Daily Jefferson: June 21, 1808 Letter From Thomas Jefferson to James Pemberton About Relations With Native Americans

David Barton sometimes tells his audiences that Thomas Jefferson edited the Gospels in order to give just the words of Christ to the Indians for their instruction. However, there are many words of Jesus which Jefferson did not include in his work. Another fact that makes Barton’s claims even more of a fantasy is that Jefferson believed learning English and reading the Bible was the last thing Indians should do to become civilized. In this letter to James Pemberton, Jefferson gives a summary of his agenda to make the Indians more like the English. He begins by saying learning letters is the last step:

I wish they may begin their work at the right end. our experience with the Indians has proved that letters are not the first, but the last step in the progression from barbarism to civilisation.   
Our Indian neighbors will occupy all the attentions we may spare, towards the improvement of their condition. the four great Southern tribes are advancing hopefully. the foremost are the Cherokees, the Upper settlements of whom have made to me a formal application to be recieved into the Union as citizens of the US. & to be governed by our laws. if we can form for them a simple & acceptable plan of advancing by degrees to a maturity for recieving our laws, the example will have a powerful effect towards stimulating the other tribes in the same progression, and will chear the gloomy views which have overspread their minds as to their own future history. I salute you with friendship & great respect.

In our rebuttal to Barton in World magazine in 2012, we said this about Jefferson’s views on missionaries to Indians.

In his response, Barton created several straw men—that is, he attacked his misrepresentations of our work. He claimed we deny the role of Congress in using religion to civilize the Indians. That is not true. Although peripheral to our purposes, we acknowledge the unfortunate abuse of Indians via religion by the federal government. However, we don’t focus on U.S. relations with Indians because our purpose was to examine Barton’s claims about Thomas Jefferson and the Indians. On point, Jefferson did not hide his thoughts about Indians and missionaries. In a letter to physician James Jay, Jefferson asserted in 1809:

“The plan [Jay’s plan] of civilizing the Indians is undoubtedly a great improvement on the ancient and totally ineffectual one of beginning with religious missionaries. Our experience has shown that this must be the last step of the process.”[iii]

Jefferson added that the Indians preferred Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe and outlined several steps to civilization before religious matters could be introduced. Yes, the government occasionally paid missionaries to work with Indians, but Jefferson expressed reservations about the policy.[iv]

After getting history wrong, David Barton claims he was misunderstood about the destruction of Indians

On March 21, David Barton addressed “just war” theory on his Wallbuilders Live program and in the process he said the following about the destruction of Indian tribes.

What happened was the Indian leaders said “they’re trying to change our culture” and so they declared war on all the white guys and went after the white guys and that was King Philip’s War.  It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”

Barton Responds
Yesterday, I learned that David Barton responded to the various articles and posts about these statements. In a March 28 post on Wallbuilders Facebook page, someone on Barton’s behalf wrote:

In response to a recent WallBuilders Live show, we wanted to clarify statements made by Mr. Barton that we have been receiving questions and comments about. We encourage you to listen to the program to get the full context: http://www.wallbuilderslive.com/Historic.asp?cdate=77515. 
David was not justifying, but merely explaining the historical context of what happened, in the same way that he explained the British march to the sea. He made a parallel between the two as to tactics and strategy that were used during war at that time. David was explaining the historical events regarding King Philip’s War, not the atrocities that were in general committed against the Indian tribes and nations, which we in no way condone. There is a big difference between justifying and merely explaining or reporting.
WallBuilders Staff

I don’t buy it and many commenters on his page don’t either.  For instance, one said

Oh! You weren’t trying to “justify” what happened by reporting what happened in a way that only served to whitewash history (“It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”) without reporting atrocities on BOTH sides, and without applying any meaning to actual historic events that do not fit with your self-serving slanted view of said events. Silly, actual historian who interprets Native history on a daily basis, me! Thanks for your half of an apology!

He is backpedaling for sure but his wording and the context of the show don’t leave much wiggle room. He certainly seemed to be arguing that the destruction of Indian tribes was a just response of the English. As the commenter above points out, even if he was explaining, his explanation was biased and inaccurate to the point of being offensive.
Just War Theory
To check the credibility of Barton’s defense, let’s review more of what he said on his broadcast. The relevant section is from about 9 minutes in to about 13:40. He begins by saying in war “you have to go beyond what you would like to do, but that’s what you have to do to save lives.” He then discusses the American response to prisoners of war and invokes just war theory, defining it as “you want to conduct a war in such a way so as you don’t make God into your enemy. So if you have to do certain things to defend yourself, you do that; but if you’re going to be the aggressor, if you’re going to gratuitously use pain and torture to harm others because of the meanness of your soul, now you’re in trouble with God.” He added that there were wars that God has shown to be justified and made a distinction between offensive and defensive wars. Pivoting to history, Barton said “Let’s take these principles back into the way they were dealt with at the time.” He described what he believed to be differences in how the Americans and British treated their prisoners of war. Then he illustrated his points via Native Americans.

You have to deal a lot of it with how the enemy responds. It’s gotta be based on what the enemy responds.
You can’t reason with certain types of terrorists, you can’t reason, and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many Indian tribes, and people say you took away their land, let’s back up a minute, let’s go back to time of the French and Indian War, let’s go back to the late 1600s, what’s called King Philip’s War in 1672.* The reason the Indians attacked the American settlers in the 1600s was because Moravian missionaries, now Moravian missionaries were probably the least intrusive people in the world. They don’t go in and say, hey, to be a Christian, you gotta dress this way, act this way, believe, they just want you to read the Word of God and get in a relationship with God. And living among the Indians as they did, and by the way, they didn’t ask the Indians to dress like Americans, the Americans dressed like Indians, so the Moravian missionaries, you couldn’t tell them from the Indians. They looked alike, they dressed alike, they talked the same language, but what the Moravian missionaries did was say, guys, you know you’re warring against all these other tribes and as you’re capturing other tribes, you’re torturing them before you put them to death. You’re not just putting to death your enemy, you’re making them line up and link arms together and as they hold their arms together, you’re going by and slitting their stomachs and they’re required to hold their own guts as they die. Just kill ’em, don’t torture them. 
What happened was the Indian leaders said “they’re trying to change our culture” and so they declared war on all the white guys and went after the white guys and that was King Philip’s War.  It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”
And that’s what we had to do with Jefferson and the Barbary pirates. Jefferson went in, we had 32 years of them fighting Americans and Jefferson went in, thumped ’em real good, and they said, aye, got it, we got the message, we’ll leave you guys alone, we’ll sign a treaty with you.
A lot of it is based on what you have to do to secure justice and to secure the protection of life and liberties for your citizens and you do what you have to do at times, but you play on the rules sometimes that the other guys have set up. And if they’re not going to negotiate with things like the Geneva treaty or other rules of civilization, you still have to secure the life and the property and the protection of your citizens.

Much of this is wrong, but I want to point out two problems. First, it certainly seems to me that Barton is speaking prescriptively. I provided this context because it certainly seems to me that Barton is defending the actions of the English settlers when he said what got the Indians to the treaty table was whipping and destroying them. He says you can’t reason with certain types of terrorists and then speaks about Indians as an illustration (Indians were terrorists for defending their land claims?). Barton then presents the conflict with the Barbary pirates which he also approves. The entire context of his speech was to explain and defend just war theory and his conclusion is that sometimes you have to protect your citizens by doing whatever it takes. If he is now sorry that he said that and doesn’t now believe it, then he should express that instead of insulting the intelligence of his listeners.
Getting History Wrong
Another problem is that Barton’s description of the causes of King Philip’s War is incorrect. First, Barton fails to mention that the Indians had entered into agreements with the British long before King Philip’s War (we didn’t have to destroy them to get them to the table). Second, the cause of the conflict related to British intrusions on Indian land and Philip’s perception that three of his warriors had been falsely convicted and executed for murder. Third, the Moravian missionaries were not in New England at the time. Barton says the Indians attacked whites because the Moravians tried to get them to stop torturing their enemies. However, the Moravians did not begin their work in the Americas until the 1730s, over 50 years after King Philip’s War.**  The following description of Moravian work comes from Loskiel’s history of Moravian missions in America, a source used elsewhere by Barton.

The first missionaries from the Church of the Brethren were sent in the year 1732 to St. Thomas, an island in the West Indies under Danish government. Others went in the year following to Greenland, and their labours were crowned by God with success. Not long after, the Brethren had an opportunity of introducing the Gospel to the Indians in North America. For the trustees of Georgia offered to Count Zinzendorf, then warden of the congregations of the Brethren, a tract of land to be cultivated by them which was accepted the Brethren hoping thereby to become acquainted with the Creeks, Chikasaw, and Cherokee Indians. The first company set out from Herrnhut in November 1734, conducted by the Brethren John Toeltschig and Anthony Seyffart attended with the best wishes and prayers of the whole congregation. 

In fact, a review of the book indicates that the Moravians were not in New York or Connecticut until the 1740s. I can’t find any evidence of his story in relationship to King Philip’s War and it clearly can’t be about the Moravians. Thus, Barton’s narrative about the Moravians and the reaction of the Indians is faulty, as is his use of the event as a support for just war theory.
*Actually, it was 1675 when King Philip attacked the settlers. Click the link to read an account which provides a contemporary account of the causes for the war.
** A commenter on the Wallbuilders Facebook page pointed out that the Moravian missionaries were not in New England at the time of King Philip’s War. Sadly typical that Barton’s supporters ignored her.

Baptist Minister Reacts to David Barton's Justification of Indian Destruction

At Crosswalk and Huffington Post, I posted articles this week with comments from Randy Adams, outreach minister with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (Southern Baptist). Adams has outreach responsibilities with Native Americans in OK and has commented before on Bryan Fischer’s views of native people. He reacted similarly to Barton’s statements about the destruction of Indian tribes as being a part of a just war theory.

About Barton’s claims, Adams said, “using just war theory to support the general subjugation of Native people seems outrageous based upon the fact that Europeans were occupying a land already occupied, at least in part, and that by a people of vastly different culture and religion.” Furthermore, Adams considers Barton’s account to be harmful, adding, “Does it help Native Americans feel better about things? No. Does it help other Americans feel justified in some way? No. This kind of generalization is careless and too easy to disprove, in part if not in whole, to be of any good.”

This week, I have spoken to other native Americans who did not want to comment on the record, but believe Barton’s comments are outrageous. One minister with an outreach to native peoples told me such views are a barrier to his work. This is an instance where one’s approach to history matters in the here and now.

The American Family Association should apologize to Native Americans

Crosswalk and the Christian Post published this article last week but I want to put it up here too. The American Family Association refuses to comment officially on the supremacist views of Bryan Fischer but I believe they should. In this article, I quote some evangelical leaders who comment on Fischer’s views. Here is a powerful one:

Fischer’s revision of history is offensive to Rev. Falls. Referring to Fischer’s articles, Falls asserts, “This kind of stereotyping has traditionally been used to de-humanize people so they can be treated differently. I believe Native Americans are no different than any other people created in the image of God.”

Read on…
Should evangelicals apologize to Native Americans?

Yes, we should.
It is past time for evangelicals to express remorse and regret to Native Americans for the mistreatment they experienced at the hands of Christians throughout the history of the nation. Although President Obama signed a resolution of apology in 2009 on behalf of the nation, evangelical groups should also follow suit.
It is a sad fact of American history that Christianity, at times, conspired with the government to colonize and nearly eradicate a proud and free people. Sadly, in the present, those wounds have been reopened by a representative of that same belief system, in effect, blaming the native people for their demise. In February, Bryan Fischer, Issues Analyst for the American Family Association wrote on the AFA website that Native Americans were “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil” because of “superstition, savagery and sexual immorality.”
Fischer followed up by suggesting that Americans should be proud of the “displacement of native American tribes.” Finally, he wrote that if the native people had converted to Christianity, like Pocahontas did, then “their assimilation into what became America could have been seamless and bloodless.”
Such assertions are offensive to Native American Christians. One such leader, Rev. Emerson Falls, counters Fischer, telling me that some Indian tribes, such as the Cherokee, assimilated into white Christian ways only to be displaced by federal policy at gunpoint and marched from the deep South to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears (1838-1839). Falls added, “It was only after their forced removal on the Trail of Tears that they began to question the validity of Christianity.” 
Ironically, Fischer’s assertions about Native Americans come at a time when some Christian groups are attempting to address wounds, never fully healed, among Native Americans.  
The first weekend of March, Southern Baptists hosted a conference in Oklahoma called “The Gathering” where Native American Christians reflected on reasons why their peers are not more receptive to Christianity. Randy Adams, Church Outreach Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, described barriers past generations of Christians created for native people. “At times, mission agencies were complicit with the government mistreatment of native Americans,” referring to government removal of native people from their home lands.
Furthermore, Christians conspired with the government to Americanize native people in the name of religion. Rev. Falls, first Native American president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, explains: “The church partnered with the government to run boarding schools that took Native children out of their homes, cut their hair, changed their clothes, and denied them the right to speak in the own language. This led to an attitude that equates Christianity with cultural genocide, an attitude still prevalent today.”
Both Adams and Falls said that recent months have brought a resurgence of interest in Christianity among native people. Fischer’s views, they said, coming as a representative of the religious right, could be a significant barrier to this movement.
“Fischer has a simplistic and convoluted view of history. Native Americans were deceived and lied to. To suggest that such treatment was noble or praiseworthy is just wrong and destructive,” Adams said.
Adams said that the pain of this history is never far from the native Christians he knows, saying, “What they suffered and what they lost, it is still a part of who they are.”
There are numerous instances of deceit and trickery being used to take native lands, but perhaps the prime illustration is the policy of forced removal begun under Andrew Jackson and continued during the term of Martin Van Buren. White settlers wanted the tribal lands and pushed the Jackson administration to remove native people. Beginning with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the United States engaged in a systematic displacement of the inhabitants from their lands.
The effort culminated in the brutal Trail of Tears which led to the deaths of approximately 4000 Cherokee as they were marched from several Southern states to what is now Oklahoma. Families were uprooted with little more than the clothes they were wearing and forced to travel through harsh conditions to a place they had never seen.
Fischer’s revision of history is offensive to Rev. Falls. Referring to Fischer’s articles, Falls asserts, “This kind of stereotyping has traditionally been used to de-humanize people so they can be treated differently. I believe Native Americans are no different than any other people created in the image of God.”
Rev. Falls is right. Stereotyping is often used to justify differential treatment. Christians should have no part in the illusion that Native Americans deserved their fate. It is time for Christians to reject historical revisionism, remove barriers and build bridges. Furthermore, I call on the AFA to correct the false information they have promoted and express regret for the pain they have caused.
If you want to express your agreement with the US apology to Native Americans, go to this Facebook page and hit the Like button.

Native American Apology Resolution 2009 – Full text

Early in February, Bryan Fischer, Issues Analyst and talk show host for the American Family Association, wrote that Native Americans deserved the treatment they received from European settlers and the United States because they failed to convert to Christianity. Someone at the AFA decided to pull that article after the predictable outrage. However, he then penned an article saying that the conversation about the US treatment of native people was important because the integrity of the nation was at stake:

If, however, there is a moral and ethical basis for our displacement of native American tribes, and if our westward expansion and settlement are in fact consistent with the laws of nature, nature’s God, and the law of nations, then Americans have much to be proud of.

Fischer closed his article by chastising those who challenged him, saying:

So this is a conversation that needs to take place. But based on the reaction to my column of Tuesday, America is not mature enough right now for that robust dialogue to occur. Until it is…

 Although not front page news, the conversation has been taking place and was elevated to national policy with the passage of the Native American Apology Resolution in 2009. Proposed by social conservative Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), now Governor of Kansas, in 2004, the resolution was passed in 2009 and signed by President Obama later that year. Here I reproduce the resolution in full. If one of the most conservative politicians in the nation can see the need for such an apology, shouldn’t the American Family Association follow his lead?

Native American Apology Resolution


1st Session

S. J. RES. 14

To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.


April 30, 2009

Mr. BROWNBACK (for himself, Mr. INOUYE, Mr. BAUCUS, Mrs. BOXER, Mr. CRAPO, Ms. CANTWELL, Mr. COBURN, Mr. HARKIN, Mr. LIEBERMAN, and Mr. TESTER) introduced the following joint resolution; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs


To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.

Whereas the ancestors of today’s Native Peoples inhabited the land of the present-day United States since time immemorial and for thousands of years before the arrival of people of European descent;

Whereas for millennia, Native Peoples have honored, protected, and stewarded this land we cherish;

Whereas Native Peoples are spiritual people with a deep and abiding belief in the Creator, and for millennia Native Peoples have maintained a powerful spiritual connection to this land, as evidenced by their customs and legends;

Whereas the arrival of Europeans in North America opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples;

Whereas while establishment of permanent European settlements in North America did stir conflict with nearby Indian tribes, peaceful and mutually beneficial interactions also took place;

Whereas the foundational English settlements in Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, owed their survival in large measure to the compassion and aid of Native Peoples in the vicinities of the settlements;

Whereas in the infancy of the United States, the founders of the Republic expressed their desire for a just relationship with the Indian tribes, as evidenced by the Northwest Ordinance enacted by Congress in 1787, which begins with the phrase, `The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians’;

Whereas Indian tribes provided great assistance to the fledgling Republic as it strengthened and grew, including invaluable help to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic journey from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast;

Whereas Native Peoples and non-Native settlers engaged in numerous armed conflicts in which unfortunately, both took innocent lives, including those of women and children;

Whereas the Federal Government violated many of the treaties ratified by Congress and other diplomatic agreements with Indian tribes;

Whereas the United States forced Indian tribes and their citizens to move away from their traditional homelands and onto federally established and controlled reservations, in accordance with such Acts as the Act of May 28, 1830 (4 Stat. 411, chapter 148) (commonly known as the `Indian Removal Act’);

Whereas many Native Peoples suffered and perished–

(1) during the execution of the official Federal Government policy of forced removal, including the infamous Trail of Tears and Long Walk;

(2) during bloody armed confrontations and massacres, such as the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890; and

(3) on numerous Indian reservations;

Whereas the Federal Government condemned the traditions, beliefs, and customs of Native Peoples and endeavored to assimilate them by such policies as the redistribution of land under the Act of February 8, 1887 (25 U.S.C. 331; 24 Stat. 388, chapter 119) (commonly known as the `General Allotment Act’), and the forcible removal of Native children from their families to faraway boarding schools where their Native practices and languages were degraded and forbidden;

Whereas officials of the Federal Government and private United States citizens harmed Native Peoples by the unlawful acquisition of recognized tribal land and the theft of tribal resources and assets from recognized tribal land;

Whereas the policies of the Federal Government toward Indian tribes and the breaking of covenants with Indian tribes have contributed to the severe social ills and economic troubles in many Native communities today;

Whereas despite the wrongs committed against Native Peoples by the United States, Native Peoples have remained committed to the protection of this great land, as evidenced by the fact that, on a per capita basis, more Native Peoples have served in the United States Armed Forces and placed themselves in harm’s way in defense of the United States in every major military conflict than any other ethnic group;

Whereas Indian tribes have actively influenced the public life of the United States by continued cooperation with Congress and the Department of the Interior, through the involvement of Native individuals in official Federal Government positions, and by leadership of their own sovereign Indian tribes;

Whereas Indian tribes are resilient and determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their unique cultural identities;

Whereas the National Museum of the American Indian was established within the Smithsonian Institution as a living memorial to Native Peoples and their traditions; and

Whereas Native Peoples are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress–

(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;

(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;

(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;

(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;

(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and

(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.

(b) Disclaimer- Nothing in this Joint Resolution–

(1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

In my view, the silence from the AFA makes them culpable for the views of Bryan Fischer. Removing the article with the explanation given by Fischer was no acknowledgement of the offense. Fischer then followed his first column with one suggesting that if only native people had followed Pocahontas example, they would not have suffered the genocidal policies of the US government. Until the AFA addresses these issues, they have lost any moral authority they may have had.