Why the Aitken Bible Story is So Important to Glenn Beck and David Barton

Reinventing the Aitken Bible story is very important to Glenn Beck and David Barton. America as a covenant nation is important for different reasons for both men and the myth of Congress printing the Bible fits right in to their world view. However, as has been shown many times, the story is not what they make it out to be.
In his recent talk to Fellowship Church, Glenn Beck began his false narrative about Aitken’s Bible by shouting, “Don’t let anybody tell you we are not a Christian nation because are absolutely a Christian nation!” Then he incorrectly told the audience that Congress printed the first English language Bible in America. He ended the story by repeating the assertion that the U.S. is a Christian nation.
In a recent talk to Osborne Baptist Church, David Barton again implied that Congress wanted the Aitken Bible used in schools. Watch:
[youtube]https://youtu.be/93zX5xz7V_4[/youtube]
Barton finished his story about Aitken by saying.

The first English Bible was done in 1782, its got Congressional endorsement and its done for the use of schools? I thought the Founding Fathers didn’t want the Bible in schools. See, if you don’t know your history, you put up with policies you should never put up with. When you know your history, you have a different view of what public policy should be.

The point for both Barton and Beck is to influence people to think about America’s founding as a foundation for public policy now. Barton wants the Bible in schools so he makes up a story where Congress printed/endorsed (he has told the story both ways) a Bible for the use of schools. If the men who wrote the Constitution wanted the Bible in schools then it has to be Constitutional for the Bible to be used in schools now.
If the story is told straight then it isn’t as useful. It certainly could support the idea that the founders were friendly toward religion but it doesn’t say anything about federal policy toward Bible reading in schools. If the rest of the story is told, then it isn’t as useful either. Aitken wanted Congress to appoint him as the official Bible printer, but Congress declined. He wanted his Bible to be the authorized Bible for the new republic, but Congress declined. Furthermore, Congress didn’t put a nickel of tax payer funding into the project.
When listening to either Beck or Barton speak, be aware that the history lessons may not be completely true and that the real object is to persuade you to do something.
 

Glenn Beck and David Barton: More Evidence Congress Did Not Print the Aitken Bible

Both Glenn Beck and David Barton have said in public presentations that Congress printed the first English Bible in America (Aitken Bible). Most recently, Beck told Fellowship Church in Fort Worth TX that the first thing Congress did after we won the war for independence was to print a Bible.
Barton has recently backed off slightly from that claim that Congress printed the Bible, acknowledging that Aitken printed it but still falsely portraying Congress as endorsing the Bible for use in schools (see video below). Barton’s evolution on the issue came after years of criticism from observers outside and inside the church. He finally shifted his story a bit after a Family Research Council vice-president deleted a video of Barton’s tour of the Capitol during which he told the false story. Watch Barton’s two stories:
[youtube]https://youtu.be/6K5ofr-VBvI[/youtube]
At 2:37 into the clip above, Barton appears on Glenn Beck’s show and told Beck that Congress printed the Aitken Bible. Beck apparently has not gotten the memo that Barton misled him because Beck spread that same false story on July 5 to the Fellowship Church.
Barton’s presentations still contain misinformation. In June, Barton spoke to the Osborne Baptist Church in North Carolina. There he again told an Aitken Bible story. Watch:
[youtube]https://youtu.be/93zX5xz7V_4[/youtube]
Barton Still Embellishes the Story
This clip may get a post of its own but for now, I want to demonstrate that Barton is still embellishing the story and making it say something it doesn’t. In this clip, Barton says Congress authorized Aitken’s Bible for the use of schools. As I have pointed out, the Congress didn’t mention schools; Aitken did. Aitken would have been happy to have schools use it, or Congress buy it for soldiers, or, as the ad below suggests, customers buy it in bulk. He invested a lot in his Bibles and wanted people to buy them.
In the clip above, Barton said:

Within months of the final battle at Yorktown, a plan is proposed to print the first English Bible in America.

As I pointed out on Tuesday, Aitken approached Congress with a petition dated January 21, 1781, nine months before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Barton wants to make the listener think we won the war and then Congress cooked up the idea to print Bibles. However, note how he tells the tale in the passive voice; he says vaguely “a plan is proposed.” Yes, a plan was proposed, but not by a legislator and not after the war ended. Aitken told Congress in January 1781 that he

hath begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, 

The plan was proposed by Aitken, not Congress, and the plan was proposed nine months before the end of the war by a man who had already “made considerable progress.” Note that it was Aitken who told Congress that his Bible could be used in schools. Congress said nothing in response about it and the Congressional commendation did not mention schools at all. Barton tries to fool his listeners by taking Aitken’s words and putting them in Congressional mouths. Note that the ad below doesn’t mention anything about schools.
The ad below along with other evidence I have presented help to put the embellishments of Beck and Barton into some perspective. Aitken approached Congress with a proposal for them to review his work, and authorize his Bible as the version approved by government. Congress declined to make Aitken the official Bible vendor, nor did Congress take action to make his Bible the authorized version. Even though Aitken appears to be a Christian believer, he also needed to make back his investment as the ad below demonstrates.
This ad is dated August 11, 1782. Even though he had no Congressional commendation at the time of this ad, he announced that he would begin selling them in October. Aitken did not submit his Bible to Congress until September 9, 1782 with the proclamation dated September 12.  He wanted a commendation (who wouldn’t?) but he didn’t need it because the Bible was not a project of Congress.
Aitken Ad Imprint
The top part of ad above is the identifying information from Early American Imprints. The rest of it is a solicitation from Robert Aitken offering to sell his Bible individually or in bulk at a discount. Below is a sample page from the Bible.
Aitken Bible Sample PageAt some point, I hope someone else will ask Beck and Barton why they mislead their audiences with this story. In his Osborne Baptist speech, he says why he does it (listen to Barton near the end of the clip). He wants public policy to change to be in line with his preferences that public school children learn the Bible. He apparently thinks that twisting the Aitken Bible story helps his cause. As I have asserted before, I believe this deception is scandalous. It is a major story which is being mostly ignored by the Christian media and Christian leaders while Beck and Barton laugh all the way to the bank.
 
 

Message to Glenn Beck and Fellowship Church: Congress Didn't Print the Aitken Bible

In addition to faulty theology, there are several glaring historical errors in Glenn Beck’s talk to Fellowship Church on July 5. Sadly, the audience is less knowledgeable now than before he spoke. Here is one example.
Glenn Beck told Fellowship Church that the first thing Congress did after the United States won the Revolutionary War was to print a Bible in English. Watch:
[youtube]http://youtu.be/cBgkSUILZEw[/youtube]
Transcript:

Don’t let anybody tell you we are not a Christian nation because we absolutely are a Christian nation. This is one of seven Bibles, three or four of them are held by the Smithsonian. Three are in private hands; extraordinarily rare. It’s called the Aitken Bible. This was the first thing Congress did when they started. We couldn’t print the Bible. So when we first established ourselves and we won the war, the first act was to print the Aitken Bible. When it was given to George Washington, he wept, and he said, ‘finally, a gift that is meaningful enough to give to the men that served by my side.’ We are a Christian nation. And we need to start behaving like a Christian nation, with love and respect, and take the beam out of our own eye before looking at the speck in someone’s else’s. We’re losing memberships in our churches because, stop talking about the things that the Bible tells us to do.  Let’s start doing them!

It is ironic that Beck tells the audience to start doing what the Bible says just after he consistently bore false witness about the Aitken Bible.
Let me take Beck’s claims bit by bit.

It’s called the Aitken Bible. This was the first thing Congress did when they started. We couldn’t print the Bible. So when we first established ourselves and we won the war, the first act was to print the Aitken Bible.

Beck was holding up a copy of what appeared to be the Aitken Bible. It is rare and valuable. It is also true that the British prohibited Bibles printed in America. However, nothing he said after that is true. Congress did not print the Bible and the involvement with Aitken’s project was not initiated by Congress. Furthermore, the timing of Aitken’s request and Congressional response do not match Beck’s passionate claim. It most certainly is not the first thing Congress did after the United States won the war for independence.
Robert Aitken petitioned Congress in a letter dated January 21, 1781. He wanted the approval of Congress for a Bible he was printing and he wanted to be the official Bible printer of the United States. You can read his petition here and here. I have it below as well.

To the Honourable The Congress of the United States of America

The Memorial of Robert Aitken of the City of Philadelphia Printer

Humbly Sheweth

That in every well regulated Government in Christendom The Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament, commonly called the Holy Bible, are printed and published under the Authority of the Sovereign Powers, in order to prevent the fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian Faith might suffer from the spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation. That your Memorialist has no doubt but this work is an Object worthy the attention of the Congress of the United States of America, who will not neglect spiritual security, while they are virtuously contending for temporal blessings.

Under this persuasion, your Memorialist begs leave to inform your Honours That he hath begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, But being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress, Humbly prays that your Honors would take this important matter into serious consideration & would be pleased to appoint one Member or Members of your Honourable Body to inspect his work so that the same may be published under the Authority of Congress. And further, your Memorialist prays, that he may be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures, in such manner and form as may best suit the wants and demands of the good people of these States, provided the same be in all things perfectly consonant to the Scriptures as heretofore Established and received amongst us, And as in Duty bound your Memorialist shall ever pray

Robt. Aitken Philadelphia. 21, Jany. 1781.

Aitken appeared to be under the impression that the United States might operate like Britain and regulate the authorized version of the Bible. He wanted his Bible to be the one approved by the government. In addition, he wanted Congressional awareness and approval because it had been illegal to do what he was doing under British rule. In fact, the war had not yet been won when Aitken began his work. He had already printed the New Testament but wanted to finish the job. “Being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress,” Aitken didn’t want to do anything which Congress might oppose.
Cornwallis surrendered to the American forces on October 19, 1781 so Aitken’s petition came prior to the end of the war, not first thing after we won. Congress appointed a committee to interact with Aitken as he progressed on his project. Aitken sent a copy of his Bible to Congress on September 9, 1782. The Congressional proclamation about the Bible was dated September 12, 1782. . The treaty of Paris formally ending the war did not come until September 3, 1783.  The proclamation from Congress is below in the first paragraph:

There is nothing in this proclamation about Congress as Bible printer. Congress clearly recognized Aitken as the author and recommended his work for religious and artistic achievement. It was Aitken’s idea, his work, his investment, and eventually his loss. He didn’t make money on the project, and because Congress didn’t fund the project, he offered the Bibles to George Washington with the suggestion, made by a friend, that Washington ask Congress to purchase Bibles for the troops who had fought in the war.
Beck embellished the story more by involving Washington. Beck claimed:

When it was given to George Washington, he wept, and he said, ‘finally, a gift that is meaningful enough to give to the men that served by my side.’

There is no record that Washington wept when Aitken’s friend, John Rodgers, requested that Washington asked Congress to buy copies of the Bible for his troops. Washington declined politely saying that most of the troops had gone home and so he couldn’t make such a request. Washington’s return letter on the subject indicated that he would liked to have given the troops a Bible but not in the manner claimed by Beck. Here is what Washington replied to Aitken’s friend, Rev. Rodgers.

Your proposition concerning Mr. Aikin’s Bibles would have been particularly noted by me, had it been suggested in season, but the late Resolution of Congress for discharging part of the Army, taking off near two thirds of our numbers, it is now too late to make the attempt. It would have pleased me well, if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present to the brave fellows, who have done so much for the security of their Country’s rights and establishment.

Beck’s quote from Washington is quite a dramatic embellishment as is most of what he had to say to Fellowship Church. Beck’s story about Congress and the Aitken Bible is false; his citation about Washington is highly inflated and misleading. Most people listening would go away thinking that the first thing Congress did after winning the war for independence was to use public funds to print a Bible and give it to the American troops with the heartfelt approval of George Washington.
Beck’s key story used to support the claim that the U.S. is a Christian nation turns out to be a fabrication.
Beck has to know this. It has been pointed out publicly by numerous writers. Even if somehow he has avoided reading the many debunkings of this story, the alternative isn’t much better. He is either knows the story is a fiction or he is a very, very bad historian. Fellowship Church’s spokesman told Christian Post that Beck was “unmatched” in his knowledge of history. If that is so, then Beck misled Fellowship Church on July 5 with knowledge aforethought.
If Glenn Beck and Ed Young want to honor the passionate plea Beck made to Fellowship Church to stop talking about the things the Bible says to do and to start doing them, then they need to come clean to the congregation and set the facts straight.
For more on the Aitken Bible lie and the involvement of Washington, see this Huffington Post article by Chris Rodda

David Barton Attempts to Cover His Historical Tracks; Changes Capitol Tour Video

In the ongoing controversy over David Barton’s historical work, this is a significant development. First, let me present the components of the story.
In 2007, David Barton led a tour of the Capitol on behalf of the Family Research Council where he made several key claims. He used these claims to make dubious assertions about the intent of the founding fathers. FRC edited the tour video into an eight minute promo and uploaded it to You Tube. That video had over 4 million views. To fully understand the significance of this issue, you should watch that video which is still available on several You Tube accounts (another version is here on Vimeo):

Earlier this year, FRC made the video private after 34 Christian historians and social scientists asked FRC to remove the video from You Tube. FRC acknowledged the errors and Barton then made changes to the speech by introducing newly recorded audio clips into the old video. The new video has not been uploaded to the FRC account but was made available last week on Barton’s Wallbuilders You Tube account. Here it is:

 
Although new viewers of this video would not know it, there are several important changes to the original video.   The table below summarizes the alterations and remaining problems.

Bartonoldnewvideo2

Clearly, Barton has changed his story on some key claims he has been making for years. However, he continues to defend erroneous conclusions even as he walks back on his prior stories. For instance, on the Aitken Bible story, he continues to take Aitken’s words about his Bible being a “neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools” and make them come from Congress. He really wants that story to be about the Congressional policy on the Bible in schools when it has nothing to do with it. He continues to make the Bible a joint effort of Aitken and Congress when in fact, Aitken had nearly finished his project when he approached Congress in 1781. Prior to the 1781 petition to Congress, Aitken had already printed the New Testament and after his petition to Congress but before Congress answered him, Aitken offered the Bible for sale to the public.

The video below illustrates the Aitken Bible narratives that are now being changed. Note in these retellings, Barton says the Aitken Bible proves Congress wanted the Bible in schools. This claim, of course, is just one of several narratives which have been altered.

As Barton begins to walk back some his claims, I am curious about who will inform all of the audiences he has misled. He has told countless churches and evangelical audiences that Congress printed the first Bible for the use of schools, and that 29 out of 56 signers had Bible school degrees, and so on. Will he take responsibility for informing these audiences of the errors? Will the Family Research Council do so?

David Barton Debunks Himself Regarding the Aitken Bible

On May 16, David Garrison, professor at Ohio Christian University, hosted David Barton to discuss “Jefferson Lies, the Founding Fathers, and Academic Elites.” Guess who the academic elites are?
Barton spent about an hour misrepresenting history and the position of my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right. Apparently, in June I will get a chance to respond on the same program.
There is a lot I could talk about but I want to note something surprising. Barton seems to have reversed his position on the printing of the Aitken Bible. In fact, despite some inaccurate embellishments, he debunks himself.
At 47:32 into the segment, Garrison raises the issue of the Aitken Bible by saying, “and they commissioned a Bible, as I recall, I forget the name of it…”
Barton interrupted Garrison at that point and explained the history of the Aitken Bible. Barton calls Aitken the official printer of Congress and claims,

Aitken says, “hey let’s print a Bible here in America…He said, let’s print this, and Congress said, ‘good idea’ and so Congress assigned a committee to oversee the accuracy and the printing, had both the chaplains of Congress go through the thing to make sure it’s accurate, to make sure this thing is not being printed with non-Scriptural stuff in it. And so when the Bible rolled off the presses, it was printed by the official printer of Congress, Robert Aitken. He printed 10,000 copies. In the front of that Bible, it has the recognition of James Duane, who was the chairman of the committee in Congress that oversaw the project and has the two chaplains, White and Duffield, who sign off on the accuracy of it. It contains a Congressional endorsement in the front of the Bible, which says, ‘Resolved the United States Congress assembled recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” So Congress didn’t officially print the Bible. It was the official printer of the Congress who printed the Bible with a Congressional endorsement with a Congressional committee oversight, with the approval of the Congressional chaplains.

Although Barton admits that Congress didn’t officially print the Bible, he still frames it as a kind of joint effort of Congress and Aitken. While Aitken did print the first two Journals of the Congress, he was not the only printer used by Congress. Congress secured several printers for various jobs.  John Dunlop (who also printed the Declaration of Independence) assisted Aitken and printed the third edition of the journals. David C. Claypoole, not Robert Aitken, had the title of “Printer to the Honourable the Congress” at around the same time Aitken approached Congress with his petition.
In any case, Congress responded favorably to Aitken’s request to check the Bible for accuracy and they endorsed the work as a benefit to religion and the arts but they did not say “let’s print this.” In fact, Aitken had already printed the New Testament and started printing the entire Bible before he approached Congress. He petitioned Congress on January 21, 1781 but there was no official action by Congress until September, 1782. In the mean time, Aitken offered his Bible to the public, publishing a circular on August 11, 1782 which was titled, “Sir, Various inducements have led me to print a neat and correct edition of the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, which, I expect, will be ready for sale by the beginning of October.”
Despite Barton’s spin and additional embellishments, his admission that Congress did not print the Aitken Bible is significant. This admission is in contrast to what he said on the Monumental movie, on the recently removed Family Research Council video and to the Montana prayer breakfast crowd in March. For instance on the FRC video, Barton said

This is a copy of what the first Bible printed in English in America looked like. This Bible was printed by the U.S. Congress in 1782.

Now he says Congress didn’t print the Bible.
While this may seem like progress, it is only of minor significance until Barton publically admits that he has misled millions of people and takes responsibility for it.

David Barton, Robert Aitken and the Importance of a Narrative

In prior posts, I have provided primary source documentation that Congress did not initiate or print the first English Bible in the U.S. (the Aitken Bible). David Barton claims that Congress printed the Aitken Bible for use in schools (see the prior posts) which is not true.
Barton’s narrative derives from several aspects of the story which he weaves together to paint a misleading picture. One of those aspects is the petition to Congress made by Robert Aitken when he was nearing the completion of printing his Bible. Barton takes a sentence from that petition (“a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools”) and presents it as if Congress printed the Bible for that use. As anyone who is willing to read the primary sources will see, Congress did not say this. Aitken wanted his Bible used in schools but no Congressional action endorsed it for that purpose.
Another facet of this story has rarely been examined. To fully understand the implications of what Congress did with the Aitken Bible, it is important to understand what they did not do. Aitken’s request to Congress was couched in a particular view of how the government should relate to Christianity in general and the Bible in particular. Let’s look again at his request to Congress to catch the context:

To the Honourable The Congress of the United States of America
The Memorial of Robert Aitken of the City of Philadelphia Printer 
Humbly Sheweth
That in every well regulated Government in Christendom The Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament, commonly called the Holy Bible, are printed and published under the Authority of the Sovereign Powers, in order to prevent the fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian Faith might suffer from the spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation. That your Memorialist has no doubt but this work is an Object worthy the attention of the Congress of the United States of America, who will not neglect spiritual security, while they are virtuously contending for temporal blessings.
Under this persuasion, your Memorialist begs leave to inform your Honours That he both begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, But being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress, Humbly prays that your Honors would take this important matter into serious consideration & would be pleased to appoint one Member or Members of your Honourable Body to inspect his work so that the same may be published under the Authority of Congress. And further, your Memorialist prays, that he may be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures, in such manner and form as may best suit the wants and demands of the good people of these States, provided the same be in all things perfectly consonant to the Scriptures as heretofore Established and received amongst us, And as in Duty bound your Memorialist shall ever pray
Robt. Aitken Philadelphia. 21, Jany. 1781.

Aitken’s assumption was that the government had an interest in making sure the Bible was available to citizens and that it was accurate in order to prevent heresies from springing up. In order to pursue what Aitken considered to be a public policy objective, he asserted that Bibles needed to printed under the authority of the government. If Aitken’s request had been granted in the manner he asked it, Congress would have published an authorized version of the Bible.
Aitken’s view of government was closer to those who wanted Christianity or some version of it as the state religion. Since the nation was Christian, Aitken reasoned, it made sense that the central government would have an official Bible and an official Bible printer. In the last paragraph, it is clear that Aitken was angling for this job (i.e., “your Memorialist prays, that he may be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures”).
In short, Aitken wanted Congress to inspect his Bible, then publish it under government authority and he wanted to be the official Bible printer of the United States. As we know, a committee of Congress referred the accuracy inspection to the chaplains. They gave a glowing recommendation. Then Congress commented on the work as important for religion and art and recommended the Bible to the citizens and authorized Aitken to print their recommendation.
Look at what Congress did not do. They did not designate Aitken’s Bible (or any Bible) as an authorized United States version of the Scriptures as Aitken had requested.  Congress was silent about the need to protect Christianity from “fatal confusion” via the publication of an authorized governmental Bible. There was no specific recommendation for the use of the Bible (e.g., schools). And Congress did not designate Aitken (or anyone else) as the official Bible vendor for the new nation. It is what Congress did not do, as much as what they did, that helps us understand the significance of this set of events.
Aitken’s view was that a Christian nation had duties to promote and privilege Christianity. The response of Congress indicates a different perspective. Congress was not hostile to the request but they did not gratify all of Aitken’s wishes. There was no official Bible, no declaration that well-regulated governments prevent “fatal confusion” in Christianity by printing an official text of the Bible. Finally, Congress did not see any need to appoint someone to print Bible under governmental authority.
I am glad that Congress did not establish an official Bible printer and an official version of the Bible. I think Christianity and religion in general do best in an environment low in government regulation. Can you imagine the protests today if the government took over Bible printing and declared an official state Bible?
In any case, full context is necessary, which in this case means understanding what Congress did as well as what Congress did not do.
 

David Barton’s Founders’ Bible is Wrong about the Aitken Bible

David Barton is certainly consistent. In his Capitol Tour, in the movie Monumental and now in the Founders’ Bible, Barton claims that Congress printed the first English language translation of the Bible. Here is the claim from page xiii of the Founders’ Bible:

America’s commitment to the Bible was unwavering and was demonstrated in many ways, one of which was evident at the conclusion of the American Revolution. With the victory at the Battle of Yorktown, America was finally free from British policies, including the longstanding one against printing a Bible in English in America.

Consequently, in 1781, a plan was advanced in Congress to print America’s first English-language Bible. On September 12, 1782, the full Congress approved that Bible, and it soon began rolling off the presses. Printed in the front of the Bible is a congressional endorsement declaring, in part:

Resolved, that the United States in Congress assembled… recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States. (emphasis in the original)

This claim is so easily checked that it is amazing to me that Barton persists in saying that Congress printed it. The truth is that Robert Aitken approached Congress for an endorsement after he had printed the Bible himself at his own expense. A committee of Congress passed the Bible over to the chaplains who vouched for the accuracy of the work. Congress then recommended the Bible as an accurate version to the people.

Here again are the pages from the Journals of Congress dated September 12, 1782 which detail what Congress did with Mr. Aitken’s Bible. Continue reading “David Barton’s Founders’ Bible is Wrong about the Aitken Bible”

David Barton’s U.S. Capitol Tour: Did Congress Print the First Bible in English for the Use of Schools?

In early August, I started a series on David Barton’s Capitol Tour. That was August 6 (Jefferson and the Kaskaskia Indians). On August 7, WORLD broke the David Barton controversy story with NPR’s coverage coming the next day. Today, I want to get back to the Capitol Tour with a post on a topic which has been frequently examined — Congress and the Aitken Bible. On the Capitol Tour YouTube video at 42 seconds in,  Barton begins his claims about the Aitken Bible. Watch:

First, I will give Barton’s claim followed by the facts. During the tour, Barton said:

This is a copy of what the first Bible printed in English in America looked like. This Bible was printed by the U.S. Congress in 1782.

Not true. Robert Aiken printed that Bible. Here is his petition to Congress about the Bible.*

To the Honourable The Congress of the United States of America

The Memorial of Robert Aitken of the City of Philadelphia Printer Humbly Sheweth

That in every well regulated Government in Christendom The Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament, commonly called the Holy Bible, are printed and published under the Authority of the Sovereign Powers, in order to prevent the fatal confusion that would arise, and the alarming Injuries the Christian Faith might suffer from the spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation. That your Memorialist has no doubt but this work is an Object worthy the attention of the Congress of the United States of America, who will not neglect spiritual security, while they are virtuously contending for temporal blessings.

Under this persuasion your Memorialist begs leave to inform your Honours That he both begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, But being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress, Humbly prays that your Honors would take this important matter into serious consideration & would be pleased to appoint one Member or Members of your Honourable Body to inspect his work so that the same may be published under the Authority of Congress. And further, your Memorialist prays, that he may be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures, in such manner and form as may best suit the wants and demands of the good people of these States, provided the same be in all things perfectly consonant to the Scriptures as heretofore Established and received amongst us, And as in Duty bound your Memorialist shall every pray

Robt. Aitken Philadelphia. 21, Jany. 1781.

Aitken was already well along with his printing project when he approached Congress with an assumption and three requests. First, he assumed that the government ought to print and publish Bibles to make sure there were no errors. Aitken seemed to believe that the civil authority had the responsibility to protect Christianity and the citizenry from “spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation.” Based on that assumption, Aitken wanted Congress to inspect and recommend the Bible he had nearly completed. He also wanted the Bible published under the authority of Congress and then asked Congress to make him the official Bible printer for the new nation.

Aitken certainly seemed to think the United States should regulate Christianity in some manner, at the least to establish an approved version of the Scriptures. However, Congress did not respond favorably to all of his requests. Aitken was not appointed to be the official Bible printer. Instead, a committee turned the Bible over to the chaplains to check the accuracy of the work. The chaplains reported back that the Bible was indeed accurate and recommended it. As the first English Bible the America, it was quite a milestone but it was not printed or paid for by Congress. To get the story as it is printed in the records of Congress, I have thumbnails of all three pages pertaining to the Aitken Bible (click to read them).

After misleading his crowd about who printed the Bible, Barton claimed:

In the records, it says that it was quote ‘a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use in schools.’

If by “records,” Barton means the letter from Aitken to Congress, then I suppose he is technically correct. As you can see in Robert Aitken’s petition to Congress, he described his Bible as a “neat Edition of the Scriptures for the use in schools.” However, his petition was the only place in the “records” where this phrase was written. Congress did not express this purpose. Barton then posed a question to his audience:

So the first Bible printed in America in English was printed by Congress for the use of our schools?

The answer to that question is no. Barton took Aitken’s words to Congress and made them come from Congress. Barton then asserted that Congress printed the Bible and did so for the use of schools. In fact, the Congressional resolution properly credited Aitken as printer but did not affirm the Bible for the use in schools:

Resolved: That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of the arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report, of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper (p. 574, Journals of Congress, September 12, 1782).

While this story is interesting in that Congress commemorated this artistic and religious first with a recommendation, it is also important to note what Congress did not do. Congress did not pay Aitken’s expenses, did not purchase or distribute the Bible and did not make Aitken the official government Bible printer. As it turned out, Aitken lost money on the project.

This story and other versions of it have been examined before (e.g., Chris Rodda’s video), but Barton continues to tell it. He told Kirk Cameron a similar story on Monumental and told Mike Huckabee the same story on his FOX News program (even allowing Huckabee to go uncorrected when Huckabee said “the taxpayers paid for” the printing of the Bible – at 6:38 into the clip).

More in this series:

David Barton’s Capitol Tour: Did Thomas Jefferson Spend Federal Funds to Evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians?

*In addition to the Library of Congress website, a good concise source for material relating to the debate (e.g., Aitken’s petition above) about the founding era is a book edited by Matthew L. Harris and Thomas S. Kidd: The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America: A History in Documents. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).