James P. Byrd is associate dean for graduate education at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. His most recent book is Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press).
Along with fireworks and barbecue, the fourth of July has traditionally been an occasion for speeches that blend thanksgiving for military sacrifices with some appeal to divine favor for America. Last year President Obama continued this tradition with his speech from the White House.
Anyone browsing through a bookstore will notice the popular new biographies of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. No doubt many Americans are devouring these books in search of insights that the founding generation can provide into today’s political controversies and questions about national identity.