David Barton Promotes Debunked Jefferson Claims

One might think David Barton would reconsider some of his claims in light of his problems with his book on Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies.  The book was voted “least credible history book in print”  by readers of the History News Network, the subject of multiple negative reviews in major publications (e.g., Wall Street Journal), and then pulled from publication by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. Some authors might allow such negative reactions to generate some reflection and moves to correct obvious errors.
Not so with Mr. Barton. On his Wallbuilders website, Barton features links to claims about Jefferson that have been thoroughly debunked. First, Barton is promoting the claim that Jefferson used the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ”  to close his presidential documents. Barton has a partial image of a sea letter and says the reference to Christ “is the explicitly Christian language that President Thomas Jefferson chose to use in official public presidential documents.”
The problem is that Jefferson did not choose to construct the form of the sea letters he signed. As Jefferson once said, “sea-letters are the creatures of treaties.” The treaties with Holland and other European countries specified the exact language to be used in the sea letter. If Barton knows this, he ignores it to make his claim about Jefferson and his signatures. To date, Barton has produced no other Jefferson document with a closing using the word Christ. For more on this claim, see this post.
The second claim demonstrates where Barton derived some of the material for The Jefferson Lies.  In a 2009 article co-authored with Mark Beliles, Barton claims that Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to be a “trans-denominational” college. Barton constructs a narrative which does violence to the chronology of events leading up to the opening of Virginia’s public university. Barton makes much of the fact that the UVA Board of Visitors offered to allow denominations to form theological schools in the vicinity of UVA but he fails to mention that UVA and theological schools created would be independent of each other.
In a letter dated November 2, 1822, Jefferson described the plan to Thomas Cooper.

In our university you know there is no Professorship of Divinity. A handle has been made of this, to disseminate an idea that this is an institution, not merely of no religion, but against all religion. Occasion was taken at the last meeting of the Visitors, to bring forward an idea that might silence this calumny, which weighed on the minds of some honest friends to the institution. In our annual report to the legislature, after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets, on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there, and have the free use of our library, and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences. I think the invitation will be accepted, by some sects from candid intentions, and by others from jealousy and rivalship. And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality.[i]

Note the order of events. The decision was made to have no professor of divinity, then observers criticized the decision, and then the idea for allowing denominations to establish schools, independent of UVA, was hatched.  Barton’s article makes it seem as though the decision to have no divinity professors was a result of the plan to make UVA “trans-denominational.” In fact, Jefferson was prodded into accepting the idea of religious schools in order to preserve support and funding. Even with this accommodation, no denominations took advantage of the offer and no theological schools were established there.
Barton also says the reason chaplains were not appointed in the beginning few years of the university was to solidify the reputation of UVA as a trans-denominational school. This is Barton’s invented reason. Although Jefferson did not want to prevent religious worship, he had nothing to do with the eventual policies regarding chaplains. There is nothing in his correspondence or reports which cite any of the reasons Barton gives. Madison, also on the  board of visitors, said he hoped that students and parents would take care of religious worship. Note also, that the school did not have a chapel until the late 1800s. Building a college with no chapel seems like an odd way to begin a trans-denominational school.
We cover this and other claims about UVA in Getting Jefferson Right.

[i] The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10:242.

Response to World's Coverage of the David Barton Controversy

I am getting good feedback on the excerpt of Getting Jefferson Right at World Magazine. There are many questions that are floating around among evangelicals about this matter and for good reason. Michael Coulter and I are now working on a response to Mr. Barton’s rebuttal to GJR. For now, I posted a comment at World on both articles. Here it is:
“I want to thank World for hosting this exchange of views. Michael Coulter and I have read Mr. Barton’s rebuttal and plan a response to it which World has agreed to publish. Mr. Barton’s response sounds convincing, especially when one has not read our book, but there are numerous concerns which we will address. For instance, it is unfortunate that Mr. Barton does not address completely his or our position on Jefferson and slavery. In The Jefferson Lies (pg. 92), Mr. Barton omitted the section of the 1782 law on manumission which allowed owners to emancipate their slaves while the owners were alive. He simply omitted it from his presentation of the 1782 law leaving the impression that owners could only free their slaves via a will at death. We have asked Mr. Barton why he chose to omit that section with no reply.
Regarding our position in Getting Jefferson Right, we do not claim that Jefferson could have freed his many slaves at any time during his life. We identify a 24 year window (1782-1806) when Virginia law was relaxed and allowed for emancipation of slaves by owners. We acknowledge that freeing slaves was more difficult (although still possible) after 1806. Please note that Jefferson did not make his statement about the laws not allowing emancipation until 1814. Furthermore, Mr. Barton, in this current World article, acknowledges that security bonding was required only for “certain emancipated slaves” (page 3). This is an important clarification, but it is not news to us; we document these requirements in our book.  Adult slaves under age 45 and older than 18 (women) or 21 (men) could be freed with a deed of manumission without financial guarantee from the master. Jefferson owned many such human beings.
In our book, we do not say that Jefferson could have freed all of his slaves, but we document that he could have done more to put into practice the words, “all men are created equal” than he did.
There are other instances of the kind I have described and we will address them in our response.”

Point/Counterpoint with David Barton at World Magazine

This morning, World Magazine is featuring an excerpt of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President along with a lengthy rebuttal from David Barton.  Our section is here and Barton’s article is here.
I have not read Barton’s response yet. I wanted to get the links up in order for readers to have some time to wade through the material.  I suspect some of what Barton has to say will be the subject of separate posts. We will have an opportunity from World to post a rebuttal to Barton in a couple of weeks.
So I invite you to comment at the World site and here.
UPDATE: I have read through Barton’s commentary. Although it may take a month, Michael and I will write a response to it for World.  It is hard to know where to start when there is so much to address.
Do I start with Barton’s claim that he welcomes appraisal of his work? Barton did not seem welcoming when he called Michael and me academic elitists and allowed without comment his Wallbuilder’s staffer Rick Green to say that his critics were using tactics of Hitler and Alinsky.  All that nastiness aside, his tone has improved for this rebuttal.
One of the clearest impressions I have after the first read is how Barton simplified our critique on most of the points. For instance, on the slavery question, we never said Jefferson could free his slaves at any time during his life with ease. We said there was a window from 1782-1806 when the laws had been relaxed to allow voluntary manumission of slaves. Jefferson indeed did free two slaves during that period. In that section, Barton gives a lot of dates for other slave laws but he gives no quotes from them.  Also, he cites examples (e.g., Coles leaving the state to free his slaves) that were outside of the window we identified. Throughout that section, Barton does not provide dates to place the requirements within context.
More to come…

Bradlee Dean says distorting history is a lie and lying is against the law. Can I make a citizen's arrest?

In his WorldNetDaily column today, Bradlee Dean says:

Friends, distorting American history is a deliberate lie, and lying is not permissible by law.

Dean enters David Barton’s world to make several claims about Thomas Jefferson that we cover in our book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.  I’ll note them briefly with links to the correct information.
First, Dean says that Jefferson worked for religious freedom under the umbrella of Christianity. Jefferson worked for religious freedom and he did want the VA law for religious freedom listed as an accomplishment on his tombstone. However, Jefferson said that VA law covered non-Christian religions as well.
Dean said Jefferson help found the Virginia Bible Society and was a “substantial financial contributor.” In fact, Jefferson did not help found the organization.  He once gave $50 to the group with the proviso that they not extend the work of the society to foreign nations.  Fifty dollars was not an insignificant sum but it was a tiny fraction of Jefferson’s expenditures for fine wine and imported china.
Dean said Jefferson had a “had a long history of working with missionaries,” especially those evangelizing Native Americans with Christianity. We deal with this myth extensively in our book. In at least two letters, Jefferson said mission work was the last thing one should do to advance the Indians.  Furthermore, he advocated a plan to get native people into debt so that they would be willing to sell off their lands cheaply as payment. At times, Jefferson used missionary societies to collect samples of Indian languages. However, a leader of one of those mission societies was William Linn who became a staunch opponent of Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. Linn said in an influential pamphlet written to oppose Jefferson:

…my objection to his being promoted to the Presidency is founded singly upon his disbelief of the Holy Scriptures, or in other words, his rejection of the Christian religion and open professions of Deism.

While Jefferson was not an atheist, he did not work to convert Indians to orthodox Christianity.
Dean says the Jefferson Bible was constructed to evangelize Indians, was then given to members of Congress and contains miracles of healing.  Dean seems unaware that Jefferson edited the gospels twice.  The 1804 version has been lost and so it could not have been given to members of Congress. The post-1820 version was found long after Jefferson’s death and copies were given to incoming members of Congress from 1904 through 1957.
Dean takes a page from Barton’s mistakes by claiming that the Jefferson Bible contained healing miracles. As I point out here, here and here, this is not true. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton failed to check his sources which turned out to be incorrect. A comparison to Jefferson’s list of verses to be included, along with what he actually included, reveals that Jefferson did include passages about the afterlife but excluded parts of the gospels that make Jesus appear to be divine, including His miracles.
After distorting history, Dean then writes:

Friends, distorting American history is a deliberate lie, and lying is not permissible by law.

Who wants to make a citizen’s arrest?

Dizzy Up the Book: Amazon Switches Jefferson Lies Publisher Again

Even though neither Wallbuilder Press nor Thomas Nelson are currently publishing The Jefferson Lies, Amazon.com has switched the publisher from Wallbuilder Press to Thomas Nelson again on their page for David Barton’s book.
Yesterday, I pointed out that Amazon had switched the publisher designation to Wallbuilder Press. Today, it is back to Thomas Nelson.


I acknowledge that the situation with this book makes it difficult to assign a publisher but something should better than what is up there now or was there yesterday.


Perhaps this is a Fringe event in honor of the next to last show tonight. Maybe Wallbuilder Press publishes the book in one universe and Thomas Nelson in the other. The universes are coming together at a weak point in space-time — The Jefferson Lies Amazon page — resulting in alternating publishers.