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

On Friday, we posted part one of our response to David Barton’s appearance on the Glenn Beck Show (8/16/12).  On that show, Barton defended his claim that Virginia law did not allow Thomas Jefferson to emancipate his slaves. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton does not cite the part of the 1782 Virginia law that allowed slave owners to emancipate their slaves. In his book, Barton does not mention that owners were allowed to free their slaves during the life of the owner and gives no explanation for why he omitted that portion. During his appearance on the Glenn Beck Show, he mentioned the section of the law that allowed manumissions, but gave no explanation about why he failed to include it in his book.

On the Beck show, Barton said Virginia law required slave owners to provide a security bond for emancipated slaves. Since Jefferson was often in debt, he was unable to provide these funds for his slaves.  Part of the problem in getting clarity has been Barton’s presentation of the evidence in The Jefferson Lies.  He says on page 94 that “Jefferson was unable to free his slaves under the requirements of state law…” Actually, Jefferson was able to free his slaves after 1782 in accord with the provisions of the law on manumission. Barton is now arguing that Jefferson’s inability was financial and not legal.

On the Beck show, Beck made an analogy to small business owners in the present. He said that one is allowed to start a business but the government regulations make it so difficult that it is practically impossible. To accept that analogy as relevant, one must find evidence that Virginia government regulations prevented manumissions. To be sure, during the years between 1782-1806, there were government regulations (writing a deed, and a small clerk’s fee for filing the deed), but they were not so onerous that manumission was impossible, as is demonstrated by the many private manumissions and the large one of over 450 slaves initiated by Robert Carter.  And most important for Barton’s financial argument, we can find no evidence, nor has Barton presented any, that security bonds were required for slaves who were in the proper age range and of sound mind and body. As we demonstrate below, the evidence Barton presents does not relate to Virginia.

The one citation in The Jefferson Lies on the subject of security bonds is on page 92, where Barton writes:

Subsequent laws imposed even harsher restrictions, mandating that a slave could not be freed unless the owner guaranteed a full security bond for the education, livelihood, and support of the freed slave.

The footnote at the end of that sentence is to an 1857 book by W.O. Blake titled, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern. Barton cites page 386 as his source for this information. Below is the entire page 386 from that book. Instead of a reference to Virginia law, this page completes a discussion of the fate of children born of black and white parents and begins one on emancipation in Massachusetts.

Laws were even found necessary in some of those colonies to limit what was esteemed a superfluity of parental tenderness. In the Anglo American colonies, colored children were hardly less numerous. But conventional decorum more potent than law forbade any recognition by the father. They followed the condition of the mother. They were born and they remained slaves. European blood was thus constantly transferred into servile veins and hence among the slaves sold and bought to day in our American markets may be found the descendants of men distinguished in colonial and national annals. –Hildreth’s History United States

In Massachusetts, a controversy arose as to the justice and legality of negro slavery which was conducted by able writers. It began about 1766 and was continued until 1773, when the subject was very warmly agitated. In 1767 and afterwards, attempts were made in the legislature to restrict the further importation of slaves. It was even questioned whether under the laws of Massachusetts any person could be held as a slave. This point was carried before the superior court in a suit by a negro to recover wages from his alleged master. The negroes collected money among themselves to carry on the suit and it terminated favorably. Other suits were instituted between that time and the revolution and the juries invariably gave their verdict in favor of freedom. The pleas on the part of the masters were that the negroes were purchased in open market and bills of sale were produced in evidence that the laws of the province recognized slavery as existing in it by declaring that no person should manumit his slave without giving bond for his maintenance &c. On the part of the blacks it was pleaded that the royal charter expressly declared all persons born or residing in the province to be as free as the king’s subjects in Great Britain that by the law of England no subject could be deprived of his liberty but by the judgment of his peers that the laws of the province respecting an evil and attempting to mitigate or regulate it did not authorize it and on some occasions the plea was that though the slavery of the parents were admitted yet no disability of that kind could descend to the children. The view taken by the Massachusetts juries was sanctioned about the same time in England by a solemn decision of the court of king’s bench in the celebrated case of James Somersett mentioned in a former chapter. Being brought before Lord Mansfield on a writ of habeas corpus his case was referred to the full court. After the argument Lord Mansfield said In five or six cases of this nature I have known it accommodated by agreement between the parties On its first coming before me I strongly recommended it here But if the parties will have it decided we must give our opinion Compassion will not on the one hand nor inconvenience on the other be to decide but the law The question now is whether any dominion authority or coercion can be exercised in this country on a slave according to the American laws The difficulty of adopting the relation without adopting it in all…

A review of the pages (click the link to go to the book) before and after page 386 finds no mention of requirements for security bonds in Virginia. If you read on to page 389 of that book, you will read:

The Virginia Assembly, on the motion of Jefferson, prohibited in 1778 the further introduction of slaves. In 1782, the old colonial statute was repealed which forbade emancipations except for meritorious services to be adjudged by the governor and council. This repeal remained in force for ten years during which period private emancipations were very numerous. But for the subsequent reenactment of the old restrictions the free colored population of Virginia might now have exceeded the slaves. Maryland followed the footsteps of Virginia both in prohibiting the further introduction of slaves and in removing the restraints on emancipation.

Note that private manumissions were numerous according to this source used by Barton. Actually, the significant restrictions were not added until 1806.  There is nothing mentioned here about a security bond.

In part three, we will address the remaining claims about slavery.

Here again is the Glenn Beck segment on slavery:

For additional parts of this series see:

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 One

By Michael Coulter & Warren Throckmorton

On Thursday August 16, Glenn Beck had David Barton on to “clear the air” about The Jefferson Lies. Our impression is that Mr. Beck is a very loyal friend and his loyalty is preventing him from objectively considering the evidence. A more objective approach would be to have had someone else on the show to counter Barton’s claims.  That did not happen even though there was some discussion of evidence.

In any case, there are several clips of the broadcast posted on The Blaze website. During the broadcast, Beck said he would never promote another Thomas Nelson product. Given that statement and others, we think Thomas Nelson should come out with details about their rationale for pulling the book. Since we have not spoken with Thomas Nelson about Barton’s book, we don’t know what their specific problems with the book were.

The first clip to which we want to respond is the one on slavery and Jefferson. Barton provided more detail about this claim than in his book so we want to respond to what he said last night.  Roll the tape:

Barton said we were wrong (he kept referring to me while ignoring Michael Coulter, a political science professor) because we only refer to the 1782 law in our book. Actually, in our book, we discuss the laws passed in 1782, 1806 and 1816. Barton explained to Beck:

I say you could free your slaves at death like George Washington, and I say because of the laws, you couldn’t free your slaves.

Barton acknowledged that he left out the section which allowed slave owners to free their slaves during life, but gave no explanation why he did so. He then pivoted to say:

The point I make throughout the whole chapter is that there’s a whole bunch of laws Jefferson had to deal with.

Barton says our whole rebuttal is based on that 1782 law. At the point Beck takes a swipe a me because I am a psychology professor, completely ignoring my co-author Dr. Coulter. It continues to amaze me that Barton supporters use that defense since Barton is not a professor of history.

Barton then said we don’t take into account other laws in Virginia relating to slavery which he said prevented Jefferson from freeing slaves. On the program, Barton listed laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798, and 1802 as relevant to emancipation. In The Jefferson Lies, when he takes up the issue of Jefferson and slave owning (pages 91-94), Barton refers to laws dated 1692, 1723, 1782, and 1806. He only quotes part of the 1782 law (leaving out the part of freeing slaves by deed) and then says that the 1806 law changed the conditions for emancipated slaves.  Barton is correct to say that the burdens on both master and slave were added to make emancipation a more difficult proposition after 1806. However, between 1782 and 1806, slave owners did, in fact, free slaves. Jefferson freed two slaves and he could have freed more.

The main change in the 1806 law was that emancipated slaves had to leave Virginia within a year of being emancipated.  Regarding, that change in Virginia law, Barton cites Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello (footnote 25 on Page 92). On the page that Barton cites, Malone only states that the 1806 law required that emancipated slaves leave the state.  Malone never indicates that the 1806 law created an “almost impossible economic burden.”(The Jefferson Lies, 92)

On the Beck show, Barton then referenced various other slave laws passed between 1778 and 1802. There is another law (1785) that he didn’t mention as well. We will take up this list in part two of this series. However, as far as we can tell, none of these laws encumbered owners in ways that prevented owners from freeing able bodied slaves. Some related to treatment of slaves and others related to rights of slaves to petition for their own freedom.

We did not say Jefferson could have easily freed all of his slaves. We agree that there were some financial considerations involved for some slaves.  In keeping with provisions with the 1782 law, slaves which were judged not to be of sound mind or were infirm or above age 45 or below the age of 18 for women and 21 for men required the guarantee of the master for their care. However, there were many slaves owned by Jefferson which were of sound mind, and between these ages which could have been emancipated. None of those slaves would have needed a pledge of support from Jefferson.  Since Jefferson could have freed some additional slaves between 1782 and 1806 and did not, then Barton’s description of Jefferson as “a bold, staunch, and consistent advocate and defender of emancipation and civil rights” can reasonably be questioned (The Jefferson Lies, 113).

On the Beck show, Barton then brings up the 1814 letter to Edward Coles where Jefferson said “the laws do not allow us to free them [slaves].

Here is the pertinent section of the 1814 letter to Edward Coles:

It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man. But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. That, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the missionary of this doctrine truly christian; insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily, through the medium of writing and conversation; associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment.

Coles wanted Jefferson to be more involved in efforts to end slavery and informed him that he wanted to leave the state to free his slaves. It is important to note that Jefferson advised against this abolitionist move. Jefferson urged him to stay and maintain the status quo all the while “softly and steadily” work for emancipation.

In this letter, Jefferson claimed the law did not allow owners to “turn them [slaves] loose.” This was technically incorrect even in 1814, as emancipation was still an option for owners. However, as we say in our book, the situation became much more difficult in the practical sense after 1806. Jefferson’s complaint about the law at that time was more of a practical restriction than legal one. However, between 1782 and 1806, Jefferson, like Robert Carter and other Virginia slave owners, was legally able to emancipate a good number of his slaves. In fact, as we point out, but have never heard Barton address, Jefferson did free two slaves, one in 1794 and the other in 1796. Barton’s reference to the 1814 letter to Coles is not relevant to the legal situation between 1782 and 1806.

Barton and Beck discuss Jefferson’s financial situation as a barrier to emancipation.  We agree that financial considerations were relevant to Jefferson since he considered slaves to be his property. However, this is a different set of factors than the legal ability to emancipate his slaves. Barton inappropriately cites Jefferson’s 1814 statement as covering the years between 1782 and 1806. The law allowed emancipation during that period for slaves, as  we noted above.

In our view, Barton does not consider the economic issues from all angles. Slaves were costly to keep (even for the slaves which required security, emancipation might be cheaper since he had to provide for them anyway) and owners had to pay taxes on them. In some cases, it might have been more economical to emancipate slaves rather than pay taxes on them and for their care. Furthermore, Jefferson bought and sold slaves as well as leased them from other slave owners. Important considerations relating to Jefferson’s financial situation were his continual building at Monticello and his acquisitions of finery from Europe.  A fuller treatment of Jefferson’s finances would be necessary to discuss his actions toward his property (slaves) but one cannot say he was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law, especially during the period between 1782 and 1806.

Correcting Scott Lively’s Conspiracy Theory

On the Bryan Fischer Show Tuesday, and then yesterday via Twitter, David Barton spoke favorably of Scott Lively’s article defending Barton, posted earlier this week. The chief aim of the article is to link my criticisms of Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika with our fact checking of claims made by David Barton about Thomas Jefferson in The Jefferson Lies.

The mention of Lively comes at about 5 minutes into the clip I posted on Monday. Then today, Barton tweeted the article to his followers. As regular readers of this blog know, Lively promotes criminalization of homosexuality and has done so in nations around the world. He most associated with the efforts in Uganda to maintain laws against homosexuality there.

In the summer of 2009, I looked into his book The Pink Swastika. Lively claims that the Holocaust was animated by gay Nazis. Although I trust my way around books of history, I also like to get advice from historians. For that reason, I asked then GCC colleague and historian J.D. Wyneken to look at the Pink Swastika and tell me what he thought about it.  Wyneken delivered a stunning blow to The Pink Swastika in a two-part post on my blog (read them here: one, two). You can read the rest of the series with my posts included here.

There are many problems with Lively’s current analysis. The most important is that he is wrong on his assumptions. Michael Coulter and I wrote Getting Jefferson Right because we believed it is important for Christians to discuss issues of church, state and liberty from a foundation of fact within proper context. We are both interested in the topic and wanted to do it.

Another problem which is what I want to correct now is Lively’s revision of recent history and the false picture he paints regarding my colleague and friend J. D. Wyneken. In his conspiracy theory piece, Lively says:

He [Throckmorton] even corralled a newly-arrived faculty member at Grove City to write a criticism of my book The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. I called the man who wrote the critique, intending to challenge him to a debate. He told me that he had been very uncomfortable with Throckmorton’s request and didn’t intend to repeat the collaboration.

Yesterday, I talked to J.D. Wyneken who disputed Lively’s account. Lively may have called but according to Wyneken, they never spoke on the phone. Lively emailed and, according to Wyneken, wanted to drive a wedge between us. Wyneken never said he was uncomfortable with my request to look at Lively’s book, but rather was glad to provide a reaction to it. Wyneken planned no additional posts since his interest in the matter was complete, not because he had second thoughts about what he said about The Pink Swastika. There was and is no problem with Wyneken. That was a figment of Lively’s imagination.

So now we have David Barton distributing an article which traffics in assumptions and false statements about me and my friends. Rather than paint me as a bogeyman, wouldn’t it be more respectable to just address the issues which have been raised by no fewer than 15 conservative Christian scholars?


Institute for Religion and Democracy Laments David Barton’s “Unfortunate, Unnecessary Exaggerations”

In a column posted yesterday on Patheos and then today on the website of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, IRD President Mark Tooley laments David Barton’s “unfortunate, unnecessary exaggerations.”

In this measured piece, Tooley runs through some of the usual suspects – Barton’s exaggerations of Jefferson’s involvement in the church at the Capitol, his misstep on Jefferson and slavery and Jefferson’s heterodox religious faith.  I take Tooley’s point to be that these and other embellishments and exaggerations are unnecessary to make the points Barton would like to make.  Furthermore, Christian theology would not expect perfect consistency from mortals.

While this analysis is brief and treads on these topics more gingerly than I have, I think it is significant that the IRD posted this on their website. Barton still today is casting his critics as liberals who are threatened by The Jefferson Lies.  However, with critiques from no fewer than 15 conservative Christian scholars (including John Fea – Messiah College, Jay Richards – Discovery Institute and Chuck Dunn – Regent University) and now these concerns from the conservative IRD, it is just impossible to make that charge stick.



What can be learned from the David Barton controversy

John Fea posted a must-read article on Patheos this morning about what can be learned from the debacle over The Jefferson Lies. He brings together many threads and items of relevance to the entire controversy. I hope those who still think criticisms of Barton’s history are only coming from Alinsky-inspired liberals will read this piece.

The truth is out there. The effort to paint us all as academic elitists and liberals is just a way to try to change the subject.

Go read Fea’s post; it is very well done and on target.

David Barton Attacks; Tells Me How to Do Psychology

Of late, David Barton and his staffer Rick Green have savaged me due to their perception that his book, The Jefferson Lies, was pulled by Thomas Nelson publishers because of our book Getting Jefferson Right. Green linked the professors who reviewed his book with the tactics of Hitler and Alinsky and now Barton is attacking me over my academic position on reparative therapy. Roll the tape:

So let me get this right. Barton says I have no basis to critique his claims about Jefferson because I am not trained as a historian. However, he can make moral judgments about me because of my position on a psychology related matter.

I know some will be taken in by this. I expect that. Barton says he is going to release rebuttals to our work bit by bit. Well, believe it or not, I welcome that. He made light of our work on his claim that Jefferson chose to include “in the year of our Lord Christ” in presidential documents. While he acknowledged that the form was pre-printed, he did not deal with the fact that the language was not chosen by Jefferson. And because the language was required by the treaty with Holland (as well as other treaties), the Congress could not simply change it.

However, I will say what I have said all along: If Mr. Barton has evidence to counter any of my posts, or aspects of the book, we would like to see it. Contrary to the conspiracy theories which animated Barton and Fischer today, we wrote this book because the evidence we examined did not support the claims. If we are wrong, we will say so.

New Getting Jefferson Right Endorsement: Charles Dunn

Former Dean and current Distinguished Professor of Government in the Robertson School of Government at Regent University, Charles Dunn, sent along an endorsement of Getting Jefferson Right. Dunn’s endorsement:

“‘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.”

-Charles Dunn, Distinguished Professor of Government & Former Dean Robertson School 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.

David Barton and Rick Green want to convince their audience that liberal elitists are behind the concerns over The Jefferson Lies. Rick Green said elitist professors are using the tactics of Hitler and Alinsky to attack Barton.  Chuck Dunn can in no way be accused of being a leftist.

For more endorsements, go to the Getting Jefferson Right website.

Media on David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies

The UK Guardian covered the removal of Barton’s book today.

Glenn Beck’s news site The Blaze reported on the removal of the book and carried a Barton v. Throckmorton section to be completed tomorrow.

Here is a link to several more stories on the Barton controversy over The Jefferson Lies going back to last week.