Unitarian Presidents of the United States of America and Prime Ministers

This past Sunday a UU sermon described Thomas Jefferson as “the only Unitarian president or prime minister.”  Actually, there have been quite a few, though it’s understandable that this may not be common knowledge.  There have been five different American presidents who were Unitarians: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft.

There are also two honorable mentions worth bringing up.  Abraham Lincoln was influenced by the popular Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker and had positive interactions with the Universalists.  And Barack Obama attended Unitarian-Universalist Sunday school as a child.  Neither was/is a full-fledged Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian-Universalist, however.

Among the American vice presidents, John Calhoun was a Unitarian.  Of course, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Millard Fillmore also served as vice president in their time.

In Canada, there has been one Prime Minister, Sir Francis Hincks, who was a Unitarian.  Actually, Hincks was technically a Premier, since this was before final confederation, though many historians consider the premiers to be the equivalent in all but name, since they held similar responsibilities and led directly to the prime minister’s post in 1867.

In the wider world, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was raised Unitarian, though it is unclear if he considered himself Unitarian as an adult.  In New Zealand, Prime Minister Robert Stout was a Unitarian.

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10 Comments

Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism, Unitarianism

10 responses to “Unitarian Presidents of the United States of America and Prime Ministers

  1. Of the five US presidents mentioned, Jefferson actually was the least Unitarian of the lot. He held a non-supernatural Christology similar to Unitarianism, but he belonged to the Anglican parish in Charlottesville his entire life.

    Neville Chamberlain was enough of a Unitarian during his term in office that it caused no small degree of controversy when the Archbishop of Canterbury died and the customary duty fell to the Prime Minister to nominate the next candidate.

  2. Transient and Permanent

    Quite so. As Fausto knows, but other visitors may not, it was common for many Southerners, especially Virginians, to at least nominally retain their ties to Anglicanism (the religion of the elite), regardless of their liberal religious predilections. Jefferson stated in personal correspondence that he would join a Unitarian congregation if he had the opportunity, but there was no such church in his area. Thus by non-Unitarian it is meant that he, unlike the other presidents listed above, did not officially belong to a Unitarian congregation; but his theology and sympathies were nonetheless Unitarian (this was not an exclusive category, and we could also legitimately call him a Deist, an Anglican, etc).

  3. How can Obama’s long standing membership in a Church called “Trinity” be construed “Unitarian”?

  4. Transient and Permanent

    It can’t, Bill. Fortunately, nothing of the sort was asserted. Obama attended Sunday school for a time at the First Unitarian Church, Hawaii, many years before he ever heard of Trinity United Church of Christ.

    Gee, Pat. “Isle Church Honored by Obama’s Visit.” Star Bulletin (Honolulu: 1/6/09).

    Available online at:
    http://tinyurl.com/chu4y4

  5. John C. Calhoun was (I think) a member of his wife’s Presbyterian Church in SC, but was a pew owner and regular attendee at All Souls Unitarian in Washington DC.

    the Anglican Church was tax supported in much of what is now the USA (in some places up to the early 19th century). I know that in North Carolina, only Anglicans could hold elected office from 1701-1715.

  6. János Zsigmond Zápolya (aka “John Sigismund”) was a Unitarian and prince (“voivode”) of Transylvania, and he was also nominally (because the country was actually ruled by the invading Turks) the king of Hungary from 1540 to 1570. In his last will, he designated Gáspár Békés, his treasurer, and also a Unitarian, as his successor. However, the Transylvanian nobles rejected this designation and elected Stefan Báthory as the new Prince. The ensuing civil war ended with Békés’ defeat, so his reign was short-lived.

  7. Murphy

    I had read that Jefferson was quoted as having said that he personally believed that within 100 years – all Americans would be Unitarians.
    Guess he missed on that one.
    Nevertheless, it does – if true – confirm his Unitarian thinking.

  8. Carl C.

    Benjamin Franklin Was a Unitarian, and i’m not certain, but I have heard that the first house of worship in the U.S.A was a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

  9. TLH

    No, Ben Franklin was a deist. Read his autobiography. He states it exactly that way in that book.

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