Jefferson and the Bible: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Four

During his appearance on the 8/16/12 Glenn Beck show, David Barton addressed two of our critiques of his chapter on Jefferson and the Bible. The first related to verses included in the Jefferson Bible and the second related to Barton’s treatment of the 1798 Thompson Hot-Pressed Bible.

We’ll take the second item first. Barton contends that his depiction of Jefferson’s relationship to the Thompson Bible is correct. We maintain that he misleads readers in the way he described the situation in The Jefferson Lies. Here is what he said about the Thompson Bible in his book:

Furthermore, in 1798 Jefferson personally helped finance the printing of one of America’s groundbreaking editions of the Bible. That Bible was a massive, two-volume folio set that was not only the largest Bible ever published in America to that time, but it was also America’s first hot-pressed Bible. President John Adams, several signers of the Constitution and Declaration, and other major Founders joined with Jefferson to help fund that Bible.

In Kirk Cameron’s movie Monumental, Barton said this:

This Bible was funded by about a dozen signers of the Constitution and signers of the Declaration as well as by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. They’re the guys that put up the financial backing to do this Bible.

Barton added:

When you see this stuff, you go wait a minute. These guys…why would any atheist, agnostic, or deist promote the Word of God, fund it and want it distributed to every family and everyone in America?

He then declares that such actions only make sense if those doing the funding (the Signers) were Christians.

To our eyes and ears, these descriptions taken together sound like Jefferson and a small group of founders went together to financially back the printing of a Bible for some evangelistic purpose.

On the Glenn Beck show, Barton acknowledges that Jefferson was merely a subscriber to receive a copy of this Bible but makes a point to define a subscriber as an investor. Barton defines subscription for Beck and they agree that Jefferson’s subscription to the Bible was analogous to the website Kickstarter, which is a means to fund start up projects.  Watch (between 7:24-11:00):

A very significant problem with this response is that Barton did not say in his book or Monumental that Jefferson subscribed to receive one copy of the Bible. Barton cited the subscriber’s list in a footnote but did not provide an image of the list or describe it any further. He is only now talking about subscription because we provided the details about the Thompson Bible in our book. Barton’s fall back position seems to be that he is technically correct because subscriber really meant investor.

Even in his description of subscription on the Beck show, he does not get the circumstances of the Thompson Hot-Pressed Bible correct. Barton told Beck that the printers “wouldn’t print the book if they couldn’t pay for it all up front” (8:28). That is not true in this case. Printers Thompson and Small printed the first section of the Bible before they advertised it in 1796. There is no question that subscription was a means for printers to anticipate the number of items to print but in this case they did not need all the money up front before they began.

What is even more troubling for Barton’s theory is the way Jefferson paid for his copy. The two ledger entries we can find for this Bible came near the end of the project. He paid $5 in February, 1798 and then $10 in January 1799, several months after the Bible was complete. Recall that the first notice of the project was in 1796.

These facts make the Kickstarter analogy a non-starter. With Kickstarter, all funds requested for a project must come in by a date established by the project designer. If they do not come in, all money is refunded and the project is not started. Take this project by a Grove City College student as an example. If all of the money is not raised by September 15th to fund Asleep in a Storm, then the project will not be funded via this approach. All the money donated will be refunded. Also note that those who give more money get more than just a copy of a product. In the case of the subscriber to the Thompson Bible, subscribers spent their money and got their sections of the Bible. If for some reason, the project was not completed, those who spent their money would still have their sections of the Bible. The analogy to Kickstarter simply doesn’t work.

If Barton had made the argument he is now making in his book or in Monumental, we would still disagree that Jefferson did anything more than buy a Bible. However, what is glossed over in this Beck segment is that Barton did not make that argument or present that information. Rather, the narrative presented was misleading and that point still has not been addressed by Beck or Barton.

Next, we deal with Barton’s claims regarding the Jefferson Bible.

Earlier posts in this series:

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part One

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Two

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Three