David Barton Gets Called Out in Colorado

There isn’t much new here for regular followers of this blog, but I just wanted to give a shout out to Rich Allen and the Aspen Daily News.

David Barton and friends have been traveling around the country on a post-COVID, pre-midterm election scare out the vote tour. Reporter Allen and the Daily News folks were on top of it. Allen noted that Barton’s 2012 book on Jefferson “was voted the least credible history book in print by the independent History News Network.” Oh, and Allen just happened to cite a certain blogger and his co-author, who opined on Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. What was it The Blogger and Michael Coulter said?

“Barton misrepresents and distorts a host of Jefferson’s ideas and actions, particularly his views and practices regarding religion, slavery and church-state relations,” they said in a co-statement.

As good as Allen’s article was, it could have gone a little deeper. I wish some enterprising reporter would do a deep dive into Barton’s fleeting claim to have an earned doctorate. Of course that turned out to be a big old story about as true as his NCAA basketball story.

In any case, readers in that part of the country have a little more of the story than people usually get when Mr. Barton shows up.

Getting Jefferson Right Gets a Rise from the Fall of Mars Hill Church

I haven’t written much about the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church because I wanted to hear the whole thing before I did. Now that I have, I will say more about it over time. On the whole, I recommend it. Several years ago when Mars Hill Church was unraveling, I assumed someone would do a deep dive into the rise and fall of the church; I just didn’t think it would be Christianity Today.

On the level of individual work, Mike Cosper did an superb job of weaving characters and various story lines in and out of the narrative.  Having written and produced a documentary in the past, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into that beast.

What brings me to the blog backroom at this time is something I just learned over the weekend: Mike Cosper’s casual mention of my book with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, has led to a modest Mars Hill bump in interest in Getting Jefferson Right since The Tempest episode came out on November 12. I’ll call it a Mars Hill Rise.

Here is what Cosper said about the Jefferson book starting at 1 hour and 11 minutes into The Tempest episode.

There’s a sense in which he (Throckmorton) was an ideal candidate to respond to this particular moment in the story (the plagiarism aspect). For several years, much of Throckmorton’s blogging had been focused on debunking the work of David Barton, a Christian nationalist, known for writing books and curriculum about the origins of the U.S. that are popular in some very conservative homeschool circles.

That led to the publication of a book called Getting Jefferson Right which Throckmorton co-wrote with Michael Coulter. The book carefully deconstructs many of Barton’s Christian nationalist myths and it led to one of Barton’s books being pulled from publication. His foray into looking at Driscoll didn’t come from any specific interest in his work. I think in a way that’s also reflected in his interest in Barton. Warren has a mind for detail; a mind attuned for the kind of research and cataloging necessary to track instances of plagiarism.

I love it when threads of my life come together and this was a significant couple of minutes for me. The modest sales boost or the Facebook page interest aren’t the remarkable points here. For me, it was Cosper’s matter-of-fact dismissal of Christian nationalism. The reference to David Barton’s “Christian nationalist myths” was extremely gratifying. As I listened, I became aware that numerous people who had never thought about Christian nationalism in a negative way (or at all) were listening to the podcast since Rise and Fall has remained near the top of the podcast charts since it came out.

Indeed, in Getting Jefferson Right, we deal with some of the foundational stories that Christian nationalists like to tell. Did Congress publish the first English Bible in the U.S. for the use of schools? Did Jefferson create an abridgment of the New Testament to evangelize native Americans? Was Jefferson forbidden to free his slaves by Virginia law? Did Jefferson sign his presidential documents in the Year of our Lord Christ? Christian nationalist history is unlike any history most of us have heard or studied. In our book, we focus on claims involving Thomas Jefferson and give the facts.

For more on Getting Jefferson Right, click through this link. You can find the book in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon. Conveniently, Amazon says it arrives before Christmas!

For more on the removal of Barton’s book from publication, see this link.

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

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.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

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 QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, 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.

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with Michael Coulter

Fact checking David Barton was not my first history rodeo. With the help of then Grove City College history professor J.D. Wyneken, I fact checked anti-gay crusader Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika in June of 2009. Lively made an outrageous case that Hitler’s Nazi project was animated by homosexuals and that the Holocaust was carried out by gay thugs. His opposition to gay rights, he preached, was to keep gays from doing the same things to other nations.

I learned a lot by deeply researching Lively’s claims. I saw how primary sources could be used selectively to distort a narrative and how speculation could be mixed with fact to create a plausible sounding but false picture. This awareness came in handy when, in 2011, I started to look into Barton’s claims about the American founding.

When David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, he solicited moral support from Scott Lively in a Wallbuilders Live broadcast. Lively’s message essentially was: I know how you feel, he did the same thing to me.

It seems right that I fact checked both Lively and Barton. Lively had gone to Uganda with his historical fiction to agitate the Uganda Parliament into crafting law which made homosexuality a capital offense. An interpretation of the Bible was used as a justification. A religious view was used as a basis for civil law. On that issue, one church teaching was about to become the state policy.

Confronted with the reality that evangelical Christians were behind the bill in Uganda, I searched for the influences on them. There were many and we will hear from Jeff Sharlet next week who will help us remember the influence of the Fellowship Foundation. Extending beyond the Fellowship was the notion that civil policy should reflect Christianity because that is the proper basis for law in a Christian nation. Ugandan legislators saw themselves as lawmakers in a Christian nation.

But who in the U.S. was behind the idea that church and state is not separate? All roads led me back to David Barton.  At that point, I started to check out the fact claims that Barton said led him to question church-state separation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Part of that history involved writing the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Check Claim about Our Third President My co-author on that project is Michael Coulter. Michael is a professor of political science and humanities at Grove City College and a good friend. As we discuss in the interview below, I requested a pre-publication copy of The Jefferson Lies in February 2012. Somewhere in our McDonalds discussions, I asked Michael to join me as co-author and we had the ebook ready to go by May 1. A paperback followed in July and by August, The Jefferson Lies had been pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson.

In this interview, we discuss more about Getting Jefferson Right, but also get into why people would rather believe fiction over truth, the requirement of honesty from scholars, and how Christian nationalism influences attitudes towards political matters today. I hope you profit from it.

View all 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

Happy Blog Anniversary to Me #15

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I started this blog with these words:

This is a test, nothing but a test. A test of your routine blogcasting network.

I didn’t know what I was doing, but with the encouragement of a former pastor Byron Harvey, I launched into the wild world of blogging. I started out on the old Blogspot platform and then moved to WordPress in 2006. I moved from there to Patheos in 2013, just in time to cover the demise of Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia. When Patheos decided I was too hot to handle, I moved really quickly back to this independent format on WordPress. Since 2005, I have written 5,010 posts according to WordPress backroom counter.

To celebrate, tomorrow I start a series of blogcast video interviews with people who are associated with topics I have covered over 15 years. I started out writing about sexual orientation therapy and research. Then the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill became a cause and international story in 2009. I started writing about and debunking David Barton’s and other historical claims in 2011. In late 2013, I took up the demise of Mars Hill Church and followed that until it closed in 2014. In 2015, I started writing about Gospel for Asia. Now I write about evangelical misadventures, debunk fake quotes,  and examine a little bit of anything touching on the topics I have covered from the beginning.

I think some readers will be surprised at some of the people I interview, but they all will be worth tuning in to hear. These will be taped, last about an hour and posted about once a week over the next couple of months. Tomorrow I start with an interview of Michael Coulter, my co-author of Getting Jefferson Right.

I am pretty sure there are some readers who have been here since the beginning. In any case, let me know when you started reading and what topic(s) brought/keep you here.

On July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Died – Happy Independence Day 2019!

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. In 2015, it was the culmination of my Daily Jefferson series.

Happy Independence Day!

john adamsIn addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. As a consequence, the two patriots and former friends fell out of touch. Mutual friend and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush hoped to bring the men back together. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and after the end of Jefferson’s second term, endeavored to help them bridge the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish for Adams and Jefferson to resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion to Adams.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

I don’t think Rush had an actual dream.* He may have used the dream narrative as a clever device to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views to Adams via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 (the same day Jefferson’s second term ended) praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.

Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

More substantial evidence for questioning whether Rush reported an actual dream is the existence of a draft of this letter which demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter explains:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

The evidence shows that Rush considered at least two options to get across his message of reconciliation: a dream or an appeal to a future history book. He first wrote about the history book, then he chose a more creative device, one which he had already used in letters to Adams and which Adams had actually requested in March of that year.

In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c

Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship with Adams. It took awhile (1812), but Adams and Jefferson did resume contact. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political views. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”**

*Christian nationalists often point to this story as an illustration of a supernatural event. For instance, David Barton says that Rush had a dream which God brought to pass in a manner similar to those in the Bible. If Barton knows about Rush’s rough draft of this letter, he doesn’t disclose this information to his readers. He doesn’t also consider the fact that Rush often used the word dream to describe his thoughts about other issues.

Clearly, the accuracy of what Rush predicted is uncanny and from a reformed vantage point represents the working of providence. However, the processes seemed to be quite natural in that Rush thought a lot about his friends and worked behind the scenes to make the reunion happen. Given the early chemistry of Adams and Jefferson, their later relationship could reasonably be expected. The spooky part is their common day of death.

**Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.  Read more about Jefferson in Getting Jefferson Right by Michael Coulter and me.

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Images: public domain

On July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Died – Happy Independence Day

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. In 2015, it was the culmination of my Daily Jefferson series.
Happy Independence Day!

john adamsIn addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. As a consequence, the two patriots and former friends fell out of touch. Mutual friend and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush hoped to bring the men back together. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and after the end of Jefferson’s second term, endeavored to help them bridge the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish for Adams and Jefferson to resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion to Adams.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

I don’t think Rush had an actual dream.* He may have used the dream narrative as a clever device to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views to Adams via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 (the same day Jefferson’s second term ended) praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.

Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

More substantial evidence for questioning whether Rush reported an actual dream is the existence of a draft of this letter which demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter explains:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

The evidence shows that Rush considered at least two options to get across his message of reconciliation: a dream or an appeal to a future history book. He first wrote about the history book, then he chose a more creative device, one which he had already used in letters to Adams and which Adams had actually requested in March of that year.

In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c

Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship with Adams. It took awhile (1812), but Adams and Jefferson did resume contact. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political views. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”**

*Christian nationalists often point to this story as an illustration of a supernatural event. For instance, David Barton says that Rush had a dream which God brought pass in a manner similar to those in the Bible. If Barton knows about Rush’s rough draft of this letter, he doesn’t disclose this information to his readers. He doesn’t also consider the fact that Rush often used the word dream to describe his thoughts about issues.

Clearly, the accuracy of what Rush predicted is uncanny and from a reformed vantage point represents the working of providence. However, the processes seemed to be quite natural in that Rush thought a lot about his friends and worked behind the scenes to make the reunion happen. Given the early chemistry of Adams and Jefferson, their later relationship could reasonably be expected. The spooky part is their common day of death.

**Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.  Read more about Jefferson in Getting Jefferson Right by Michael Coulter and me.

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Images: public domain

Fact and Fiction About Thomas Jefferson in The Daily Signal

Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation publishes The Daily Signal as a conservative news source which they say is “committed to truth”

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

and “a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.” While a worthy goal, I believe they missed the mark recently in an article about Thomas Jefferson and another one of his notions — the separation of church and state.
In an April 12 article by Lathan Watts on why the left is wrong about Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, we learn Mr. Watts and The Daily Signal is willing to take liberties with the historical record. Let me examine two points from Watts article.

Did Jefferson Include the Bible in DC Schools?

First Watts claims that Thomas Jefferson wrote an educational plan for the District of Columbia schools which used the Bible and a Christian hymnal for instruction.

While president, Jefferson also served as the chairman of the school board for the District of Columbia, where he authored the first plan of education adopted by the city. His plan used the Bible and Isaac Watts’ hymnal as the principle books to teach reading.*

A close examination of the timeline of Jefferson’s involvement in the D.C. schools finds that Jefferson was out of office and had retired to Monticello when the schools began using the Bible and the hymnal. Furthermore, when Jefferson commented about using the Bible with children he specifically advocated against using it as a tool for teaching. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote:

The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.

For a detailed analysis of the D.C. schools issue, click this link.

Did Jefferson Recommend Attendance for Soldiers at Church?

In response to a case involving religion in the military, Watts wrote:

In addition to the bills he signed appropriating funds for chaplains in the military, he also signed the Articles of War on April 10, 1806, in which he “earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services.”*

Although Jefferson wasn’t theologically orthodox, he often attended church. There is some truth in these statements but the way they are worded, it makes it seem Jefferson personally recommended church to soldiers.
In 1775, Jefferson and John Adams formed a committee to craft Articles of War to guide Washington’s army. According to Adams, he and Jefferson simply took the British Articles of War and recommended them with few alterations. Years later, when Jefferson was president, Congress revised them again and sent them to Jefferson for his signature in 1806.
It is important to note that the British Articles of War which Adam’s referred to required church attendance. However, the American adaptation did not. Although recommended, soldiers were not required to attend. Also, Jefferson did not craft these tenets out of his personal preferences, he simply acquiesced to existing articles, modified slightly to give soldiers some religious choice. Adams wrote that Jefferson did not rise to speak in support of the articles but left the advocacy to Adams. In his autobiography, Adams said:

In Congress, Jefferson never spoke, and all the labor of the debate on those articles, paragraph by paragraph, was thrown upon me, and such was the opposition and so undigested were the notions of liberty prevalent among the majority of the members most zealously attached to the public cause that to this day I scarcely know how it was possible that these articles could have been carried. They were adopted, however, and have governed our armies with little variation to this day.

Saying God or Disobeying Orders?

In addition to taking liberties with Jefferson, Watts leaves out some important details about the cases presented as indicators of religious persecution. For instance, Watts links to the case of Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. and says he was removed from a military ceremony because he referred to God in a speech. However, that isn’t a complete presentation of the situation.
According to the Air Force Times, Rodriquez disobeyed orders to give any speech at the ceremony.

The Air Force Inspector General said in a September 2016 report that Rodriguez was not removed because his speech mentioned God, but because it was unauthorized.

The IG said that Rodriguez had been told multiple times that he could not deliver his speech because the ceremony was an official on-base retirement, and his speech was not the one spelled out in Air Force regulations. He was told he could attend the ceremony quietly as a guest but not as a participant.

Rodriguez ignored those instructions and stood up to deliver his speech. After delivering his opening lines, he was dragged out by four noncommissioned officers while continuing to shout his speech.

While one may debate the wisdom of these enforcement actions, disobedience to a direct order is a factor which Watts did not include in his presentation. Given that Watts wasn’t accurate about his history, I am not inclined to take his word over the Inspector General of the Air Force.

An Informed Citizenry?

Citizens who read the article will think Jefferson did things he didn’t do. If The Daily Signal is “committed to truth” and really wants an “informed citizenry” then this article should be pulled from their website.
 

 
*Both of these paragraphs are lifted nearly verbatim without attribution from William Federer’s America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. Once upon a time, using quotes without attribution was considered plagiarism. Especially in Christian popular writing, it seems copying work without attribution is now common place.

Yesterday, Liberty Counsel Celebrated Christian Freedom Day

Yesterday, like presidents before him, President Trump issued a proclamation commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s work in writing Virginia’s

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Statute for Religious Freedom (full text here) which was adopted by the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786. The law ended the establishment of the Anglican church in Virginia and recognized freedom of conscience in the state.
Jefferson meant for that freedom of conscience to extend beyond Christian denominations to all religions or none. However, ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel does not appear to recognize the breadth of Jefferson’s work. In their press release, the Statute on Religious Freedom is described as follows:

Religious Freedom Day is celebrated in America each year on January 16 to commemorate the 232nd anniversary of the passing of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all denominations. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and murdered Christians who were not part of the state-established church. However, Jefferson, a lifelong fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and religious conscience, worked hard to protect and defend those Christians. (emphasis added)

Liberty Counsel’s presser refers to denominations of Christianity and to Jefferson’s work to defend Christians. In the past, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver has questioned the status of Islam as a religious worthy of First Amendment protection. Staver is also of the David Barton school of thought regarding the First Amendment — that the purpose of it was to prevent a Christian denomination from being established. In other words, when the First Amendment says religion, it means Christianity.

What Did Jefferson Mean?

In fact, there was an effort in the Virginia legislature to limit the scope of Virginia’s statute to Christians during debate on the bill. Jefferson wrote about it in his autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

According to Jefferson, the effort did not succeed. He meant his religious freedom bill to cover all people, of all religious ideas or no religious ideas.

What Religious Freedom Really Means Now

Ultimately, religious freedom at this particular time for this particular group means the freedom to discriminate against people, usually GLBT people in providing public services. In general, I think those who provide services to the public should provide them to GLBT people, even if they personally disagree with some aspect of those they serve.
But that’s just me and my beliefs. I know others believe differently, and the beauty of this nation is that they are free to believe it. What we will find out over the next few years is if they are free to discriminate based on that belief.

What You Can Get Thomas Jefferson on His Birthday!

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

TJ was born on April 13, 1743. So what can you get a founder of our country who is experiencing his reward?
1. You can spread this post around Twitter and Facebook: David Barton’s Jefferson Lies: The Immigration and Healthcare Edition. This post illustrates how far David Barton will go to misrepresent Jefferson to suit Barton’s political views. Barton adds and subtracts words from our third president’s 1805 address to Congress in order to support Barton’s preferred narrative. Jefferson’s not here to set him straight, so you can help out.
In honor of Jefferson’s birthday, Barton should admit what he did and apologize.
2. You can get yourself or a friend a copy of critically acclaimed  Getting Jefferson Right authored by Michael Coulter and me (now only $2.99 for the e-book). The book debunks many of key claims of Christian nation advocates (Barton is the most prominent among them) about Jefferson.