with faith, left a lasting impression on his life. For many years, his family was devoted to the River Brethren community but later were inspired by the preaching of Charles Russell, a cleric devoted to restorationism. While his mother’s fellowship with the Bible student movement and Jehovah’s Witnesses were inspiring to her, Eisenhower clearly rejected their principles. He abandoned his mother’s core values of pacifism and hostility for military service. What is interesting in this section is how faith and spirituality shaped Eisenhower’s early years and remained with him the rest of his life.
Eisenhower had a distinguished military career and his religious beliefs were critical, especially during the emotional strains of combat. For instance, before major engagements he always said a silent prayer. Eisenhower clearly lived within the Christian view that virtue is an essential element in our lives, and that recognizing faith in all endeavors is meaningless without the Almighty’s grace. As a senior military officer, he gave many speeches and continuously articulated a philosophy that faith and religion were an essential part of American democracy and way of life.
On 20 January 1953, Eisenhower assumed the office of the presidency, and his conduct was based on strong moral and religious beliefs throughout his career as a public servant. At the beginning of his inaugural address, the new president did what no other chief executive did before. He said a prayer and his speech had several passages on the importance of faith in society. This was not his only emphasis on the significance of prayer. He initiated a prayer prior to the start of cabinet meetings and helped establish the tradition of a National Prayer Breakfast.
While as president, Eisenhower also made significant contributions to the religious resurgence in the 1950s. First, he was instrumental in passing a law that includes the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the words “In God We Trust” were made the official motto of the United States and even added to the Nation’s coins and paper currency. Perhaps his most striking contribution was how he dealt with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower was deeply concerned about the Soviet nuclear threat and its potential consequences for the entire world. He believed the Soviet Union’s atheism would ultimately be a significant part of its demise. As part of his foreign policy strategy, Eisenhower relied on the power of faith and prayer to deal with the realities of the Cold War. He encouraged any display of faith by Soviet citizens, believing this could help bring down a brutal regime by strengthening that part of their culture that communist leaders rejected: faith in a higher authority.
The best part of this book was the final two chapters describing Eisenhower’s life after serving in the White House. Although his health began to deteriorate, he remained resolute and outspoken about his faith. He regularly attended the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church and continually looked for ways to expand the mission of the church and his denomination.
The Soul of an American President describes the spiritual life of Eisenhower and is a must-read for all military personnel. From his early upbringing to the challenging office of president of the United States, he remained both unwavering and candid on the importance of his faith. Eisenhower’s legacy is not that he led the most powerful armies in war or that he was the leader of the free world. His legacy is a man of conviction and strong moral character whose fundamental beliefs about faith shaped government policies and created a stronger, ethical society and dignity for all people. He set the standard for strong moral authority and is an example for all to emulate.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Mark F. Kormos, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia