John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.
I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.
As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.
JohnFea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.
John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary Quarterly, The Journal of the Early Republic, Sojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century,The Washington Post, USA Today, He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.
John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.
To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.
(UPDATE – 6/11/19) – See below the post for an update.
For Dinesh D’Souza watchers, this headline is as shocking as proclaiming that water is wet. I post this incident because it is a clear and convincing demonstration that D’Souza shows zero interest in academic integrity. Let me lay out the basics. First, D’Souza claimed in a speech that no Republican owned slaves in 1860. Here is the speech:
Do you know how many Republicans owned slaves in 1860, the year before the Civil War started?
The answer may surprise you if you listen to progressive (fake) historians.
He said one Republican who owned a slave in 1860 would require him to take back his claim.
Historians on Twitter, led by Princeton’s Kevin Kruse, quickly rose to the occasion and found ten. Follow the thread below for the receipts.
We’ve provided clear evidence that at least ten Republicans owned slaves in 1860, and yet D’Souza keeps retweeting this video insisting there weren’t any and promising he’d “take it back” if anyone proved otherwise.https://t.co/rbLnQDdMCM
To go directly to the thread with the breakdown of the ten found thus far, click here.
In essence, the method of finding Republican slave owners involves an examination of those who attended the Republican convention as delegates and then comparing that list with registries of slave owners.
For his part, D’Souza said the instances offered by the historians are “invalid” and he repeated his claim this morning.
I looked for counter evidence in D’Souza’s threads and nothing shows up. D’Souza said no Republican owned slaves in 1860, but in fact at least ten Republicans are on record as being slave owners during that year. It doesn’t change the fact that the Republican party generally opposed the expansion of slavery but it does prove that D’Souza’s specific claim is false. His handling of the matter also shows that he cannot be trusted in a dispute like this (as if there was any doubt).
This incident is a case study in cognitive dissonance for D’Souza followers. Will they believe their senses or go along with their loyalty to D’Souza? There is a solid research base in social psychology which suggests his followers will find some way to ease the dissonance and stick with D’Souza. Most will never know about it because they won’t read any of the historians’ posts. Some will simply assume the historians can’t be right because they are “libs.” Those who do engage with the material will have the most trouble. They will hang on D’Souza’s denials and assertions. A few may file this away as a “rare” mistake on D’Souza’s part so they can hold on to other things about him they like. A very few may actually reconsider his integrity.
Where this challenges to D’Souza eventually may have some benefit is to cause venues like Christian colleges and other organizations who might consider having him in to speak to reconsider. I use instances like this one in my classes as illustrations for concepts like ingroup bias, confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and cognitive dissonance. This one will go to the top of the class.
UPDATE – D’Souza admitted he was wrong on his claim with a sorry, not sorry tweet.
So I’ll modify my original claim to say that in 1860, we can count on two hands the number of Republican slaveowners. Moreover, the vast, vast majority of the 4 million slaves in the country then were owned by Democrats. I’ll conclude by asking @KevinMKruse if he agrees with THAT
If you click the tweet and read through the thread, you will see the “sorry, not sorry” attitude of the response. He still hasn’t taken down the original tweet. D’Souza insists on promoting a false picture of historiography surrounding party realignment. He tells his followers that historians obscure the role of Democrats in the defense of slavery. They don’t obscure anything. He isn’t a great revealer of hidden truths. What D’Souza obscures is the fact that the parties realigned and that there were Republican racists all along the way. He also insists that the parties now are of the same character as they were 150 years ago.
His admission is striking and had to happen because he was caught red handed. His reputation should be in some jeopardy now for anyone who objectively evaluates his rhetoric. Prior to his admission, his claims were absolute. He said many people had already spent much time trying to debunk his claim. In fact, it took a few historians about 30 minutes to counter it. This was a devastating rebuke. D’Souza’s confident claims should never again be taken at face value by anyone. It isn’t that scholars don’t make factual mistakes, of course they do. However, true scholars aren’t as absolutistic and arrogant as D’Souza. He went out on a limb above a canyon, and it was cut off.
On Twitter, Dinesh D’Souza is on the defensive. He desperately wants the Democratic party to be a party of bigotry and racism, not just during the 1800s but continuously through to the present. Given that Democratic president Lyndon Johnson supported and signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, it is hard to make the case that Democratic party remained the party of racism. However, D’Souza is persistent. He invokes the well-known racism of Johnson as a Senator which to him is proof that the CRA and VRA were not what they seemed.
In a tweet, political scientist Phil Klinker informed D’Souza that no one disputes Johnson’s racism. He then asked D’Souza:
Are you arguing that LBJ’s legislative achievements–the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts–were part of some racist design on his part?
In a mindbinding response, D’Souza said:
Yes. Why else would a bigot promote a civil rights act if not for some bigoted reason? Of course the bigoted reason is invisible to you because it is progressive bigotry
Surely, there are other reasons why a president might support legislation, especially legislation as far reaching as the CRA and the VRA. The real mind twister is his contention that Klinker can’t see the reason due to “progressive bigotry.” The CRA and VRA accomplished the aims of civil rights campaigners and many Republicans. Did they also have bigoted reasons for supporting those laws? I can’t figure out what he is getting at. What would LBJ have supported if he wasn’t a racist?
As I demonstrated in recent posts, numerous Republicans were also quite bigoted throughout the period when other Republicans were supporting Civil Rights legislation. Lily white Republicans in the early 1900s wantedto purgethe GOP of African-Americans and were successful in some parts of the country.
If D’Souza diminishes the CRA/VRA due to Johnson’s racism, then what will he do with Warren Harding’s similar sentiment? In Harding’s 1921 Birmingham’s speech on race, he told the crowd that blacks should have equal rights to vote but he added this:
Men of both races may well stand uncompromisingly against every suggestion of social equality. . . Racial amalgamation there cannot be.
Whoever will take the time to read and ponder Mr. Lothrop Stoddard’s book on The Rising Tide of Color, or. say. the thoughtful review of some recent literature of this question which Mr. F. D. Lugard presented in a recent Edinburg Review, must realize that our race problem here in the United Slates is only a phase of a race issue that the whole world confronts. Surely we shall gain nothing by blinking the facts, by refusing to give thought to them. That is not the American way of approaching such issues.
Stoddard’s book was a call to white supremacy and helped stimulate the 1924 Immigration Act which limited immigration from non-Nordic nations. When D’Souza wants to find fault with Democrats, he associates Stoddard with progressives. In his book, The Big Lie, he says this about Stoddard and his book:
Stoddard was the bestselling author of a notorious tract, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, that portrayed the pristine Nordic race being swamped through immigration and interracial marriage by degenerate hordes from other lesser races. Both Lothrop and Gamble became avid Nazi sympathizers who sought to import Nazi sterilization programs in their full magnitude to America
What D’Souza doesn’t tell his readers is that Stoddard was popular among those in the Harding administration and that Republican Harding himself cited this tribute to white supremacy in a presidential speech on race.
The facts don’t fit D’Souza’s predetermined narrative which leads to strange and ahistorical assertions about the bigotry and the CRA/VRA.
In his book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, Dinesh D’Souza attempts to draw a link between the Democratic party and the eugenics movement in the United States and Nazi Germany. In the 2017 book D’Souza wrote, “Progressives in America founded a plethora of eugenic organizations.”(p. 135) He then listed leading eugenicists including, “Eugene Gosney (sic), director of the Human Betterment Foundation.” (p. 136). (Note: Gosney’s first name was Ezra).
As I pointed out in a post earlier today, Gosney was a registered Republican. He also supported the Boy Scouts and Paul Popenoe’s American Institute for Family Relations, the organization which gave James Dobson his start. While those are good things, that’s not the point. The point is that these guys were not progressives in the manner D’Souza depicts. They were Republicans and in many ways, they were socially conservative.
The Human Betterment Foundation Charter Members Were Republicans
Now to follow up on today’s post, I want to report that when the Human Betterment Foundation opened for business, none of the founding members described themselves as members of the Democratic party. I checked all of the voter registrations and other sources and found no Democrats.* There was only one person I couldn’t find any information about (A.D. Shamel), but all others were or became Republicans during their service to the organization. One member (George Dock) was a Democrat in 1924 but by 1928, he had joined his wife as a registered Republican and remained that way according to available records. Another HBF founding member (William Munro) did not state his affiliation until 1936 but when he did, it was Republican to match his wife.
So in short, in 1928, Republican philanthropist E.S. Gosney brought together 24 people, none of whom were Democrats, to form an organization that Dinesh D’Souza claims was influenced by the Democratic party.
Dinesh D’Souza is probably correct to say that the Human Betterment Foundation had an influence on the Nazis. At least HBF board member Charles Goethe said so when he wrote Gosney in 1934 after a trip to Germany:
You will be interested to know that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought and particularly by the work of the Human Betterment Foundation. I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people.
D’Souza claims that eugenics groups like the Human Betterment Foundation are part of the “disgraceful legacy of the Democratic left.” In the light of history, the HBF is disgraceful but how can it be the legacy of the Democratic left when no Democrats were involved in it?
*Voter registrations were checked via Ancestry.com.
Hitler learned a great deal from the Democrats and from American progressives. He got some of his core policy strategies from them.
Specifically, D’Souza claimed Hitler copied three policies from American Democrats – the treatment of native Americans, the segregation of African-Americans, and sterilization laws and the eugenics movement from the first half of the last century. While all of these claims are problematic, my intention in this post is to fact check him regarding immigration laws and eugenics.
1924 Immigration Act
Hitler also appealed to the racially exclusionary provisions of U.S. immigration laws, specifically the 1924 Immigration Act that had been pushed by American progressives as a model of enlightened eugenic legislation.
As Kruse pointed out on Twitter, the 1924 Immigration Act was sponsored by two conservative Republicans, Albert Johnson (R-WA) and David Reed (R-PA) and signed into law by Republican president Calvin Coolidge. When Republicans controlled the House, Johnson was the chair of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee. While chair of that committee, Johnson appointed eugenicist Harry Laughlin to be the committee’s “Expert Eugenics Agent” and routed funds for eugenic research to Charles Davenport’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor where Laughlin also worked.
While it is true that the supporters of eugenics and race-based immigration had common cause, it is not true that the Democratic Party was the sole or even leading influence. Members of both parties voted for the bill but it was sponsored and promoted heavily by Republicans.
On a related note, Republicans today are typically the ones who want to slow immigration into the U.S. It was a recent Republican president who wondered why we couldn’t take more people from Norway than from “sh*thole” countries.
Third, Hitler learned from progressive sterilization laws that had been enacted in America through the influence of activists like Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Progressive eugenicist Paul Popenoe, himself an advocate of euthanasia by poison gas, praised Hitler for being on the front lines of modern eugenics. Harry Laughlin and Charles Davenport’s Eugenic News termed the Nazi sterilization program “a milestone which marks the control by the most advanced nations of the world of a major aspect of controlling human reproduction.”
It is true that Hitler praised America’s laws allowing the sterilization of people deemed to be deficient in various ways. It is also true that many of the leaders in the eugenics movement supported Germany’s movement to enact similar laws. However, Sanger had little to do with sterilization laws because the eugenics supporters cited by D’Souza didn’t want her help.
While it is safe to say that Margaret Sanger was progressive in her views, she wasn’t viewed as a colleague by those in the mainstream of the eugenics and sterilization movement. She hoped to attach herself to it to further her own cause but leaders in the eugenics movement didn’t seem to want her. Read what eugenics leader Paul Popenoe said in a letter to fellow eugenicist Madison Grant about Sanger’s American Birth Control League:
Dear Mr. Grant,
I have been considerably disquieted by the letter you showed me yesterday, suggesting a working alliance between the American Eugenics Society and the American Birth Control League. In my judgement we have everything to lose nothing to gain to such an arrangement.
[The American Birth Control League] is controlled by a group that has be brought up on agitation and emotional appeal instead of on research and education… With this group, we would take on a large quantity of ready-made enemies which it has accumulated, and we would gain allies who, while believing that they are eugenics, really have no conception of what eugenics is and are actually opposed to it.
[At a recent international birth control conference] two members of our advisory council … put through a resolution at the final meeting, urging that people whose children gave promise of being of exceptional value to the race should have as many children, properly spaced, as they felt that they feasibly could. This is eugenics. It is not the policy of the American Birth Control League leaders, who in the next issue of their monthly magazine came out with an editorial denouncing this resolution as contrary to all the principles and sentiments of their organization.
If it is desirable for us to make a campaign in favor of contraception, we are abundantly able to do so on our own account, without enrolling a lot of sob sisters, grand stand players, and anarchists to help us. We had a lunatic fringe in the eugenics movement in the early days; we have been trying for 20 years to get rid of it and have finally done so. Let’s not take on another fringe of any kind as an ornament.