Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.

I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.

As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century, The Washington Post,  USA Today,  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN,  MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with Michael Coulter

Fact checking David Barton was not my first history rodeo. With the help of then Grove City College history professor J.D. Wyneken, I fact checked anti-gay crusader Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika in June of 2009. Lively made an outrageous case that Hitler’s Nazi project was animated by homosexuals and that the Holocaust was carried out by gay thugs. His opposition to gay rights, he preached, was to keep gays from doing the same things to other nations.

I learned a lot by deeply researching Lively’s claims. I saw how primary sources could be used selectively to distort a narrative and how speculation could be mixed with fact to create a plausible sounding but false picture. This awareness came in handy when, in 2011, I started to look into Barton’s claims about the American founding.

When David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, he solicited moral support from Scott Lively in a Wallbuilders Live broadcast. Lively’s message essentially was: I know how you feel, he did the same thing to me.

It seems right that I fact checked both Lively and Barton. Lively had gone to Uganda with his historical fiction to agitate the Uganda Parliament into crafting law which made homosexuality a capital offense. An interpretation of the Bible was used as a justification. A religious view was used as a basis for civil law. On that issue, one church teaching was about to become the state policy.

Confronted with the reality that evangelical Christians were behind the bill in Uganda, I searched for the influences on them. There were many and we will hear from Jeff Sharlet next week who will help us remember the influence of the Fellowship Foundation. Extending beyond the Fellowship was the notion that civil policy should reflect Christianity because that is the proper basis for law in a Christian nation. Ugandan legislators saw themselves as lawmakers in a Christian nation.

But who in the U.S. was behind the idea that church and state is not separate? All roads led me back to David Barton.  At that point, I started to check out the fact claims that Barton said led him to question church-state separation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Part of that history involved writing the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Check Claim about Our Third President My co-author on that project is Michael Coulter. Michael is a professor of political science and humanities at Grove City College and a good friend. As we discuss in the interview below, I requested a pre-publication copy of The Jefferson Lies in February 2012. Somewhere in our McDonalds discussions, I asked Michael to join me as co-author and we had the ebook ready to go by May 1. A paperback followed in July and by August, The Jefferson Lies had been pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson.

In this interview, we discuss more about Getting Jefferson Right, but also get into why people would rather believe fiction over truth, the requirement of honesty from scholars, and how Christian nationalism influences attitudes towards political matters today. I hope you profit from it.

View all 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

Happy Blog Anniversary to Me #15

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I started this blog with these words:

This is a test, nothing but a test. A test of your routine blogcasting network.

I didn’t know what I was doing, but with the encouragement of a former pastor Byron Harvey, I launched into the wild world of blogging. I started out on the old Blogspot platform and then moved to WordPress in 2006. I moved from there to Patheos in 2013, just in time to cover the demise of Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia. When Patheos decided I was too hot to handle, I moved really quickly back to this independent format on WordPress. Since 2005, I have written 5,010 posts according to WordPress backroom counter.

To celebrate, tomorrow I start a series of blogcast video interviews with people who are associated with topics I have covered over 15 years. I started out writing about sexual orientation therapy and research. Then the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill became a cause and international story in 2009. I started writing about and debunking David Barton’s and other historical claims in 2011. In late 2013, I took up the demise of Mars Hill Church and followed that until it closed in 2014. In 2015, I started writing about Gospel for Asia. Now I write about evangelical misadventures, debunk fake quotes,  and examine a little bit of anything touching on the topics I have covered from the beginning.

I think some readers will be surprised at some of the people I interview, but they all will be worth tuning in to hear. These will be taped, last about an hour and posted about once a week over the next couple of months. Tomorrow I start with an interview of Michael Coulter, my co-author of Getting Jefferson Right.

I am pretty sure there are some readers who have been here since the beginning. In any case, let me know when you started reading and what topic(s) brought/keep you here.

On July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Died – Happy Independence Day 2019!

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. In 2015, it was the culmination of my Daily Jefferson series.

Happy Independence Day!

john adamsIn addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. As a consequence, the two patriots and former friends fell out of touch. Mutual friend and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush hoped to bring the men back together. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and after the end of Jefferson’s second term, endeavored to help them bridge the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish for Adams and Jefferson to resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion to Adams.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

I don’t think Rush had an actual dream.* He may have used the dream narrative as a clever device to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views to Adams via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 (the same day Jefferson’s second term ended) praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.

Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

More substantial evidence for questioning whether Rush reported an actual dream is the existence of a draft of this letter which demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter explains:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

The evidence shows that Rush considered at least two options to get across his message of reconciliation: a dream or an appeal to a future history book. He first wrote about the history book, then he chose a more creative device, one which he had already used in letters to Adams and which Adams had actually requested in March of that year.

In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c

Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship with Adams. It took awhile (1812), but Adams and Jefferson did resume contact. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political views. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”**

*Christian nationalists often point to this story as an illustration of a supernatural event. For instance, David Barton says that Rush had a dream which God brought to pass in a manner similar to those in the Bible. If Barton knows about Rush’s rough draft of this letter, he doesn’t disclose this information to his readers. He doesn’t also consider the fact that Rush often used the word dream to describe his thoughts about other issues.

Clearly, the accuracy of what Rush predicted is uncanny and from a reformed vantage point represents the working of providence. However, the processes seemed to be quite natural in that Rush thought a lot about his friends and worked behind the scenes to make the reunion happen. Given the early chemistry of Adams and Jefferson, their later relationship could reasonably be expected. The spooky part is their common day of death.

**Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.  Read more about Jefferson in Getting Jefferson Right by Michael Coulter and me.

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Images: public domain

On July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Died – Happy Independence Day

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. In 2015, it was the culmination of my Daily Jefferson series.
Happy Independence Day!

john adamsIn addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. As a consequence, the two patriots and former friends fell out of touch. Mutual friend and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush hoped to bring the men back together. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and after the end of Jefferson’s second term, endeavored to help them bridge the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish for Adams and Jefferson to resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion to Adams.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

I don’t think Rush had an actual dream.* He may have used the dream narrative as a clever device to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views to Adams via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 (the same day Jefferson’s second term ended) praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.

Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

More substantial evidence for questioning whether Rush reported an actual dream is the existence of a draft of this letter which demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter explains:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

The evidence shows that Rush considered at least two options to get across his message of reconciliation: a dream or an appeal to a future history book. He first wrote about the history book, then he chose a more creative device, one which he had already used in letters to Adams and which Adams had actually requested in March of that year.

In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c

Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship with Adams. It took awhile (1812), but Adams and Jefferson did resume contact. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political views. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”**

*Christian nationalists often point to this story as an illustration of a supernatural event. For instance, David Barton says that Rush had a dream which God brought pass in a manner similar to those in the Bible. If Barton knows about Rush’s rough draft of this letter, he doesn’t disclose this information to his readers. He doesn’t also consider the fact that Rush often used the word dream to describe his thoughts about issues.

Clearly, the accuracy of what Rush predicted is uncanny and from a reformed vantage point represents the working of providence. However, the processes seemed to be quite natural in that Rush thought a lot about his friends and worked behind the scenes to make the reunion happen. Given the early chemistry of Adams and Jefferson, their later relationship could reasonably be expected. The spooky part is their common day of death.

**Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.  Read more about Jefferson in Getting Jefferson Right by Michael Coulter and me.

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Images: public domain

Fact and Fiction About Thomas Jefferson in The Daily Signal

Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation publishes The Daily Signal as a conservative news source which they say is “committed to truth”

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

and “a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.” While a worthy goal, I believe they missed the mark recently in an article about Thomas Jefferson and another one of his notions — the separation of church and state.
In an April 12 article by Lathan Watts on why the left is wrong about Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, we learn Mr. Watts and The Daily Signal is willing to take liberties with the historical record. Let me examine two points from Watts article.

Did Jefferson Include the Bible in DC Schools?

First Watts claims that Thomas Jefferson wrote an educational plan for the District of Columbia schools which used the Bible and a Christian hymnal for instruction.

While president, Jefferson also served as the chairman of the school board for the District of Columbia, where he authored the first plan of education adopted by the city. His plan used the Bible and Isaac Watts’ hymnal as the principle books to teach reading.*

A close examination of the timeline of Jefferson’s involvement in the D.C. schools finds that Jefferson was out of office and had retired to Monticello when the schools began using the Bible and the hymnal. Furthermore, when Jefferson commented about using the Bible with children he specifically advocated against using it as a tool for teaching. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote:

The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.

For a detailed analysis of the D.C. schools issue, click this link.

Did Jefferson Recommend Attendance for Soldiers at Church?

In response to a case involving religion in the military, Watts wrote:

In addition to the bills he signed appropriating funds for chaplains in the military, he also signed the Articles of War on April 10, 1806, in which he “earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services.”*

Although Jefferson wasn’t theologically orthodox, he often attended church. There is some truth in these statements but the way they are worded, it makes it seem Jefferson personally recommended church to soldiers.
In 1775, Jefferson and John Adams formed a committee to craft Articles of War to guide Washington’s army. According to Adams, he and Jefferson simply took the British Articles of War and recommended them with few alterations. Years later, when Jefferson was president, Congress revised them again and sent them to Jefferson for his signature in 1806.
It is important to note that the British Articles of War which Adam’s referred to required church attendance. However, the American adaptation did not. Although recommended, soldiers were not required to attend. Also, Jefferson did not craft these tenets out of his personal preferences, he simply acquiesced to existing articles, modified slightly to give soldiers some religious choice. Adams wrote that Jefferson did not rise to speak in support of the articles but left the advocacy to Adams. In his autobiography, Adams said:

In Congress, Jefferson never spoke, and all the labor of the debate on those articles, paragraph by paragraph, was thrown upon me, and such was the opposition and so undigested were the notions of liberty prevalent among the majority of the members most zealously attached to the public cause that to this day I scarcely know how it was possible that these articles could have been carried. They were adopted, however, and have governed our armies with little variation to this day.

Saying God or Disobeying Orders?

In addition to taking liberties with Jefferson, Watts leaves out some important details about the cases presented as indicators of religious persecution. For instance, Watts links to the case of Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. and says he was removed from a military ceremony because he referred to God in a speech. However, that isn’t a complete presentation of the situation.
According to the Air Force Times, Rodriquez disobeyed orders to give any speech at the ceremony.

The Air Force Inspector General said in a September 2016 report that Rodriguez was not removed because his speech mentioned God, but because it was unauthorized.

The IG said that Rodriguez had been told multiple times that he could not deliver his speech because the ceremony was an official on-base retirement, and his speech was not the one spelled out in Air Force regulations. He was told he could attend the ceremony quietly as a guest but not as a participant.

Rodriguez ignored those instructions and stood up to deliver his speech. After delivering his opening lines, he was dragged out by four noncommissioned officers while continuing to shout his speech.

While one may debate the wisdom of these enforcement actions, disobedience to a direct order is a factor which Watts did not include in his presentation. Given that Watts wasn’t accurate about his history, I am not inclined to take his word over the Inspector General of the Air Force.

An Informed Citizenry?

Citizens who read the article will think Jefferson did things he didn’t do. If The Daily Signal is “committed to truth” and really wants an “informed citizenry” then this article should be pulled from their website.
 

 
*Both of these paragraphs are lifted nearly verbatim without attribution from William Federer’s America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. Once upon a time, using quotes without attribution was considered plagiarism. Especially in Christian popular writing, it seems copying work without attribution is now common place.

Yesterday, Liberty Counsel Celebrated Christian Freedom Day

Yesterday, like presidents before him, President Trump issued a proclamation commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s work in writing Virginia’s

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Statute for Religious Freedom (full text here) which was adopted by the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786. The law ended the establishment of the Anglican church in Virginia and recognized freedom of conscience in the state.
Jefferson meant for that freedom of conscience to extend beyond Christian denominations to all religions or none. However, ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel does not appear to recognize the breadth of Jefferson’s work. In their press release, the Statute on Religious Freedom is described as follows:

Religious Freedom Day is celebrated in America each year on January 16 to commemorate the 232nd anniversary of the passing of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all denominations. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and murdered Christians who were not part of the state-established church. However, Jefferson, a lifelong fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and religious conscience, worked hard to protect and defend those Christians. (emphasis added)

Liberty Counsel’s presser refers to denominations of Christianity and to Jefferson’s work to defend Christians. In the past, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver has questioned the status of Islam as a religious worthy of First Amendment protection. Staver is also of the David Barton school of thought regarding the First Amendment — that the purpose of it was to prevent a Christian denomination from being established. In other words, when the First Amendment says religion, it means Christianity.

What Did Jefferson Mean?

In fact, there was an effort in the Virginia legislature to limit the scope of Virginia’s statute to Christians during debate on the bill. Jefferson wrote about it in his autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

According to Jefferson, the effort did not succeed. He meant his religious freedom bill to cover all people, of all religious ideas or no religious ideas.

What Religious Freedom Really Means Now

Ultimately, religious freedom at this particular time for this particular group means the freedom to discriminate against people, usually GLBT people in providing public services. In general, I think those who provide services to the public should provide them to GLBT people, even if they personally disagree with some aspect of those they serve.
But that’s just me and my beliefs. I know others believe differently, and the beauty of this nation is that they are free to believe it. What we will find out over the next few years is if they are free to discriminate based on that belief.

What You Can Get Thomas Jefferson on His Birthday!

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

TJ was born on April 13, 1743. So what can you get a founder of our country who is experiencing his reward?
1. You can spread this post around Twitter and Facebook: David Barton’s Jefferson Lies: The Immigration and Healthcare Edition. This post illustrates how far David Barton will go to misrepresent Jefferson to suit Barton’s political views. Barton adds and subtracts words from our third president’s 1805 address to Congress in order to support Barton’s preferred narrative. Jefferson’s not here to set him straight, so you can help out.
In honor of Jefferson’s birthday, Barton should admit what he did and apologize.
2. You can get yourself or a friend a copy of critically acclaimed  Getting Jefferson Right authored by Michael Coulter and me (now only $2.99 for the e-book). The book debunks many of key claims of Christian nation advocates (Barton is the most prominent among them) about Jefferson.

How to Use Bad Situations to Teach Good Lessons – David Barton's The Jefferson Lies in Foundations of History

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Most of my professor colleagues use negative events in the news to teach various lessons. For instance, I have used Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism to teach my students about plagiarism. I feel sure many profs have used Monica Crowley’s plagiarism to teach about that subject. I also refer to David Barton’s faux doctorate to help my students understand how to simulate expertise.
With this post, I hope to start a series of occasional articles which illustrate how one may turn a negative situation into a good lesson. The first contributor is Robert Clemm, Associate Professor of History at Grove City College. The event Rob uses to teach good lessons is the removal from publication of David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Below, Rob answers my questions about how he uses The Jefferson Lies to teach good history lessons.

WT: In what course is the activity used?
RC: I incorporate David Barton, and The Jefferson Lies debate, into my Foundations of History course. This is a course that is designed for non-majors at an introductory level but is, in reality, more of a “low-level historiography” course as I’ve never been able to conceive of any other way of teaching it. I broadly divide the class into thirds. The first third is an exploration of how historians view themselves and their discipline utilizing John Lewis Gaddis’ The Landscape of History. The second “third” is the historiography and methodology section in which they read through John H. Arnold’s History: A Very Short Introduction, as well as major figures (Herodotus, Thucydides, Bede) in the development of history. The last third is a “where history is going” section in which we discuss newer (post-1950) approaches towards history such as Gender, Oral, Material Culture, and Digital History.
Barton is integrated into the course at the tail end of my second “third” of the course. After the students have gone through the historiography section, to the point at which Leopold von Ranke seems to establish the “model” for how historians works, Arnold’s book continues by assessing some of the difficulties historians face in interpreting and writing about the past. After they have finished with his book I wanted to try to give them a few opportunities to wrestle with the difficulties of history and apply some of what they had learned. This is also a bit of a skill-based approach as their final paper is an assessment of the work of a historian and I try to give them a few weeks to practice that sort of assessment in a class context. During the shorter week we always have due to break, I have them read and assess a chapter from [Larry Schweikart’s] A Patriot’s History of the United States and [Howard Zinn’s] A People’s History of the United States. Coming back to back, students are really able to see the contrast between two ‘textbooks’ that might as well be describing two different planets for as much as their books have in common. I’ve found that to be a very eye-opening exercise to many students given that they tend to associate any textbook they are given as being near holy writ in terms of truthfulness. I also find that this exercise, which underscores the power of interpretation by historians of the past, paves the way for them to be more receptive to an analysis of David Barton.
WT: Describe the activity.
RC: After the short week, I then spend a whole week (M-W-F classes) on David Barton in the following manner. On Monday I introduce David Barton and pitch him to about as high as I possibly can. In his commitment to primary sources, I describe him as a modern-day antiquarian and in his desire to challenge conventional/received wisdom, I liken him to Thucydides. I may lay it on a bit thick, but generally I’m trying to present him in the best of all possible lights for my students. I’m helped that most of my “lecture” consists of two long interviews David Barton had with Glenn Beck. Not only does this allow Barton to be presented “in his own words,” literally in this case, he also presents most of his main arguments in The Jefferson Lies. To be honest, I intend this day to be a bit of a “set-up” for my students. I’ve had several students, at the end of the week, relate they had been excited about his work and told friends about what they were learning which is precisely my goal for that day.
On Wednesday, I have invited Michael Coulter, your co-author [Getting Jefferson Right], to come speak to my class. He has graciously done this going on 5 years now, and I do appreciate his willingness to do so. Given that on Monday I praised Barton to the heavens I think it is helpful to hear from someone else in providing a contrary voice. In this class I introduce Dr. Coulter and let him speak about his experience with The Jefferson Lies and writing Getting Jefferson Right. He tends to open by describing where he was when he heard Barton’s book had been pulled by Thomas Nelson – I believe he was helping someone paint a room? – and then backtracks through the book itself. In doing so he tends to hit on problems/critiques of points Barton had raised with Beck, but also highlights other issues such as his obfuscation of the slave laws of Virginia through ellipses. As he is lecturing, I tend to just sit back and ‘enjoy’ watching my students suffer a small version of intellectual whiplash.
I also appreciate that he highlights for the students that this is not a mere academic squabble but one Barton has largely brought on himself by claiming to be the Christian historian against which we should all be measured. As Dr. Coulter has said numerous times in my class, by claiming that mantle he is calling into question the work of hundreds of historians, Christian and otherwise, and almost suggesting he is some neo-Gnostic with the keys to the truth of history. In constructing this week, therefore, I spend Monday “teeing up” the class for Michael and on Wednesday he knocks them straight towards confusion. After Wednesday’s class I send them a few links regarding the debate over pulling the books, some from his defenders and some from detractors.
On Friday we discuss not so much The Jefferson Lies itself but the debate surrounding it and whether or not Barton and his defenders had responded as befits being a part of the historical discipline. Given that one defender titled his work “Attacks on David Barton Same as Tactics of Saul Alinsky” and World Net Daily sums up the controversy as “The Anatomy of an American Book Banning” students generally agree that Barton failed to live up to proper historical standards.
WT: What lessons/objectives do you hope to teach with the activity?
RC: I use this week to try and accomplish a diverse number of objectives.
First, I hope that it helps students truly understand that history is a process and a debate. While they may have read that in Arnold’s work, and seen it on display in terms of the contrast between A Patriot’s and A People’s History, I think it is this week that really helps students understand why historians can get animated about a historical debate. Given that so nearly all the students are non-majors, I assume most of them come in with the sense that to choose to be a historian one must be a bit addled. Frankly don’t we know everything that happened? As one colleague commonly greets me in jest, “So, what’s new in history?” I think in discussing the debate over The Jefferson Lies they start to see why historians are passionate about their subject and discipline. In David Barton, so many of us see a charlatan who is not simply misappropriating the past for his own purposes, but also is misusing our entire field as a way of building a following. As they grapple with the implications of the debate I think they become invested as well and get a sense of why historians care so much about their subject as much as David Barton.
Second, I want them to recognize how a historical argument should go which is, frankly, the opposite of what has occurred with Barton and his book. I actually never make a categorical judgment on Barton’s book, telling my students that if they want to have an informed opinion they should read David Barton’s book and yours and then come to their own conclusion in light of the knowledge gained in the course. What I find much more valuable is helping them see why the debate over Barton’s book has “gone off the rails” and doesn’t fit with how historians should engage with one another. Engaging in ad hominem attacks, such as suggesting that you (Dr. Throckmorton) can’t have a valid critique because you aren’t a historian, has no place in how historians should undertake a common search for greater truth. I also highlight, since the debate over the book has become so politicized, that I never once complemented a student in that course for having the “proper Conservative answer” or the “proper Democratic question.” Barton complains endlessly about how he has been attacked by people who had been on “our team” [see the video below] and I instead point out that the only ‘team’ in history is the one trying to discover the truth.
Lastly, I want my students to recognize how historians have a true duty to the general public to present their best work by the standards of the discipline. In many ways this is the week that answers an implicit question as to why Arnold and Gaddis wrote so stridently about historians being humble in their search for the truth and to be constantly “tethered to and disciplined by the sources.” If previously they had thought all of that concern was academics trying to justify their existence, I think it comes home a bit more for them this week. It perhaps comes out most strongly if some students speak up for Barton’s defense and say that the book should have been left on the shelves in the “free market of ideas” so as to let the people decide. While the “marketplace of ideas” sounds good, I tend to press why it is insufficient. It’s a testament to the quality of our students that I don’t tend to have to spell out the answer. Invariably another student highlights how readers place their implicit trust in a historian that they have practiced good scholarship and will never go and check the veracity of someone’s footnotes. Students grasp that historians have to do the careful and dutiful work when in the archives and writing because what we present is trusted by those that read it. We have, in some regard, a trust with the general public that we need to uphold. When we fail to do that, as Barton has with The Jefferson Lies, we violate an implicit contract and cannot move the goalposts in suggesting the public should read it and make up their own minds. While it sounds wonderfully democratic, students realize it’s a sweet-sounding justification for passing off faulty scholarship.
WT: How is the activity received in class?
RC: I think overall it is the best week of the course. Our discussion on Friday tends to be one of the most animated of the course as students have, over the previous two classes, been primed to want to express their own opinion about the book and the controversy.
Beyond content I think it resonates because it comes at a point at the course when they realize they can critique historians and their works at a deeper level than they would have thought at the beginning of the semester. By that point they are aware of the nature of the historical discipline, how it developed, and some of the difficult balances historians have to strike between the reality of the past and representing it in their own work. After a week seeing the differences in American history, with A People’s History and A Patriot’s History, this gives them an opportunity to truly wrestle with questions of responsibility and interpretation. Given that I start the course by asking them why I even have a job when Wikipedia exists, I think it “clicks” for them that history is as much a matter of interpretation as a compendium of facts.
WT: Any other comments or reflections on using bad history to teach good history?
RC: At this point I will continue to use David Barton as I think his work, and the debate surrounding it, truly gets at a number of points I don’t think I could express as easily with any other topic. I also don’t think anyone should feel concerned about students picking up bad habits since Barton and his defenders are so over the top – one student during a discussion asked “Does he know he’s arguing like a 5th grader?” – that it really grates on them regardless of their opinion of the content of his book.
My biggest surprise so far – and perhaps this speaks to your question – is that I’ve never had a defender/acolyte of Barton prepared to go 10 rounds defending him. Now, this could be for any number of reasons; self-selection by students, fear of ‘fighting’ the professor, or simply a desire not to speak in class. At the same time my hope is that students, when confronted with the facts of the Barton controversy, recognize the problems he poses and tend to agree with the critiques. For those concerned that simply presenting bad history might ‘corrupt’ their students, I think that this exercise proves that fear is unfounded. Even with a student body that might be more receptive than the norm to the conclusions of Barton’s work, if not his methods, they seem more than able to separate that from the justified historical critiques of his work.

This is the video that Dr. Clemm shows where Barton attacks me on issues other than history.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni-LLnloEJQ[/youtube]
Many thanks to Dr. Clemm for sharing this activity.

Thomas Jefferson on the Importance of a Free Press (UPDATED with Trump’s Jefferson Quote)

Yesterday, President Donald Trump called the media (singling out the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC) the “enemy of the American people.”


Trump’s barrage of animosity toward the press reminded me of the Sedition Act of 1798. I hope we do not go back to that dark day.
Thomas Jefferson was a staunch critic of the Sedition Act. Jefferson believed a free press was essential to republican government. In light of Donald Trump’s attacks on the press, I believe we should consider Jefferson’s thoughts on a free and independent press.

In a letter to James Currie in 1786, Jefferson complained that John Jay had been treated unfairly by the “public papers.” However, instead of calling the press the enemy of the people, Jefferson said:

In truth it is afflicting that a man [John Jay] who has past his life in serving the public, who has served them in every the highest stations with universal approbation, and with a purity of conduct which has silenced even party opprobrium, who tho’ poor has never permitted himself to make a shilling in the public employ, should yet be liable to have his peace of mind so much disturbed by any individual who shall think proper to arraign him in a newspaper. It is however an evil for which there is no remedy. Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. To the sacrifice, of time, labor, fortune, a public servant must count upon adding that of peace of mind and even reputation. (emphasis added)

Even though Jefferson believed the papers to be wrong, he asserted that the liberty of the nation depends on the freedom of the press without limitation.

Three years later, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington from Paris with a similar sentiment.

The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. (emphasis added)

Jefferson was aware that the newspapers were sometimes wrong and he became exasperated with the press at times. However, he was sure that the liberty of the people depended on a free, if imperfect, press.

To Elbridge Gerry in 1799, Jefferson wrote:

I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence by force & not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.

Jefferson himself was the subject of just and unjust criticism and yet he did not start a war with the press.

Jefferson maintained this view through his old age. To Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson wrote in 1823:

Two dislocated wrists and crippled fingers have rendered writing so slow and laborious as to oblige me to withdraw from nearly all correspondence. not however from yours, while I can make a stroke with a pen. we have gone thro’ too many trying scenes together to forget the sympathies and affections they nourished. your trials have indeed been long and severe. when they will end is yet unknown, but where they will end cannot be doubted. alliances holy or hellish, may be formed and retard the epoch deliverance, may swell the rivers of blood which are yet to flow, but their own will close the scene, and leave to mankind the right of self government. I trust that Spain will prove that a nation cannot be conquered which determines not to be so. and that her success will be the turning of the tide of liberty, no more to be arrested by human efforts. whether the state of society in Europe can bear a republican government, I doubted, you know, when with you, a I do now. a hereditary chief strictly limited, the right of war vested in the legislative body, a rigid economy of the public contributions, and absolute interdiction of all useless expences, will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive. but the only security of all is in a free press. the force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. the agitation it produces must be submitted to. it is necessary to keep the waters pure. we are all, for example in agitation even in our peaceful country. for in peace as well as in war the mind must be kept in motion. (emphasis added).

Finally, Jefferson recognized that a free press provided information that some governments would deliberately keep from the people. We must have a free press to help provide a check on governmental power. To Charles Yancey in 1816, Jefferson wrote:

if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. there is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. (emphasis added).

Although Jefferson was not a perfect man, he articulated natural rights as well as any Founder. A free press is a surely a right under the Constitution and it is a necessity for a free people. Trump’s assault on the media is unpatriotic and certainly unJeffersonian. Even when Jefferson disagreed with the press (and he often did), he was a statesman and patriot in his response to it. Today, we are in great need for statesmen and stateswomen to stand up for a free press.

UPDATE: During a rally in Florida today, Donald Trump quoted Jefferson as a critic of newspapers:

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807. But despite all their lies, misrepresentations, and false stories, they could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most importantly, we will continue to win, win, win.

Trump pulled this quote from an 1807 letter to John Norvell. Indeed, Jefferson had many negative things to say about the press. However, he also said all of the things I quoted above. Trump only told his audience half of the story. Newspapers were more politically biased in Jefferson’s day than now and yet he defended the need for an independent press as a crucial means of protecting our liberties. Let’s recall that Jefferson’s harsh criticism came in private letters; Trump’s venom is delivered daily via Twitter. If Trump wants to be Jeffersonian, he must stop his public war on the press.