This video is a good example of why David Barton is more a politician than a historian and why his “historical” presentations need to be looked at very critically. Most of what he says about the founding of the American Bible Society is accurate, but he does not paint an entire picture of the founding or the men involved in the founding.
- The American Bible Society was founded in the midst of some serious divisions about the nature of the United States in the decades following independence. Not all the so-called founding fathers would have signed on to the political and cultural vision behind the ABS. For some context check out Jonathan Den Hartog’s new book Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation.
- Boudinot did indeed respect the Bible. He defended its inspiration and authority against attacks from skeptics like Thomas Paine. He also turned to it to make predictions about the end of the world and to claim that native Americans were the ten lost tribes of Israel
- John Jay was a devout Anglican Christian. He also tried to ban Catholics from participating in New York government.
My point here is not to drag these founders through the mud. Sometimes it is important to talk about the good things that founders did and celebrate their achievements. But historians must be committed to telling the truth about the founders. This may require placing their accomplishments in the larger context of their lives and, in some cases, an eighteenth-century world that looks quite different from the one in which we live.
Barton is more interested in a sugar-coated history that makes all of his constituency feel good about themselves and their country. Why would he talk about the full or complete history of these figures, or even the full story of the ABS (take my word for it, it’s interesting), when his only reasons for engaging the past is to win political points.