David Barton told Kirk Cameron they did for Cameron’s new movie Monumental. Watch the video clip from the movie:
For this post, I am interested in what Barton and Cameron say about the first Bible mentioned by Cameron and Barton dated 1798.
Kirk Cameron: What are these?
David Barton: This is a family Bible done in 1798.
Barton: This Bible was funded by about a dozen signers of the Constitution and signers of the Declaration as well as by President John Adams and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. They’re the guys that put up the financial backing to do this Bible.
Cameron: Funded by signers of the Declaration…
Barton: and Constitution
Cameron: and Constitution
Barton: yeah, Gunning Bedford, signer of the Constitution, John Dickinson, signer of the Constitution, you had so many of the signers who were part of this, you had Alexander Hamilton helped fund this Bible.
Cameron: Because they wanted families to gather around the Bible…
Barton: They wanted the Word of God out to every family.
Cameron: Because they believed that would make for a better country.
Barton: Makes for a better country, makes for a better faith. And again, this is a product of our atheist, agnostic, deist Founding Fathers, or at least, that’s who we’re been told they were today, When you see this stuff, you go wait a minute. These guys…why would any atheist, agnostic, or deist promote the Word of God, fund it and want it distributed to every family and everyone in America? Why would they fund a Bible that you can take and give out to your neighbors, and evangelize them, it doesn’t make sense. Now, on the other hand, if these guys happened to be Christians, that makes a lot of sense.
Did a dozen or so Signers of the Declaration and Constitution finance this Bible to give to every family in America? Since Barton did not say who published the Bible mentioned in the clip, I cannot respond with 100% certainty. However, given the size and the publication date, I doubt the claim that the Founders put up money to get that 1798 Bible to every family.
The only Bible of that size published in 1798 that I can locate is the Thompson Hot Press Bible. At the time, it was the largest Bible printed in the new nation and it was the first hot press Bible published. The ink and type were heated and then seared — hot pressed — onto the page, making a very clean impression.
The 1798 Bible was issued originally in 40 sections starting in June 1796 at half a dollar a number. One of the sources I consulted indicated that Thomas Jefferson paid $5 in February of 1798 as a payment on a subscription of $20 for a hot press Bible. Jefferson’s name is listed among the subscribers.
Buying a Bible by subscription was common then and was a way to provide the printer with some idea of how many copies to print. An analogy today might be to think of a magazine subscription is a purchase of a year’s volume of issues. You are committing to pay one price but might pay in payments instead. Here is a description of a Bible being offered by subscription in 1688 by William Bradford:
The first proposal to print the Bible in English in America was made in 1688 by William Bradford of Philadelphia. The publication that announced this intention was worded as follows: —
“These are to give Notice, that it is proposed for a large house-Bible to be Printed by way of Subscriptions, [a method usual in England for the Printing of large Volumns, because Printing is very chargeable] therefore to all that are willing to forward so good (and great) a Work, as the Printing of the holy Bible, are offered these Proposals, viz.: 1. That It shall be printed in a fair Character, on good Paper, and well bound. 2. That it shall contain the Old and New Testament, with the Apocraphy, and all to have useful Marginal Notes. 3. That it shall be allowed (to them that subscribe) for Twenty Shillings per Bible: [A Price which one of the same volumn in England would cost]. 4. That the pay shall be half Silver Money, and half Country Produce at Money price. One half down now, and the other half on the delivery of the Bibles. . . . Also, this may further give notice that Samuell Richardson and Samuell Carpenter of Philadelphia, are appointed to take care and be assistant in the laying out of the Subscription Money, and to see that it be imploy’d to the use intended, and consequently that the whole Work be expedited. Which is promised by
“william Bradford. ”Philadelphia, the 14th of the 1st Month, 1688.”
Bradford wanted half down and the rest later. Buying by subscription allowed printers to go ahead with a project but the result was that the subscriber got what he paid for. Barton told Cameron that the 1798 Bible was funded and financed by the Signers so that it could be ”distributed to every family and everyone in America.” If, indeed I am correct and the Bible in the movie Monumental is the 1798 hot press Bible, then this claim is quite misleading.
Barton says the Bible was “funded by about a dozen signers…” However, the 1798 hot press Bible had, by my count (I have the two page subscriber’s list), 1272 subscribers. Some of the signers of the Declaration and Constitution were on that list, but they were subscribers just like the other 1200+ people who paid their subscription money to get the entire Bible. Barton’s narrative makes it seem as though the signers mentioned (e.g., Adams, Jefferson, Bedford, Dickinson, etc.) put up money over and above the price of a personal copy in order for the printer to distribute them to others. That is not what happened with the 1798 hot press Bible.
If there is some other folio sized Bible published in 1798 that was created in the manner described by Barton, then I hope he will identify it. I can’t find it. However, if the Bible mentioned in Monumental is that hot press Bible, then Cameron’s movie will be at least one part historical fiction.