My Latest on David Barton and Thomas Jefferson

Bible Cause CoverCheck out my piece on David Barton, Thomas Jefferson, and the American Bible Society at The History News Network.  Here is a taste:

In a video he released in May 2015, Barton is pictured in the Wallbuilders library among the thousands of early American documents that he has collected over the years.  He holds up an American Bible Society certificate signed by John Jay.   He also shows an original 1816 ABS Bible and a copy of the 1816 ABS constitution.  As Barton speaks into the camera he discusses the career of Elias Boudinot, the ABS founder and a former President of the Continental Congress.  His point cannot be missed.  Many of the men responsible for the creation of the United States believed that the Bible should play an important role in American life. 

Barton is right.  The founders of the American Bible Society were an impressive bunch. But if these men were alive today they would be shocked, if not appalled, to learn that David Barton, the country’s most prominent defender of the Christian republic they hoped to construct, is now singing the praises of Thomas Jefferson.  Boudinot, Jay, Cone, Day, and the other ABS builders of a Christian America (we can also add Francis Scott Key and John Quincy Adams, and John Marshall to that group) were engaged in an early 19th-century culture war for the soul of the new nation against a group of skeptical intellectuals that embraced and promoted a secular vision of America’s future. 

Read the rest here.

Here is the video I mention in the piece:

David Barton: If Thomas Jefferson Were Alive Today He Would Vote For Ted Cruz

a0aa6-bartonbinThere are so many historical problems with such a statement. Perhaps most importantly it reveals the problem with trying to suggest how an eighteenth-century person would respond to a twenty-first century event or movement.  For all of the historical errors that he makes, Barton’s biggest problem is his insistence on forcing the founding fathers into contemporary politics.  This is why I refuse to call David Barton a historian.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that we can come close to predicting how Jefferson would vote in the 2016 presidential election.  Would David Barton really want his candidate (Ted Cruz) to have Jefferson’s support?  In the article I linked to above, Barton says that Jefferson would vote for Cruz because the third president was a believer in “concepts of individual freedom” (among other things).  Barton is right–Jefferson did believe in individual freedom, but his understanding of such freedom was an eighteenth-century one.  As a result, it did not apply to slaves.

But wait, Barton might say, “it is unfair to compare Jefferson’s world with today.  Back then it was not uncommon to hold slaves.”  Too bad, David.  By trying to bring Jefferson into the Ted Cruz camp and practicing bad history in the process, you forfeit the right to make that argument.  (Even if it were true).  Do you see how dangerous it is to make these historical leaps across centuries?  If you are going to carry an 18th-century figure into the 21st century you need to bring all of the 18th-century baggage with you.

I am not saying here that the founders and their ideas have no bearing on the present. They did provide us with guiding principles–principles embedded, for the most part, in the Constitution.  Barton says that Jefferson would vote for Cruz because Jefferson believed in “individual freedom, limited government, and economic soundness.” and so does Ted Cruz.  By these vague standards, Jefferson could vote for any of the candidates running for POTUS, especially on those running on the GOP ticket.

Of course we could just crassly note how interesting it is that Barton thinks Jefferson would have voted for Ted Cruz, the candidate whose super-PAC he runs.

David Barton’s _Jefferson Lies_ is Back and Warren Throckmorton is Ready

ThrockWarren Throckmorton, blogger and fact-checker extraordinaire, is the harshest critic of GOP activist David Barton.  With the recent release of a new edition of Barton’s debunked The Jefferson Lies, Throckmorton has decided to take out a press release of his own:

GROVE CITY, Penn., Jan. 13, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — Yesterday was the official release date of the second edition of “The Jefferson Lies” by Ted Cruz’s Super PAC coordinator David Barton. Published by World Net Daily, the second edition promises to answer Barton’s critics and restore Jefferson’s reputation.

However, there is much World Net Daily and Barton are not telling the public about the circumstances surrounding the new book.

In August 2012, Thomas Nelson confirmed that the first edition of “The Jefferson Lies” had been pulled from publication because the publisher “learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.” Thomas Nelson stated that it was in “the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

Many of those historical details are addressed factually in “Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President,” a 2012 book by Christian college professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter. With the release of the second edition of “The Jefferson Lies,” the fact checking in “Getting Jefferson Right” is more important than ever.

The new version of “The Jefferson Lies” contains an entire section in critical response to “Getting Jefferson Right.”

In his response, the first error Barton makes is to assert that “The Jefferson Lies” was pulled from publication due to attacks from liberals. However, critics Jay Richards. Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and Gregg Frazer, professor of history at The Master’s College are not liberals. “Getting Jefferson Right’s” authors are not liberals. Many other conservative historians have also expressed negatives reviews of “The Jefferson Lies.”

Members of the media may contact Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter regarding the facts surrounding the removal of “The Jefferson Lies” from publication in 2012, the allegations of liberal bias now and the historical claims made in “The Jefferson Lies” about Jefferson’s life and work.

Contact Warren Throckmorton at warrenthrockmorton@gmail.comor 724-967-5644.

For more information, see Getting Jefferson Right.

“Anyone who reads  ‘Getting Jefferson Right’ must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that [David] Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program.” — John Fea, Chair, History Department, Messiah College

Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Michael Coulter, PhD is Professor of Political Science, both at Grove City College (PA).

Would David Barton Vote for Thomas Jefferson?

ba98f-david-bartonI have no idea how to answer this question. David Barton lives in the 21st-century. Thomas Jefferson lived a long time ago.  Moreover, Jefferson was chosen POTUS by the Electoral College.  The people did not vote directly for presidential candidates back then.

But we can still have fun with it.

Recently David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was republished by World Net  Daily, a conservative web site with a press.  As many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, the first edition of this book was pulled from publication because it had so many factual errors.  This story has been well-told, here and elsewhere.

Barton wants all of his followers to know that Thomas Jefferson used federal funds to promote Indian missions, that he wanted to establish a theological professorship at the University of Virginia, that he was much closer to an orthodox Christian than many scholars suggest, that he did not believe in the separation of church and state, that he did not father children with Sally Hemings, and that he believed in the inspiration of the Bible and sought to promote the Bible through an involvement in the Virginia Bible Society.

All of these claims have been debunked.  The best refutation comes from Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter’s book Getting Jefferson Right: Face Checking Claims About Our Third President.

Barton wants to bring Jefferson into the fold of the 21st-century Christian Right and its quest to return America to its apparently Christian roots.  Barton likes to use the founders to promote his political agenda.  I have a strong hunch that Barton did not write Jefferson Lies because he wanted to produce a solid work of history.  Some have said that Jefferson Lies  is “bad history.”  I wouldn’t even go that far.  This book is not history.  It is a political tract.  Barton did not write this book out of the kind of intellectual curiosity that motivates a historian to follow the trail of evidence wherever it leads.  He knew what he wanted to say in this book from the very beginning.  If he was an honest historian, there would be no way he could come up with the conclusions that he did.

Barton and World Net Daily are now using Jefferson to “restore” America to a Godly nation.  But I wonder how far they are willing to go with this.

What if someone with Jefferson’s beliefs ran for president today?  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, Jefferson did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was a defender of religious liberty to the point that he rejected Patrick Henry’s attempt to forge a generically Christian establishment in Virginia, he did not believe in the inspiration of the Bible, and thought that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not God. Would Barton vote for such a man?

Maybe this entire exercise is moot since Barton disagrees with these well-established historical facts about Jefferson.  But it is fun to ponder.

A Tale of Two Jeffersons

Thomas Jefferson will be back in the news in early 2016 thanks to the publication of two new books.

The first book is  The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You Have Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson.  It is a reprint of David Barton’s discredited 2012 book.

Barton Jefferson

The second book is Most Blessed of the Patriarch: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination.  The co-authors are Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.

Most BLessed

This should be interesting.  Stay tuned.


David Barton’s *The Jefferson Lies* Is Back

Warren Throckmorton reminds me that the right-wing conservative website World Net Daily (WND) is republishing David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson.

Here is the over-the-top promotional video for the book with very dramatic music:

The website for the book at WND describes The Jefferson Lies as “The New York Times bestseller pulled from the shelves because of political correctness.”  (Why do conservatives and members of the Christian Right suddenly love The New York Times whenever it is used to modify “bestseller.”).

I have not read the new edition.  I hear that Barton made some changes in response to the criticisms. But I think it is safe to say that the original version of the book was not pulled from print because of “political correctness.” It was pulled from print because it was bad history.

Here is our six-part series of reviews on The Jefferson Lies. (You need to sort through some other Jefferson Lies related posts to get to them).

Here is Thomas Kidd’s story on Thomas Nelson Publisher’s decision to pull The Jefferson Lies from the shelves in August 2012.

Here is Gregg Frazer’s critique of The Jefferson Lies

Here is Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter’s critique of The Jefferson Lies.

The endorsements of this new edition come from some of the usual suspects:

Glen Beck

Matt Brock, a professor of paralegal studies at Liberty University

Bill Armstrong, the President of Colorado Christian University, a school that I understand is moving harder and harder to the Christian Right under the former U.S. senator’s leadership.

Dr. White McKenzie Wellborn from the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, an organization known for opposing much of the current scholarship on Jefferson, especially related to his relationship with Sally Hemings.

Kermit Bridges, the President of Southwest Assembly of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.

Barbara Morris, a professor of English at St. John’s University in New York.

Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.  (See our posts on Piper here and here). OWU is one of the few schools in the United States that Barton claims is “right biblically.

Dr. John Swails, a professor of Middle East Studies and History at Oral Roberts University

Monty Lobb, a professor of business and government at Ohio Christian University, another one of Barton’s approved schools.

Douglas Wingate, the president of Life Christian University.  This appears to be an online Bible college.  Its most famous graduates are televangelists Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Joyce Meyers. They all have a “Ph.D in Theology” from this university.

What is most striking about this list of endorsers is that Barton could not find one American historian to endorse the book.  (Swails has a Ph.D in history, but he is not an expert in American history).

Why did Barton turn to the department of paralegal studies at Liberty University for an endorsement instead of the history department? What about American historians teaching at Colorado Christian University, Southwest Assembly of God University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and Life Christian University?  The fact is, as I have noted before, there are no reputable American historians willing to endorse the book.

World Net Daily is Publishing a New Edition of David Barton’s *The Jefferson Lies*

Warren Throckmorton has broken the news that the conservative website World Net Daily will be publishing a new edition of Barton’s largely discredited book.  

He writes:

First, he said Simon & Schuster was going to publish it. They declined.
Today, World Net Daily announced plans to publish a new edition in 2016.
I am looking forward to learning the identity of the “academic endorsements.” Why not just post them now on the WND page promoting the book?
Michael and I are up for another round. We have a fewacademic endorsements of our own.
Click here for our coverage of this book.

Throckmorton and Coulter Respond (Again) to Barton

Check out today’s post at the blog of World magazine.  It is the final segment in World‘s ongoing coverage of David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies.  Two of Barton’s strongest critics, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, offer some further critiques of Barton’s scholarship and methodology.  Here is a taste:

In the past, Barton has criticized historians for not relying on primary sources. In a recent posting on his website, Barton “challenged writers on all sides of the debate over religion in the Founding Era to stop relying on secondary sources and quotations from later eras and instead to utilize original sources.”In that same article, Barton chided evangelical historians Mark Noll, George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, and John Fea for citing what Barton called secondary sources.However, Barton deviated far from this standard in The Jefferson Lies and his WORLD article. For instance on page 12 of his WORLD article, he defended his contention that Jefferson gave his 1804 edited version of gospels to Indian missionaries by means of a footnote from Henry Stephens Randall’s biography of Thomas Jefferson. Randall, who did not personally speak to this source, wrote in 1858:

“This [i.e., the 1804 work] is sometimes mentioned as Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Collection for the Indians,’ it being understood that he conferred with friends on the expediency of having it published in the different Indian dialects as the most appropriate book for the Indians to be instructed to read in.” (Emphasis added by Barton.)

There is no primary source material for this claim. When we couldn’t find any evidence, we asked the Monticello research library for help. Librarian Anna Berkes told us, “I’ve searched Jefferson’s papers as thoroughly as anyone can, and can find nothing to support Barton‘s statement regarding Jefferson’s Bible compilations and American Indians.” However, despite the absence of primary source material, Barton asserts in his WORLD article:

“The proof of Jefferson’s intent to distribute his 1804 work among native peoples is not only the title he himself placed on the work but also the testimony of his own family members and friends.”

According to Barton’s own Wallbuilder’s challenge, what Randall “understood” is inadequate to prove anything and should not be used. 

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: Throckmorton and Barton Duke it Out

The debate over David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies continues.

The conservative Christian World Magazine has published a lengthy essay by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter drawn largely from their book, Getting Jefferson Right. The fitting title of their article is “David Barton is Wrong.”

David Barton offers a lengthy rebuttal to Getting Jefferson Right.  The fitting title of his article is “No, I’m Not Wrong.”  At the start of the article Barton grudgingly admits that the work of Throckmorton and Coulter has exposed a few things that need correcting. He writes:

Throckmorton’s work is relentlessly negative and, as I show in this article, many of his charges are simply wrong. However, he does point out a few passages in The Jefferson Lies that might have been more carefully worded or better argued. When I revise the book for its second edition, I will make changes to address these concerns. I do not address every issue he raised in his book, for as will be seen in this article, so many simply do not have merit. But I do address several of his larger criticisms that may seem to observers as having the most substance. 

Read the rest at The Anxious Bench.

David Barton on Jefferson as a Slaveholder

My analysis of David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies will have to stop, at least for the moment, with my short series on the methodological background of the book.  I may return to the series in the near future, but right now there are more pressing things at hand.

Once again, I want to call your attention to Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter’s book Getting Jefferson Right.  It is a one stop shop for exposing some of the flaws in Barton’s book.

I also want to call your attention to Throckmorton’s most recent post at his blog.  Here he debunks Barton’s claim that Jefferson could not free his slaves because Virginia law prohibited him from doing so.

Here is a taste:

Here is what Barton claims about Jefferson:

If Jefferson was indeed so antislavery, then why didn’t he release his own slaves? After all, George Washington allowed for the freeing of his slaves on his death in 1799, so why didn’t Jefferson at least do the same at his death in 1826? The answer is Virginia law. In 1799, Virginia allowed owners to emancipate their slaves on their death; in 1826, state laws had been changed to prohibit that practice.

So according to Barton, Jefferson was unable to free his slaves while alive and couldn’t at death because of Virginia law. Is this true?
Not at all. In fact, Barton must know this because he cited Virginia’s 1782 law on manumission which made such emancipation possible. Well, he cited part of the law. Here is what Barton cites of the law in his book:

[T]hose persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and…it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament…to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves.

Now, here is the entire relevant section of the 1782 law on manumission:

[T]hose persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and the same hath been judged expedient under certain restrictions: Be it therefore enacted, That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

Note the second selection above in bold print. This is the relevant portion of the 1782 law Barton omits. This section allowed slave owners to release their slaves by filing a deed. Emancipated slaves needed a document which was recorded according to the law as proof of their status. This law allowed slave owners when they were alive to free their slaves, provided slaves were of sound body and older than eighteen if a female and older than 21 if a male, but not above the age of 45. Thus, Jefferson could have freed many of his slaves within the law while he was alive. In addition to The Jefferson Lies, Barton, in a recent radio program, emphatically stated that after 1782 slaves could only be freed at the time of a slaveholder’s death. Not only was Jefferson legally permitted to free his slaves, he actually freed two slaves in the 1790s, Robert (1794) and James (1796) Hemings.

Some Thoughts on David Barton’s "The Jefferson Lies"–Part One

I have finally had a chance to start reading David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson.  I am about halfway through the book, so I thought it was time to post some thoughts.

It is not my intention in these posts to check all of Barton’s facts.  That has already been done quite efficiently and effectively by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter in Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking about Our Third President.  I would strongly encourage you to buy a copy of this ebook  and check out the accompanying website and Facebook page. Throckmorton and Coulter show that Barton’s treatment of Jefferson is deeply flawed.

Instead, I thought I would write about some of the breakdowns in historical method and logic that I have found throughout the first several chapters.  We will see how this series of posts goes and whether or not I have the energy to spend a lot of time on developing them.

David Barton believes that Thomas Jefferson is portrayed in a negative light today (Barton suggests that Jefferson is presented as an atheist, a racist, a bigot, and a slaveholder) because of academic scholarship driven by the following twentieth-century practices: “Deconstructionism, Poststructualism, Modernism, Minimalism, and Academic Collectivism.”

Those big, scary-sounding academic words would be enough to instill fear in any ordinary reader.  Heck, they instill fear in me when I see them written in an academic monograph!  Barton wants ordinary Christians to read his book on Jefferson and come away with the idea that intellectuals driven by these “isms” or “malpractices” have hijacked the American founders. 

After reading the Introduction to The Jefferson Lies I want to echo/paraphrase what Jesus said multiple times to his disciples:  “do not be afraid.”

Deconstructionism, Post-Structuralism, and the rest of these “isms” can pose a threat to orthodox Christian teachings and they should thus be approached by Christian historians with care, but for Barton they are used to describe academic bogeymen who are out to destroy the way our children learn American history.

For Barton, these “isms”need to be discarded in order to see the past clearly.  From my point of view, these “isms,” if they are defined correctly and applied judiciously and carefully, can be helpful tools to help us interpret the past.  Sometimes they are even compatible with a Christian approach to history.  If this sounds like I have sold my soul to the liberal academics of the ivory tower, I ask that you stay with me over the course of the next several posts before you declare me a non-Christian and a dangerous historical revisionist. Thanks.

In my next post, I will discuss what Barton refers to as “Deconstructionism.”  Stay tuned.

For another treatment of Jefferson and the role of religion in the founding see Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  I heard that it’s pretty good 🙂