Thomas Jefferson on the Importance of a Free Press (UPDATED with Trump’s Jefferson Quote)

Yesterday, President Donald Trump called the media (singling out the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC) the “enemy of the American people.”


Trump’s barrage of animosity toward the press reminded me of the Sedition Act of 1798. I hope we do not go back to that dark day.
Thomas Jefferson was a staunch critic of the Sedition Act. Jefferson believed a free press was essential to republican government. In light of Donald Trump’s attacks on the press, I believe we should consider Jefferson’s thoughts on a free and independent press.

In a letter to James Currie in 1786, Jefferson complained that John Jay had been treated unfairly by the “public papers.” However, instead of calling the press the enemy of the people, Jefferson said:

In truth it is afflicting that a man [John Jay] who has past his life in serving the public, who has served them in every the highest stations with universal approbation, and with a purity of conduct which has silenced even party opprobrium, who tho’ poor has never permitted himself to make a shilling in the public employ, should yet be liable to have his peace of mind so much disturbed by any individual who shall think proper to arraign him in a newspaper. It is however an evil for which there is no remedy. Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. To the sacrifice, of time, labor, fortune, a public servant must count upon adding that of peace of mind and even reputation. (emphasis added)

Even though Jefferson believed the papers to be wrong, he asserted that the liberty of the nation depends on the freedom of the press without limitation.

Three years later, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington from Paris with a similar sentiment.

The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. (emphasis added)

Jefferson was aware that the newspapers were sometimes wrong and he became exasperated with the press at times. However, he was sure that the liberty of the people depended on a free, if imperfect, press.

To Elbridge Gerry in 1799, Jefferson wrote:

I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence by force & not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.

Jefferson himself was the subject of just and unjust criticism and yet he did not start a war with the press.

Jefferson maintained this view through his old age. To Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson wrote in 1823:

Two dislocated wrists and crippled fingers have rendered writing so slow and laborious as to oblige me to withdraw from nearly all correspondence. not however from yours, while I can make a stroke with a pen. we have gone thro’ too many trying scenes together to forget the sympathies and affections they nourished. your trials have indeed been long and severe. when they will end is yet unknown, but where they will end cannot be doubted. alliances holy or hellish, may be formed and retard the epoch deliverance, may swell the rivers of blood which are yet to flow, but their own will close the scene, and leave to mankind the right of self government. I trust that Spain will prove that a nation cannot be conquered which determines not to be so. and that her success will be the turning of the tide of liberty, no more to be arrested by human efforts. whether the state of society in Europe can bear a republican government, I doubted, you know, when with you, a I do now. a hereditary chief strictly limited, the right of war vested in the legislative body, a rigid economy of the public contributions, and absolute interdiction of all useless expences, will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive. but the only security of all is in a free press. the force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. the agitation it produces must be submitted to. it is necessary to keep the waters pure. we are all, for example in agitation even in our peaceful country. for in peace as well as in war the mind must be kept in motion. (emphasis added).

Finally, Jefferson recognized that a free press provided information that some governments would deliberately keep from the people. We must have a free press to help provide a check on governmental power. To Charles Yancey in 1816, Jefferson wrote:

if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. there is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. (emphasis added).

Although Jefferson was not a perfect man, he articulated natural rights as well as any Founder. A free press is a surely a right under the Constitution and it is a necessity for a free people. Trump’s assault on the media is unpatriotic and certainly unJeffersonian. Even when Jefferson disagreed with the press (and he often did), he was a statesman and patriot in his response to it. Today, we are in great need for statesmen and stateswomen to stand up for a free press.

UPDATE: During a rally in Florida today, Donald Trump quoted Jefferson as a critic of newspapers:

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807. But despite all their lies, misrepresentations, and false stories, they could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most importantly, we will continue to win, win, win.

Trump pulled this quote from an 1807 letter to John Norvell. Indeed, Jefferson had many negative things to say about the press. However, he also said all of the things I quoted above. Trump only told his audience half of the story. Newspapers were more politically biased in Jefferson’s day than now and yet he defended the need for an independent press as a crucial means of protecting our liberties. Let’s recall that Jefferson’s harsh criticism came in private letters; Trump’s venom is delivered daily via Twitter. If Trump wants to be Jeffersonian, he must stop his public war on the press.

David Barton Again Whitewashes Thomas Jefferson Views on Race

Yesterday, David Barton came to Thomas Jefferson’s rescue after a statue of the third president was defaced last weekend at Jefferson’s alma mater the College of William & Mary. Those who attacked the statue painted Jefferson’s hands red and wrote “slave owner” nearby.
Indeed, Jefferson was a slave owner at the same time he made some steps to end the slave trade. He signed the bill ending the slave trade in 1808. However, Jefferson owned slaves at the same time he signed that bill into law.
When it comes to his positions and actions relating to slavery, Jefferson remains an enigma. However, Barton considers Jefferson to be a civil rights hero.  Barton told WND:

Barton argues Thomas Jefferson was a major opponent of slavery who worked all his life to end the practice. He also contends Jefferson was not the “racist” he has been portrayed as.
“Students today need to study Thomas Jefferson’s own writings and actions rather than listening to the blatantly false claims of those who hate America and her Founders,” he advised.

I agree that we need to study Jefferson’s own writings. In fact, I have some for you below.
Read Jefferson’s opinions of African slaves from his Notes on the State of Virginia, pages 264-267. Partly correct, Barton tells us that Jefferson wanted to free the slaves. What Barton doesn’t tell you is that Jefferson didn’t want the freed slaves to have American civil rights. He wanted them sent elsewhere because he didn’t think blacks and whites were of equal ability. Jefferson wanted America to be white. Jefferson wrote:

To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed.
It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race. — To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral. The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable
265
veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man? Besides those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites. Perhaps too a difference of structure in the pulmonary apparatus, which a late ingenious experimentalist has discovered to be the principal regulator of animal heat, may have disabled them from extricating, in the act of inspiration, so much of that fluid from the outer air, or obliged them in expiration, to part with more of it. They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep
266
of course. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed. It will be right to make great allowances for the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and born in America. Most of them indeed have been confined to tillage, to their own homes, and their own society: yet many have been so situated, that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that circumstance have always been associated with the whites. Some have been liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before their eyes samples of the best works from abroad. The Indians, with no advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. Misery is often the parent of
267
the most affecting touches in poetry. — Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar ;oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism. The heroes of the Dunciad are to her, as Hercules to the author of that poem. Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition; yet his letters do more honour to the heart than the head. They breathe the purest effusions of friendship and general philanthropy, and shew how great a degree of the latter may be compounded with strong religious zeal. He is often happy in the turn of his compliments, and his stile is easy and familiar, except when he affects a Shandean fabrication of words. But his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric, as is the course of a meteor through the sky. His subjects should often have led him to a process of sober reasoning: yet we find him always substituting sentiment for demonstration. Upon the whole, though we admit him to the first place among those of his own colour who have presented themselves to the public judgment, yet when we compare him with the writers of the race among whom he lived, and particularly with the epistolary class, in which he has taken his own stand, we are compelled to enroll him at the bottom of the column. This criticism supposes the letters published under his name to be genuine, and to have received amendment from no other hand; points which would not be of easy investigation. The improvement of the blacks in body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has been observed by every one, and proves that their inferiority is not the effect merely of their condition of life.

Later in the WND piece, Barton says:

Yes, Jefferson owned slaves, but he repeatedly tried to pass laws not only to free his own slaves, but all those in his state of Virginia. Sadly, he was unsuccessful. And state law would not allow him to free his own slaves. History clearly shows that Jefferson should be seen as an early anti-slavery advocate who was far ahead of his time in his home state.

In fact, after an early attempt to emancipate slaves in order to send them somewhere else, Jefferson had little to do with emancipation efforts in VA. After Virginia slave owners got the right to free slaves in 1782, Jefferson did not move to emancipate his slaves. Barton is simply wrong on this point. While it may have been difficult financially for Jefferson to free his slaves, he was legally allowed to do so after 1782. History clearly shows that many Virginia slave owners emancipated slaves while Thomas Jefferson did not. Jefferson talks about his early efforts on behalf of African slaves in the passage cited above and repeated below:

To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed. (emphasis added)

Yes, if this bill had passed, the slaves would have been freed but they would have been colonized to another location (he favored Santo Domingo) and exchanged for white people living elsewhere. Jefferson’s plan wasn’t perhaps as harsh as others who wanted slavery to persist in this country, but he certainly maintained views that can only be described as a racist. Jefferson’s tenure as a slave owner also requires scrutiny. He sent slave catchers after runaway slaves and profited from the babies born to slave women. These facts should not be minimized.
Barton’s whitewash of Jefferson doesn’t serve anyone well. When Barton obscures the truth, he gives ammunition to those who wish to obscure the positive contributions that Jefferson made to the common good. We must see historical figures in their time and place but not change the facts to make them fit our wishes. Jefferson’s racist words should be studied so that we can understand the errors he made, why he made them, and seek ways to avoid making them again.

Eric Metaxas and David Barton: Show Me the Miracles

Barton Metaxas picOn Tuesday, I posted an audio clip of David Barton on Eric Metaxas’ radio show talking about the two times when Thomas Jefferson cut up the Gospels to create an extraction of the morals of Jesus. During Jefferson’s first term, he revealed his beliefs about Christianity to some of his closer friends and in the process decided to cut out of the Gospels portions which Jefferson believed were actually from Jesus, leaving the rest behind.
On the program, Barton told Metaxas a made up story about what Jefferson did and mixed in a little truth with some error to create a flawed picture. Metaxas took it in without question. In my Tuesday post, I debunked Barton’s story about how Jefferson got the idea to cut up the Gospels and today I want to set the stage for what is a more difficult aspect of this story: identifying the verses Jefferson included in his first effort to extract the true teachings of Jesus from the Gospels.
The reason it is more difficult to know what Jefferson included in his 1804 effort is because the original manuscript has been lost. There isn’t a copy we can look at. The version completed sometime after 1820 is the one commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. That version can be purchased from the Smithsonian and viewed online.
Do We Know What Jefferson Cut Out of the Gospels?
Reproductions of the 1804 version exist but for reasons I will address in this series, there are some disputed verses which Jefferson may or may not have included. There really is no way to be sure.
Jefferson mentioned both versions in a letter to Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about both extractions:

I made, for my own satisfaction, an Extract from the Evangelists of the texts of his morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his own: and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills. a more precious morsel of ethics was never seen. it was too hastily done however, being the work of one or two evenings only, while I lived at Washington, overwhelmed with other business: and it is my intention to go over it again at more leisure. this shall be the work of the ensuing winter. I gave it the title of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists.’

The “work of one or two evenings only, while I lived in Washington, overwhelmed with other business” is a reference to his 1804 effort which was done for his “own satisfaction.” When he referred to “his intention to go over it again at more leisure” in an “ensuing winter,” he referred to the version he later completed sometime after 1820. It should be obvious from this letter that Jefferson viewed the second project as a completion of the 1804 work which was “too hastily done” while attending to his presidential duties. Jefferson does not refer to them as two separate projects with separate purposes. Rather, the 1804 version was more like a trial run and the latter was the product of more time and concentration.
How Do We Know What Verses Jefferson Included?
There are two primary sources for our knowledge of what verses Jefferson included. First, ever meticulous and organized, Jefferson prepared a listing of texts he planned to include. Michael Coulter and I included images of the originals (housed at the University of VA) in our book Getting Jefferson RightThe second source is the cut-up Bibles Jefferson used to cut out the verses he pasted together to form the 1804 version. In contrast to Barton’s claim, Jefferson didn’t cut out only Jesus’ words and he certainly didn’t cut them all out and paste them end to end.
Although these sources are critically important, they are not sufficient to be sure about what Jefferson included. A major barrier to certainty is that Jefferson cut out some verses which were not listed in his table of texts. This can be discerned by reviewing the parts of the Gospels which were cut out. What can never be known for sure is why Jefferson cut out more verses than he intended. We cannot assume that he intended to cut out any verse other than what he listed in his table of verses. However, we cannot assume he didn’t decide as he was doing it that he wanted to include something on the fly.
There are good arguments to be made for both possibilities. Jefferson said he did the 1804 version “too hastily.” Thus, he may have made some errors in cutting and cut too many verses or simply cut some in error from the wrong page. Anyone who has literally cut and pasted any kind of craft project can probably relate to that possibility.
On the other hand, it is certainly plausible to think that Jefferson changed his mind as he read through the Gospels again. He may have decided he wanted a particular verse that he didn’t include in the table. Nothing would have stopped him from clipping it.
Another possibility exists for the 1804 version which we know is true for the 1820 version. At times, Jefferson surgically extracted miraculous content from within a verse. In other words, he cut out a verse from the Gospels but when he included it in his manuscript, he only included a part of the verse.  For instance, Jefferson included Matthew 12:15 in his 1820 version, but he left out the end of the verse where the healing took place.*
jefferson bible mt 12
Mt. 12:15 in entirety reads:

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.

Jefferson intentionally left out the healing (“and he healed them all”) even though he included the verse. Clearly, it is not enough for us today to know what Jefferson cut out of those Gospels in 1804. For a perfect reconstruction, we would have to know what parts of the verses he included. A few disputed verses do have some miraculous content but that is no guarantee that Jefferson included that content in his compilation. We know he used partial verses in his second attempt; it is very plausible that he did the same thing the first time around.
Barton’s story to Metaxas completely glosses over these facts. If we really want to get inside Jefferson’s thinking about Jesus in the Gospels in 1804, we should first look at the table of texts he constructed (click here to examine those tables). Then we can look at the verses which Jefferson cut out but didn’t list. However, we must approach those disputed verses carefully. We don’t know why he cut them out and we don’t know what parts, if any, he actually included.
Barton Also Uses a Flawed Secondary Source
In The Jefferson Lies, Barton links to two secondary sources for his information about what is in the 1804 version. In at least one case, the source has a major error which we point out in Getting Jefferson Right. In the next post, I will address that secondary source error.
 
I challenge Eric Metaxas to bring on an actual historian and/or me to discuss the issues raised recently about his book, If You Can Keep It or this series.
*Jefferson Bible, ch 1:59-60.

David Barton Told Eric Metaxas an Untrue Story about the Jefferson Bible

Barton Metaxas picLast week, Eric Metaxas had David Barton on his radio show and told the audience that he loved Barton and his work. He also said he used some of Barton’s work to help write his new book If You Can Keep It. That book has been the subject of many critical reviews.

They also briefly discussed Barton’s pulled-from-publication book, The Jefferson Lies. In particular, Barton claimed to enlighten the audience about what is commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. Metaxas started to ask Barton a question about Jefferson’s editing of the Gospels, and Barton jumped in to explain.

I have addressed this story before but want to write a series of posts to show that Barton’s story is mostly fiction. Today, I start with the audio, the transcript and address a few of the key claims. First, the audio segment:

Transcript (the words in bold print are either untrue or highly questionable):

Metaxas: Jefferson is perceived as being rather secular, that he excised the Bible, rather the New Testament to remove the miracles and the…

Barton: Can I jump in on that one for a second because that is the one that Christians will repeat the most often?

Metaxas: Right, of course.

Barton: And I say Jefferson cut out all the supernatural, the stuff he didn’t like? And they say, Yeah. What are you talking about? They say, the Jefferson Bible. I say, really? Yeah, the Jefferson Bible. I say, which one? First off, they didn’t know there were two. And I say, yeah there’s the 1804 and an 1820 so which one so which one are you talking about? And so then I say, have you read either one of them? Well, no. How do you know he cuts it out? Well, that’s what they always say. Well, let me tell you about the 1804 and then go to 1820.

In 1804, Jefferson was given a sermon by a friend named, excuse me 1803, he got a sermon by a friend named Edward Dowse and the sermon was by William Bennet an evangelical in Scotland that says if you want to reach the American Indians do not give them the Bible because they might read Leviticus, they might read the genealogies, he said give them excerpts out of the Bible.

So Jefferson read that sermon, he then goes to the White House and takes two White House Bibles and he cuts out the teachings of Jesus, what we would call the red letters of Jesus. He pasted them end-to-end. He gave that to a missionary friend and said look, this is a lot cheaper than printing the Bible and its got the teachings. In that, he has the dead being raised, Jesus is raising the dead, Jesus healing the sick, Jesus cleansing lepers, Jesus is the son of God, resurrection, heaven, hell, angels. But wait! I thought he cut out all that sp__, no, it’s there.

The second one he did was in 1820. And he said, and by the way, every University in America back then required you to take a course in moral philosophy, every theological school, same thing. And so he [Jefferson] lists nearly 20 writers where he read their moral writings and he concluded that Jesus was better than all of them.

So he went through in 1820 and found 81 moral teachings of Jesus, he compiled them end to end. He called the book the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth, and it was the stuff like the great commandment, love God with all your heart soul and mind. It was turning the other cheek, it was forgiveness, it was the good Samaritan, it was the Golden Rule, and that’s what he did in four languages. Nobody knew that existed until 1886, and Cyrus Adler the Secretary of the Smithsonian found it from Jefferson’s grandson, they bought it , they got it to Congress and in 1902, US representative John Lacey said you know this is so great, if we could just live by the teachings of Jesus. So Congress printed 9,000 copies and for 50 years if you were a Freshman in the House or Senate, they gave you the life and morals of Jesus, read this and you’ll stay out of trouble.

Metaxas: Unbelievable.

Barton: Now wait a minute what happened to this stuff about hating. Let me point out that Jefferson was a lifetime member of the Virginia Bible Society, the third largest contribution he gave in his life was to the Virginia Bible Society, when his kids and grandkids learned to read, he gave them a Bible to read, he’s a funder of the John Thompson Bible, the largest Bible ever done in America, he’s a funder of the Thomas Scott Bible, he tried to fund the Charles Thomson Bible. If Jefferson hates the Bible, why does he keep doing this stuff? See that’s one of the seven lies we’ve been told about Jefferson. And everybody repeats what they’ve heard. Read it for yourself. It doesn’t cut out the miraculous, or the supernatural. Read it for yourself.

William Bennet’s Sermon
The first false claim is that William Bennet’s sermon gave instructions about how to reach the Indians with the Gospel. I don’t know why Barton keeps making this claim. He made it in the first edition of The Jefferson Lies and often repeats in his media appearances (e.g., Jesse Peterson show) but he walked it back in the recently published second edition. Furthermore, Mark Beliles, an writer used by both Barton and Metaxas as an authority, told me that Barton is wrong about the content of that sermon. In an email, Beliles said:

Yes, Barton overstated the case about that sermon itself. But the sermon clearly promoted the importance of getting Jesus’ morals found in the gospel into the hands of missionaries of the society, and they of course were going to Indians as well as other groups.

Barton did more than overstate the case. Bennet in his sermon didn’t mention mission work to Indians and certainly didn’t tell readers to withhold a Bible from Indians because they might read Leviticus or the genealogies. He didn’t encourage readers to cut up the Gospels and give the Indians a resurrection-free version of the Gospels. Barton just made that up. Don’t believe me? Click the link and read the sermon for yourself.

Why Did Jefferson Cut Up the Gospels?
Barton makes it sound like Jefferson read this sermon and then immediately went to the White House Bibles with knife in hand. One must pause to understand the timing. Edward Dowse sent Bennet’s sermon to Jefferson in April 1803 (read the entire correspondence here). Jefferson didn’t make his first extraction from the Gospels until March 1804.

In this case, we have Jefferson’s own words about why he cut up the Gospels. To Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about his extraction:

I made, for my own satisfaction, an Extract from the Evangelists of the texts of his morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his own: and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills. a more precious morsel of ethics was never seen. it was too hastily done however, being the work of one or two evenings only, while I lived at Washington, overwhelmed with other business: and it is my intention to go over it again at more leisure. this shall be the work of the ensuing winter. I gave it the title of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists.’

Jefferson referred to this extraction to John Adams, Benjamin Rush and others. In no place, did he refer to the sermon from Bennet or the letter from Dowse as having anything to do with his desire to cut up the Gospels. Jefferson said he selected only those texts “whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his [Jesus’] own.” Jefferson said the real words and deeds of Jesus were “as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamond in dunghills.”

Regarding the 1804 effort, Jefferson refers to it as a text “of his [Jesus] morals.” In both efforts, Jefferson was going for a compendium of the moral teachings of Jesus which Jefferson believed to be the actual teachings (diamonds) and not material added by the disciples and Gospel writers (dunghill). Let that sink in a minute. Jefferson presumed to know what parts of the Gospels were really true and which were added and not genuine.
Barton is correct that there were two efforts but because of his story about Bennet’s sermon, he artificially makes Jefferson have two purposes. This is misleading.

Relevant to that point, I challenge Barton or Metaxas to identify the missionary who received Jefferson’s 1804 version. No primary source evidence exists that Jefferson ever gave the extraction to anybody.

What Is In The Jefferson Bible?
In fact, when Barton tells Metaxas’ audience to go read the 1804 version, he knows they can’t. There is no actual copy in existence. We have the tables of texts Jefferson wrote to help guide him in his work and we have the cut up Bibles as well. However, we don’t know for sure what ended up in the version since we don’t have it. We do have the 1820 (in the neighborhood of 1820, it is not known exactly when he finished it) which you can read here.
In the next post on Barton’s story on the Metaxas show, I will take up the question about miracles in the 1804 version. We can’t be as sure what was in that one as in the 1820 version but we aren’t completely in the dark as I will discuss in that post. In the mean time, one can see the following posts on that topic, or get my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.

Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part One

Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part Two

Are the Miracles of Matthew 9 in the Jefferson Bible?

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

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. Last year 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 had fallen out of touch. Mutual friend and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush wanted to encourage them to reconcile. 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)

Rush had 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…”*
 
*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.

Happy Birthday to Thomas Jefferson – Share the Land

On April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Virginia. Over 270 years later, Jefferson is trending on Twitter. Many people want to claim Jefferson. Today, for instance, the Heritage Foundation has an article claiming that the Tea Party embodies Jefferson’s legacy.
Jefferson had many sides and wasn’t perfectly consistent. The letter to James Madison below might be a surprise to many of Jefferson’s conservative fans.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison
28 Oct. 1785Papers 8:681–82
Seven o’clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley thro’ which runs a brook, and on each side of it a ridge of small mountains most of which are naked rock. The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. But as this is not indispensably required, and my finances do not admit the expence of a continued residence here, I propose to come occasionally to attend the king’s levees, returning again to Paris, distant 40 miles. This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest of the mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league. As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, which I began by enquiries for the path which would lead me into the mountain: and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance. She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics, not labouring. They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 32

Jefferson worried that too much wealth in the hands of a few would work against the natural rights of all. Clearly, Jefferson saw a role for the government in creating policies to address the needs of the poor and unemployed. Jefferson surely did call for limited government but not so limited as to ignore “those excluded from the appropriation.”
I don’t know what TJ would have thought about The Guess Who, but after reading this letter again, I thought of this song.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nY_B-K-TU[/youtube]
If you want a more scholarly treatment of Jefferson, why not treat yourself to Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President?

Debunking One of David Barton’s Oldest Stories: Thomas Jefferson and the D.C. Schools

Thomas Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, DC. From school website
Thomas Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, DC. From school website

David Barton was a guest on Michael Brown’s Line of Fire show recently and spun some familiar yarns.

A story that has been around awhile (since Barton’s 1989 book Myth of Separation) is his claim that Thomas Jefferson incorporated the Bible and Isaac Watts hymnal into the curriculum of the Washington D.C. schools while Jefferson was president. This claim has been thoroughly debunked before by others, notably Jim Allison and Chris Rodda. While those authors documented well their rebuttal to Barton, I like to consult the primary sources for myself. Here I lay out Barton’s claim followed by the truth.

Listen to Barton on Line of Fire:

Transcript:

When he became president of the United States, the Constitution authorizes that Washington, D.C. be run by the federal government, not by any state.  So the schools of Washington, D.C. are under federal control. This is a new city when he moves in, he’s the president, he’s the first president to have a full term in the White House, everything else was in New York and Philadelphia, so he gets a full term, brand new city to him, he is now in charge of Washington, D.C. public schools as well. So he’s on the school board for Washington, D.C. public schools, they have to start the system, he authors the plan of education for Washington, D.C. public schools and he installs two reading texts for Washington, D.C. public schools, one is Isaac Watts hymnal, which is where we get the hymns like Joy to the World, etc., that’s what they learned to read from, and the Bible is the other one, and so Jefferson did that.

Barton refers to this story in The Jefferson Lies:

In 1805 President Jefferson was elected head of the board of trustees for the brand new Washington, DC, public schools. 51 He told the city council that he would “willingly undertake the duties proposed to me – so far as others of paramount obligation will permit my attention to them”; 52 that is, he would do what he could for the city schools with the caveat that his presidential duties came first. Robert Brent therefore served as head of the trustees instead of Jefferson; but as a trustee, Jefferson contributed much to the new school system. In fact, James Ormond Wilson, the first superintendent of the Washington, DC, public school system, affirmed that Jefferson was “the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.” 53 When the first report of the Washington public schools was prepared and released to document the progress of students, it announced:

Fifty-five have learned to read in the Old and New Testaments and are all able to spell words of three, four, and five syllables; twenty-six are now learning to read Dr. Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; ten are learning words of four and five letters. Of fifty-nine out of the whole number admitted [enrolled] that did not know a single letter, twenty can now read the Bible and spell words of three, four, and five syllables; twenty-nine read Dr. Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; and ten, words of four and five letters. 54

Most can probably visualize the Bible as a text to teach reading, 55 but what of Watt’s Hymns? Isaac Watts was a Christian theologian and hymn writer, penning some of the strongest doctrinal anthems in Christendom, including classics such as “Jesus Shall Reign,” “Joy to the World,” “O God our Help in Ages Past,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” “At the Cross,” and others. It was this hymnal, along with the Bible, that was used to teach reading to students in the school system whose plan of education was directly attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 1813-1832). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

We can go to the very source Barton points readers to in the footnote to debunk this story — the article by J.O. Wilson on the history of the D.C. schools.* Let’s take the claims one by one.

Jefferson was elected to the D.C. school board in 1805. He accepted in a letter to Robert Brent and at the time told Brent he would “willingly undertake the duties proposed to me, so far as others of paramount obligation will permit my attention to them.” In other words, being president had to come first. After this, Barton’s claims are mostly false.

Did Jefferson Write the Plan of Education for Washington, D.C. Schools?
Barton says in his book that Jefferson authored the plan of education. However, the source he cited doesn’t say that. About Jefferson’s involvement in the D.C. plan of education, Wilson (Barton’s own source) wrote:

A notably comprehensive report, setting forth in detail the plan of the entire educational system from an academy to a university, was prepared by a select committee and adopted September 19, 1805. Mr Jefferson’s early and liberal contribution in money and his accepting and holding the offices of trustee and president of the board of trustees of public schools so long as he resided here show his personal interest in their establishment, and the fact that he had several years earlier proposed a quite similar plan of education for the state of Virginia and a few years later, in 1817, vigorously renewed his proposal, make a strong probability that he himself was the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.

Barton’s quotation of Wilson is where the mischief is. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton wrote:

In fact, James Ormond Wilson, the first superintendent of the Washington, DC, public school system, affirmed that Jefferson was “the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.”

But look at what Wilson wrote and notice what Barton omitted in The Jefferson Lies. Wilson said Jefferson’s donations and his prior work on education in Virginia

make a strong probability that he himself was the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington. (bold print is what Barton left out of his quote)

Wilson did not affirm that Jefferson wrote the plan, he guessed Jefferson authored it based on circumstantial evidence. We don’t know what Jefferson’s role was in writing the plan.

Did Jefferson Make Sure the Bible Was Used in D.C. Schools?
Even if Jefferson did write the plan with his own hand, it destroys Barton’s claim because Jefferson didn’t include Bible in it. Wilson’s history provides a description of the 1805 plan:

In their plan the board of trustees said:

The academy shall consist of as many schools as circumstances may require, to be limited at present to two, one of which shall be situated east of the Capitol and within half a mile of it and the other within half a mile of the President’s house, it being understood that these positions are considered by the board as temporary, and consequently subject at any future time to alteration. In these schools poor children shall be taught reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, and such branches of the mathematics as may qualify them for the professions they are intended to follow, and they shall receive such other instruction as is given to pay pupils, as the board may from time to time direct, and pay pupils shall, besides, be instructed in geography and in the Latin language. The schools shall be open each day, Sundays excepted, eight hours in summer and six hours in winter, to be distributed throughout the day as shall be fixed by the board, except during vacation, which shall not commence prior to the first of August, nor continue after the 10th of September, and whose duration shall be fixed by the board. (emphasis added)

There is no mention of the Bible or a hymnal by Watts or anyone else.

So where does Barton get the idea that Jefferson incorporated the Bible and Watts’ hymnal? 

A little later in his article, Wilson described some developments after Jefferson left office.

In 1812, the Washington schools switched their methods to allow a D.C. school to follow the approach of an educator named Joseph Lancaster. Then in 1813, a report of the progress under the new educational plan was submitted. Wilson provides the entire report; I will cite the part of it misused by Barton:

In 1813 Mr Henry Ould made the first report of a Washington public school of which we have any record.
It reads as follows : February 10, 1813.

This day 12 months ago I had the pleasure of opening under your auspices the second genuine Lancasterian school in America. The system was set in operation (as far as the nature of the room would admit) in this city on the 10th of February, 1812, in an inconvenient house opposite the General Post Office, but notwithstanding the smallness of the school-room there were 120 scholars entered on the list during the first three months. I was then under the necessity of delaying the admission of scholars, as the room would not accommodate more than 80 to 100 scholars. It now becomes my duty to lay before you an account of the improvement of the scholars placed under my direction in your institution, which I shall do in the following order:

OF NUMBERS
130 scholars have been admitted into your institution since the 10th of February, 1812, viz., 82 males and 48 females, out of which number 2 have died and 37 left the school for various employments, after passing through several grades of the school, which therefore leaves 91 on the list.

PROGRESS IN READING AND SPELLING
55 have learned to read in the Old and New Testaments, and are all able to spell words of three, four, and five syllables; 26 are now learning to read Dr Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; 10 are learning words of four and five letters. Of 59 out of the whole number admitted that did not know a single letter, 20 can now read the Bible and spell words of three, four, and five syllables; 29 read Dr Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables, and 10, words of four and five letters.

Thomas Jefferson left the presidency in 1809 and retired to Monticello, no longer president or a member of the D.C. school board. This 1813 report summarized the work of one school which was implemented in 1812. Barton gets his claim that Jefferson included the Bible and Watts’ hymnal in his plan from a report about another plan implemented in one school and submitted nearly four years after he left town.

Barton’s mash up of the facts is clearly wrong and has been since 1989.

What Did Jefferson Say About the Bible in Schools?
Joseph Lancaster believed in using the Bible as a reading book. Thomas Jefferson on the other hand did not. In Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, he directly addressed the use of the Bible in schools:

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. — The first elements of morality too may be instilled into their minds such as when further developed as their judgments advance in strength may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness by showing them that it does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them but is always the result of a good conscience good health occupation and freedom in all just pursuits. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 154. (emphasis added)

In sum, David Barton claims Thomas Jefferson wrote a plan of education for the Washington, D.C. schools which included instruction in reading from the Bible and a hymn book. The very source Barton cites as evidence debunks these claims and demonstrates that Barton is willing to mash up the facts to get a story useful for his overall narrative about Thomas Jefferson.

*Another source for the history of the Washington, D.C. schools is here.

George Marsden on The Jefferson Lies and Getting Jefferson Right

Thomas Kidd called George Marsden “the greatest historian of American religion of the past generation.” In The Jefferson Lies, Barton cited Marsden as an authority. In Marsden’s 2014 book titled The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, he described David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies as an effort to make Jefferson into an orthodox Christian. His footnote on Barton’s book leads to a description of Getting Jefferson Right. It is not a direct endorsement but it sounds good to me.  First, read what Marsden has to say about The Jefferson Lies:

Marsden Barton2

Marsden then leads readers to GJR in his footnote:
Marsden Fn 12

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

So much for the critics of Barton’s book being liberals.

David Barton Can’t Decide When or Why Thomas Jefferson Got His Quran

David Barton is a confusing fellow. Sometimes he tells one story and other times he contradicts himself. Take the facts surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Quran.

Jefferson owned a Quran and Barton has told a couple of different stories about it. First, he told Glenn Beck that Jefferson bought the Quran while on a mission to Islamic nations so he could understand his Islamic enemies. He later modified this story to make it somewhat more accurate. Actually, Jefferson bought his copy of the Quran long before that mission.

However, not one to let a good distortion go to waste, Barton has pulled it out again for World Net Daily in this video.

 

Dave Barton addresses the lies of Barack Obama made at the Mosque in Baltimore on February 1, 2016, where he said “Islam has always been part of America.” Barton screwers the LIES Obama told about Islam and Thomas Jefferson in his speech in this MUST WATCH videoThe new edition of “The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson” by David Barton is the must have book that sets the record straight on Jefferson as THE quintessential American founder.Get the book signed here –> http://superstore.wnd.com/Jefferson-Lies-Exposing-the-Myths-Youve-Always-Believed-About-Thomas-Jefferson-Paperback?promocode=FBJeffersonLiesGet the book at Amazon.com here –> http://amzn.to/1Rj7Dxh

Posted by David Barton/WallBuilders on Monday, February 8, 2016

At 1:55 into the video, Barton purports to address Barack Obama’s recent appearance at a Mosque in Baltimore. Obama reminded the audience there that Jefferson owned a Quran. In response, Barton claims to explain why Jefferson owned it. Barton says Jefferson bought the Quran in order to learn more about his Islamic enemies. Barton says that in 1784 we had to deal with Muslim terrorists (Barbary Pirates) by sending John Adams, Ben Franklin and Jefferson to negotiate with five Islamic nations attacking Americans. Barton says that Jefferson and Adams both bought Qurans because they wanted to understand claims made by an Islamic ambassador. According to Barton’s timeline, this happened in 1786.

Barton also implies that Jefferson’s administration had something to do with the printing of the first American edition of the Quran. Not so. The 1806 edition of the Koran was printed by Henry Brewer for Isaiah Thomas. The introduction which Barton reads was actually taken from a version in the 1600s and was not specific to Jefferson’s administration.
In fact, as the Monticello website makes clear, Jefferson purchased his copy of the Quran long before 1786.

Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur’an, which was the second edition of a 1734 translation by George Sale, a two-volume set published in London in 1764. This set was sold to the Library of Congress in 1815, and rebound by the Library in 1918. The daybook of the Virginia Gazette records the purchase of this edition by Jefferson in Williamsburg in 1765.1 There are no other known records of Jefferson reacquiring this work, suggesting perhaps that it survived the fire at Jefferson’s family home, Shadwell, in 1770.

The bottom line is that Thomas Jefferson purchased his copy of the Quran in 1765. David Barton, alleged Jefferson expert, repeatedly gets this fact wrong by saying Jefferson acquired it while on diplomatic mission in 1786. Later, Barton tap danced around the facts to his buddy Glenn Beck but more recently returned to the false narrative that has Jefferson buying it in 1786.
Stay in touch! Like Warren Throckmorton on Facebook:

David Barton's Conservative Critics: Debunking the Liberal Attack Claims

To promote David Barton’s second edition of The Jefferson Lies, World Net Daily, Glenn Beck, and David Barton claim the first edition was pulled from publication by publisher Thomas Nelson due to ideologically motivated attacks by liberals.
World Net Daily:

Despite the wildly popular success of the original hardcover edition, or perhaps because of it, a campaign to discredit Barton’s scholarship was launched by bloggers and a handful of non-historian academics.

What happened next was shocking – virtually unprecedented in modern American publishing history. Under siege from critics, the publisher spiked the book and recalled it from the retail shelves from coast to coast. The Jefferson Lies is thus a history book that made history – becoming possibly the first book of its kind to be victimized by the scourge of “political correctness.”

Glenn Beck:

And you know, the other nice thing about it [republishing The Jefferson Lies] they say, is that it takes this, excuse the expression, this isn’t my expression, this would be somebody elses’; I don’t know who’s, but, the liberal bastards that went and have an agenda and not based in facts had it pulled off the New York Times bestseller list because it just didn’t have the facts. This [holding up The Jefferson Lies] has taken all of their arguments and dismantled all of their arguments.

David Barton:

Many in academia today openly proclaim their disdain for traditional American ideals and heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, routinely twisting his words to suit their own agendas. This is what happened four years ago. But through the new release of ‘The Jefferson Lies,’ Americans will not only meet the unfiltered Jefferson as he speaks clearly for himself on a variety of issues, but they will also understand why he was so proudly esteemed by Americans for literally centuries, until trashed by modern professors and critics.

The problem with this narrative can be illustrated with a sampling of conservative criticisms of The Jefferson Lies.

First of all, let’s recall that Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher who continues to publish books by conservative authors, including Jerome Corsi, Eric Metaxas, Richard Land, Judge Napolitano, Tom Coburn, William Bennett, Kevin McCullough, Star Parker, Sam Brownback, and others. 
When the book was pulled in 2012, several conservative organizations and media sources reacted with approval.
Gospel Coalition
Just after The Jefferson Lies was pulled, Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor titled an article: “Thomas Nelson Ceases Publication of David Barton’s Error-ridden Book on Jefferson’s Faith” Taylor concluded: “This is actually a very interesting test case for those who have bought in to Barton’s historiography, methodology, and conclusions. Do we care about the truth, or do the conclusions we want to hear justify the means used to obtain them?”
Joe Carter, also on the Gospel Coalition’s website, wrote:

Why It Matters: In 1950, British biologist Sir Peter Medawar said that French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin “can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.” A similar criticism could be made about Barton. While his books and videos have deceived thousands of Christians about the historical record, Barton appears to be sincerely convinced of the superiority of his own interpretations.

Yet despite his claims to being an “historical expert,” Barton tends to make sloppy, factual errors and extrapolations that are wholly unsupportable. For instance, he claims the U.S. Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.

The Gospel Coalition’s council consists of additional mainstream, conservative evangelicals such as John Piper, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Tim Keller and Anthony Carter, just to name a few better known non-liberals.

Colson Center for Christian Worldview – Breakpoint:

On The Point, a Colson Center radio show, John Stonestreet summarized the controversy over The Jefferson Lies by referring to Jay Richards’ efforts to involve 10 Christian historians in an evaluation of the book. As Stonestreet noted, the response was negative.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/ka0aFra8RfU[/youtube]

Then, writing in a Breakpoint column, Tom Gilson said:

The story has been told in both the secular and the Christian press: Barton’s most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, was riddled with misinformation. Its publisher, Thomas Nelson, pulled it from distribution. Barton is standing firm in his position, but reliable historians—strongly conservative Christian scholars among them—continue to hold him in error, and not just because of this work but because of others as well.

Gilson concluded:

To accept any human teacher without checking on his message with due diligence is to abandon our responsibility to the truth. David Barton’s errors are not only his. They also belong to those of us who bought his message carelessly, unquestioningly, too eagerly, and too comfortably.

Later on his own blog, Gilson said:

Barton’s errors seem sufficiently well documented. They are nothing less than tragic, for him and for his large audience. Inevitably some Christians will be angry with those who have shined a light on David Barton’s errors. Far better they recognize that the best way to rally around him is to encourage him to stick close to the truth. Far better we all stick close to the truth.

Institute for Religion and Democracy:
The IRD was founded in order to monitor and counter the evangelical left. From IRD’s website:

Welcome to the website for the Institute on Religion & Democracy. We are a watchdog of the religious and evangelical left, disputing their claims to represent millions of church members when espousing a liberal or far-left political agenda.

In 2012, Bart Gingerich wrote about Barton’s work on the IRD blog, concluding:

And as for the powerhouse spokespeople for such reactions, David Barton provides the material to meet the agenda. Thus, the “exaggerations” are propped up even more since they meet the requirements of a belly-aching pattern of decline and ruin. Unfortunately, the agenda comes at the expense of individual souls. Students—especially the scholastically adept—are hurt very badly by the misinterpretations, misportrayals, mistruths. I barely survived coming across the knowledge, and there are many who do not. David Barton isn’t helping by circulating lies. Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war. I’m not really much for the metaphor in the first place, but if we’re really serious about protecting marriage, life, and the Western heritage, we ought never to stretch the truth to get our way. Proceedings have already gone underway; it’s time to court martial David Barton.

First Things:

Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull the book, the well respected conservative Catholic website First Things published an article by Greg Forster critical of Barton’s treatment of John Locke. Forster, a conservative, wrote:

The focus of the current controversy is Barton’s new book on Jefferson. My friend Jay Richards doesn’t mince words; he says this book and Barton’s other books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”

I’m not a scholar of Thomas Jefferson, but I am a scholar of John Locke . Barton has an article about Locke on his website, so I thought I’d weigh in with my opinion on whether it matches Jay’s description of Barton’s methods. It does, and then some.

I should note for the record that I’m not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke’s Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Grace University:

On the GU website, Professor Jim Eckman wrote in review (click through to read the entire review) of The Jefferson Lies:

As a Christian historian and Christian leader, I believe very strongly that we must be truthful and forthright about our beliefs.  We must also be people of integrity and be scrupulous in how we present our case.  In my judgment, David Barton has not done this.  (Thomas Nelson has ceased its publication of Barton’s book on Jefferson.)  He needs to be called to task and evangelicals in the US must be much more discerning and careful in what is claimed about our Founders.

American Vision:

On some issues, I suspect American Vision is to the right of Barton. This Christian reconstructionist group is politically and religiously on the very far right. Writing on the American Vision website, Joel McDurmon provided a lengthy rebuttal to one chapter of The Jefferson Lies. About Barton’s book, McDurmon concluded:

Sadly, with the level and degree of error I have found in just the chapter I reviewed, I cannot recommend this book to the average Christian reader. While a book like this needs to be written vindicating Jefferson from much liberal nonsense, the reader nonetheless will need to fact-check nearly every claim Barton makes for accuracy. And this is way too much to ask of the average reader. If that is to be the task, it would be better to skip Barton’s book altogether and go read all of Jefferson’s papers directly, because that what the reader will have to do eventually anyway.

In light of these conservative criticisms, it is clear that Barton, Beck and WND are engaged in a massive effort to revise history, and not just about Jefferson. Liberal attacks did not doom The Jefferson Lies, numerous conservatives weighed in. Historians, pastors, culture warriors, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines publicly expressed concerns. Eventually, Thomas Nelson conducted a review and made their decision.
Worldview Weekend:
Brannon Howse is a very conservative minister who has been a critic of Barton’s Christian nation teaching for several years. He consistently reposted information critical of The Jefferson Lies. Howse is quite conservative.
Getting Jefferson Right Reviewers
Some conservative reviewers of my book with Michael Coulter about Barton’s Jefferson claims, Getting Jefferson Rightspecifically mentioned their views of Barton’s claims in their review. For instance:

Getting Jefferson Right by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter stands up for truth in scholarship against the scholarly problems found in David Barton’s ‘The Jefferson’s Lies.’ Because of the courage of Throckmorton and Coulter, Barton has regrettably fallen from his pedestal of preeminence as a scholar of the early American era. Throckmorton and Coulter deserve the ‘Medal of Honor’ for courage and probity.

-Chuck Dunn, Distinguished Professor of Government. Regent University. Author and/or Editor of 20 books on American politics, including The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership and American Culture in Peril.

Getting Jefferson Right is an intellectual and historical take down of David Barton’s pseudo-history of Thomas Jefferson by two Christian professors who teach at a conservative Christian college. Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton have done their homework. Anyone who reads this book must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program. I have yet to read a more thorough refutation of Barton’s claims.

–John Fea, Chair of the History Department, Messiah College and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

More Recent Conservative Criticism

Since The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, other religiously and/or politically conservative groups have advance critical opinions of Barton’s approach to history. For instance:
Jeff on the Pulpit and Pen blog wrote:

Widely discredited faux historian and seductive propagandist, David Barton, of Wallbuilders, along with his co-conspirator, Glenn Beck, are now joining TBN for a weekly series titled “Foundations of Freedom.” Barton, who pushes a politically right-wing form of Christianity at the expense of historical truthfulness, is widely known for his disproven book, Jefferson Lies, which was subsequently withdrawn from publication after being voted the “least credible history book in print.”

I am aware that some conservative Christian groups continue to laud Barton’s approach to history (e.g., after a brief hiccup, Family Research Council; even though they had to correct his facts, Focus on the Family; and American Family Association). My reason for documenting the response of other prominent conservatives is to counter the hoax now being perpetrated by Barton, Glenn Beck and WND that any opposition to Barton’s Christian nation approach to history and The Jefferson Lies comes only from liberals, non-historians, non-evangelicals or leftists.
 
Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull The Jefferson Lies, several critical reviews from Jefferson and/or American history scholars appeared in print. John Fea teaches at Messiah College; I don’t know how the others would describe themselves.
Wall Street Journal – A Still Unsettling Founding Father – Alan Pell Crawford.
Religion Dispatches – The Quixotic Task of Debunking David Barton – Paul Harvey
The Jefferson Hour – Review of The Jefferson Lies – Clay Jenkinson
The Way of Improvement Leads Home – (The Jefferson Lies, parts onetwothreefour,five and six) – John Fea