What Should David Barton Do About The Capitol Tour Video?

In light of David Barton’s tacit admission that he has made multiple errors of fact in the Capitol Tour video, it is worth considering how he should respond. Thus far, he has simply edited out some errors and replaced the audio with updated information. The consequences are that new viewers of the video will assume that Barton presented the new information at the time of the tour and that viewers of the prior video will not have the benefit of what was altered. In addition, some historical errors remain in the altered video.
In the Capitol Tour video, you also have the awkward situation of participants in the 2007 tour saying they have been misled by the left when in fact they had just been misled by their tour guide — who now implicitly acknowledges it.
Something just doesn’t seem right about this manner of handling the situation, so I went to the ethical standards for historians for guidance about a more proper response.
Standards for Historians: Accuracy, Integrity, and Trust
The American Historical Association’s standards place a high value on accuracy, integrity and trust. Some statements from the standards of that organization are relevant.

By practicing their craft with integrity, historians acquire a reputation for trustworthiness that is arguably their single most precious professional asset. The trust and respect both of one’s peers and of the public at large are among the greatest and most hard-won achievements that any historian can attain. It is foolish indeed to put them at risk.
All historians believe in honoring the integrity of the historical record. They do not fabricate evidence. Forgery and fraud violate the most basic foundations on which historians construct their interpretations of the past. An undetected counterfeit undermines not just the historical arguments of the forger, but all subsequent scholarship that relies on the forger’s work. Those who invent, alter, remove, or destroy evidence make it difficult for any serious historian ever wholly to trust their work again.
Historians should not misrepresent their sources. They should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation. They should not commit plagiarism. They should oppose false or erroneous use of evidence, along with any efforts to ignore or conceal such false or erroneous use. (emphasis added)

Seems to me that this standard does not support the obscuring of errors but supports full disclosure. When information that has been presented is determined to be erroneous, such knowledge should not be hidden.

Teaching is basic to the practice of history. It occurs in many venues: not just classrooms, but museums and historic sites, documentaries and textbooks, newspaper articles, web sites, and popular histories.
Good teaching entails accuracy and rigor in communicating factual information, and strives always to place such information in context to convey its larger significance. Integrity in teaching means presenting competing interpretations with fairness and intellectual honesty.
The political, social, and religious beliefs of history teachers necessarily inform their work, but the right of the teacher to hold and express such convictions can never justify falsification, misrepresentation, or concealment, or the persistent intrusion of material unrelated to the subject of the course. (emphasis added)

Historians recognize that websites and public presentations of history perform a teaching function beyond the classroom. As such then, standards of accuracy and integrity are no different for web and public historical presentations.
The standards for historians recognize that historians will engage in advocacy positions, but they require historians to maintain the same standards for accuracy, integrity and trust. According to the standards,

Public discussions of complex historical questions inevitably translate and simplify many technical details associated with those questions, while at the same time suggesting at least some of the associated complexities and divergent points of view. While it is perfectly acceptable for historians to share their own perspectives with the public, they should also strive to demonstrate how the historical profession links evidence with arguments to build fair-minded, nuanced, and responsible interpretations of the past. The desire to score points as an advocate should never tempt a historian to misrepresent the historical record or the critical methods that the profession uses to interpret that record.  (emphasis added)

Historians have a responsibility to make sure that the historical information is accurate and represented properly. When errors are discovered, historians have a responsibility to publicly admit and correct the errors. All writers make errors and there is no shame in correcting them. The problem comes when the corrections are not clearly identified and fully corrected. Millions of people have been misinformed (the Capitol Tour video had over 4 million views) and they are now ill equipped to defend their views on history and religious liberty. Barton has a daily radio show and a busy website. He certainly has the means to alert people that he has misrepresented several key claims relating to the founders and founding era. The question is, will he do it?
Having asked this question, I am aware that I am not a historian by training. I invite academic historians to weigh in on the broader question of what duty historians have to publicly acknowledge and correct errors. To me, the duty seems obvious but I am quite curious about how the standards should be applied.

David Barton’s U.S. Capitol Tour: Did Congress Print the First Bible in English for the Use of Schools?

In early August, I started a series on David Barton’s Capitol Tour. That was August 6 (Jefferson and the Kaskaskia Indians). On August 7, WORLD broke the David Barton controversy story with NPR’s coverage coming the next day. Today, I want to get back to the Capitol Tour with a post on a topic which has been frequently examined — Congress and the Aitken Bible. On the Capitol Tour YouTube video at 42 seconds in,  Barton begins his claims about the Aitken Bible. Watch:

First, I will give Barton’s claim followed by the facts. During the tour, Barton said:

This is a copy of what the first Bible printed in English in America looked like. This Bible was printed by the U.S. Congress in 1782.

Not true. Robert Aiken printed that Bible. Here is his petition to Congress about the Bible.*

To the Honourable The Congress of the United States of America

The Memorial of Robert Aitken of the City of Philadelphia Printer Humbly Sheweth

That in every well regulated Government in Christendom The Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament, commonly called the Holy Bible, are printed and published under the Authority of the Sovereign Powers, in order to prevent the fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian Faith might suffer from the spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation. That your Memorialist has no doubt but this work is an Object worthy the attention of the Congress of the United States of America, who will not neglect spiritual security, while they are virtuously contending for temporal blessings.

Under this persuasion your Memorialist begs leave to inform your Honours That he both begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, But being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress, Humbly prays that your Honors would take this important matter into serious consideration & would be pleased to appoint one Member or Members of your Honourable Body to inspect his work so that the same may be published under the Authority of Congress. And further, your Memorialist prays, that he may be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures, in such manner and form as may best suit the wants and demands of the good people of these States, provided the same be in all things perfectly consonant to the Scriptures as heretofore Established and received amongst us, And as in Duty bound your Memorialist shall every pray

Robt. Aitken Philadelphia. 21, Jany. 1781.

Aitken was already well along with his printing project when he approached Congress with an assumption and three requests. First, he assumed that the government ought to print and publish Bibles to make sure there were no errors. Aitken seemed to believe that the civil authority had the responsibility to protect Christianity and the citizenry from “spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation.” Based on that assumption, Aitken wanted Congress to inspect and recommend the Bible he had nearly completed. He also wanted the Bible published under the authority of Congress and then asked Congress to make him the official Bible printer for the new nation.

Aitken certainly seemed to think the United States should regulate Christianity in some manner, at the least to establish an approved version of the Scriptures. However, Congress did not respond favorably to all of his requests. Aitken was not appointed to be the official Bible printer. Instead, a committee turned the Bible over to the chaplains to check the accuracy of the work. The chaplains reported back that the Bible was indeed accurate and recommended it. As the first English Bible the America, it was quite a milestone but it was not printed or paid for by Congress. To get the story as it is printed in the records of Congress, I have thumbnails of all three pages pertaining to the Aitken Bible (click to read them).

After misleading his crowd about who printed the Bible, Barton claimed:

In the records, it says that it was quote ‘a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use in schools.’

If by “records,” Barton means the letter from Aitken to Congress, then I suppose he is technically correct. As you can see in Robert Aitken’s petition to Congress, he described his Bible as a “neat Edition of the Scriptures for the use in schools.” However, his petition was the only place in the “records” where this phrase was written. Congress did not express this purpose. Barton then posed a question to his audience:

So the first Bible printed in America in English was printed by Congress for the use of our schools?

The answer to that question is no. Barton took Aitken’s words to Congress and made them come from Congress. Barton then asserted that Congress printed the Bible and did so for the use of schools. In fact, the Congressional resolution properly credited Aitken as printer but did not affirm the Bible for the use in schools:

Resolved: That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of the arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report, of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper (p. 574, Journals of Congress, September 12, 1782).

While this story is interesting in that Congress commemorated this artistic and religious first with a recommendation, it is also important to note what Congress did not do. Congress did not pay Aitken’s expenses, did not purchase or distribute the Bible and did not make Aitken the official government Bible printer. As it turned out, Aitken lost money on the project.

This story and other versions of it have been examined before (e.g., Chris Rodda’s video), but Barton continues to tell it. He told Kirk Cameron a similar story on Monumental and told Mike Huckabee the same story on his FOX News program (even allowing Huckabee to go uncorrected when Huckabee said “the taxpayers paid for” the printing of the Bible – at 6:38 into the clip).

More in this series:

David Barton’s Capitol Tour: Did Thomas Jefferson Spend Federal Funds to Evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians?

*In addition to the Library of Congress website, a good concise source for material relating to the debate (e.g., Aitken’s petition above) about the founding era is a book edited by Matthew L. Harris and Thomas S. Kidd: The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America: A History in Documents. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).