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.
David Barton recently gave a speech to the Arkansas Tea Party Alliance. At the end of his presentation, a person in the crowd asked him about the background of his book The Jefferson Lies. Specifically, the questioner wanted to know why it was pulled from publication. Barton then launched into his false victim narrative. Watch:
Initially, he referred to Right Wing Watch who he said is funded by George Soros. After lamenting his Wikipedia page, he implied that someone (perhaps Soros inspired people? He once said that “secular guys” recruited us) got Christian professors to attack his book on Jefferson. He then said that Thomas Nelson got scared by the controversy and pulled his book because they were bought out by Rupert Murdoch and didn’t want any controversy. He defended himself saying that he had boxes of documentation for his claims and that his new book has a chapter debunking his Christian critics. Now we have gone silent (lulz).
Here we go again.
1. I have never been recruited by anyone to write a critique of David Barton’s work. I do it because I want to and it is immensely satisfying to know the truth. George Soros does not fund my work.
2. There are scores of Christian professors around the country who have weighed in on Barton’s history, not just six.
3. Thomas Nelson said plainly that they lost confidence in the book’s facts. Thomas Nelson did their own review of the claims made by Barton’s critics and determined his books was historically unsound. This was reported widely (not just on MSNBC). The claim about Murdoch has no support. Barton has never offered any proof that Murdoch had anything to do with his book being pulled. Furthermore, HarperCollins Christian (what Thomas Nelson was folded into) has published other controversial books since Barton’s was pulled.
4. Barton’s new book does have a chapter addressing some of our claims. However, he also changed several claims in the new book in keeping with our critiques without giving us any credit. I don’t agree that he satisfactorily addressed our claims and we certainly haven’t gone silent.
It never ceases to amaze me how Barton can stand before Christian people and say the things he does.
I challenge Barton to provide proof that Thomas Nelson pulled his book because they didn’t want controversy.
I challenge him to offer proof that I have been recruited by secular guys, George Soros or anybody to attack his work.
I challenge any of the crowd at the meeting to check Barton’s statement with the Christian professors Barton denigrated. You can get the rest of the story about Jefferson by reading Getting Jefferson Right.
Last week, Eric Metaxas had David Barton on his radio show and told the audience that he loved Barton and his work. He also said he used some of Barton’s work to help write his new book If You Can Keep It. That book has been the subject of many critical reviews.
They also briefly discussed Barton’s pulled-from-publication book, The Jefferson Lies. In particular, Barton claimed to enlighten the audience about what is commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. Metaxas started to ask Barton a question about Jefferson’s editing of the Gospels, and Barton jumped in to explain.
I have addressed this story before but want to write a series of posts to show that Barton’s story is mostly fiction. Today, I start with the audio, the transcript and address a few of the key claims. First, the audio segment:
Transcript (the words in bold print are either untrue or highly questionable):
Metaxas: Jefferson is perceived as being rather secular, that he excised the Bible, rather the New Testament to remove the miracles and the…
Barton: Can I jump in on that one for a second because that is the one that Christians will repeat the most often?
Metaxas: Right, of course.
Barton: And I say Jefferson cut out all the supernatural, the stuff he didn’t like? And they say, Yeah. What are you talking about? They say, the Jefferson Bible. I say, really? Yeah, the Jefferson Bible. I say, which one? First off, they didn’t know there were two. And I say, yeah there’s the 1804 and an 1820 so which one so which one are you talking about? And so then I say, have you read either one of them? Well, no. How do you know he cuts it out? Well, that’s what they always say. Well, let me tell you about the 1804 and then go to 1820.
In 1804, Jefferson was given a sermon by a friend named, excuse me 1803, he got a sermon by a friend named Edward Dowse and the sermon was by William Bennet an evangelical in Scotland that says if you want to reach the American Indians do not give them the Bible because they might read Leviticus, they might read the genealogies, he said give them excerpts out of the Bible.
So Jefferson read that sermon, he then goes to the White House and takes two White House Bibles and he cuts out the teachings of Jesus, what we would call the red letters of Jesus. He pasted them end-to-end. He gave that to a missionary friend and said look, this is a lot cheaper than printing the Bible and its got the teachings. In that, he has the dead being raised, Jesus is raising the dead, Jesus healing the sick, Jesus cleansing lepers, Jesus is the son of God, resurrection, heaven, hell, angels. But wait! I thought he cut out all that sp__, no, it’s there.
The second one he did was in 1820. And he said, and by the way, every University in America back then required you to take a course in moral philosophy, every theological school, same thing. And so he [Jefferson] lists nearly 20 writers where he read their moral writings and he concluded that Jesus was better than all of them.
So he went through in 1820 and found 81 moral teachings of Jesus, he compiled them end to end. He called the book the life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth, and it was the stuff like the great commandment, love God with all your heart soul and mind. It was turning the other cheek, it was forgiveness, it was the good Samaritan, it was the Golden Rule, and that’s what he did in four languages. Nobody knew that existed until 1886, and Cyrus Adler the Secretary of the Smithsonian found it from Jefferson’s grandson, they bought it , they got it to Congress and in 1902, US representative John Lacey said you know this is so great, if we could just live by the teachings of Jesus. So Congress printed 9,000 copies and for 50 years if you were a Freshman in the House or Senate, they gave you the life and morals of Jesus, read this and you’ll stay out of trouble.
Barton: Now wait a minute what happened to this stuff about hating. Let me point out that Jefferson was a lifetime member of the Virginia Bible Society, the third largest contribution he gave in his life was to the Virginia Bible Society, when his kids and grandkids learned to read, he gave them a Bible to read, he’s a funder of the John Thompson Bible, the largest Bible ever done in America, he’s a funder of the Thomas Scott Bible, he tried to fund the Charles Thomson Bible. If Jefferson hates the Bible, why does he keep doing this stuff? See that’s one of the seven lies we’ve been told about Jefferson. And everybody repeats what they’ve heard. Read it for yourself. It doesn’t cut out the miraculous, or the supernatural. Read it for yourself.
William Bennet’s Sermon
The first false claim is that William Bennet’s sermon gave instructions about how to reach the Indians with the Gospel. I don’t know why Barton keeps making this claim. He made it in the first edition of The Jefferson Lies and often repeats in his media appearances (e.g., Jesse Peterson show) but he walked it back in the recently published second edition. Furthermore, Mark Beliles, an writer used by both Barton and Metaxas as an authority, told me that Barton is wrong about the content of that sermon. In an email, Beliles said:
Yes, Barton overstated the case about that sermon itself. But the sermon clearly promoted the importance of getting Jesus’ morals found in the gospel into the hands of missionaries of the society, and they of course were going to Indians as well as other groups.
Barton did more than overstate the case. Bennet in his sermon didn’t mention mission work to Indians and certainly didn’t tell readers to withhold a Bible from Indians because they might read Leviticus or the genealogies. He didn’t encourage readers to cut up the Gospels and give the Indians a resurrection-free version of the Gospels. Barton just made that up. Don’t believe me? Click the link and read the sermon for yourself.
Why Did Jefferson Cut Up the Gospels?
Barton makes it sound like Jefferson read this sermon and then immediately went to the White House Bibles with knife in hand. One must pause to understand the timing. Edward Dowse sent Bennet’s sermon to Jefferson in April 1803 (read the entire correspondence here). Jefferson didn’t make his first extraction from the Gospels until March 1804.
In this case, we have Jefferson’s own words about why he cut up the Gospels. To Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about his extraction:
I made, for my own satisfaction, an Extract from the Evangelists of the texts of his morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his own: and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills. a more precious morsel of ethics was never seen. it was too hastily done however, being the work of one or two evenings only, while I lived at Washington, overwhelmed with other business: and it is my intention to go over it again at more leisure. this shall be the work of the ensuing winter. I gave it the title of ‘the Philosophy of Jesus extracted from the text of the Evangelists.’
Jefferson referred to this extraction to John Adams, Benjamin Rush and others. In no place, did he refer to the sermon from Bennet or the letter from Dowse as having anything to do with his desire to cut up the Gospels. Jefferson said he selected only those texts “whose style and spirit proved them genuine, and his [Jesus’] own.” Jefferson said the real words and deeds of Jesus were “as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamond in dunghills.”
Regarding the 1804 effort, Jefferson refers to it as a text “of his [Jesus] morals.” In both efforts, Jefferson was going for a compendium of the moral teachings of Jesus which Jefferson believed to be the actual teachings (diamonds) and not material added by the disciples and Gospel writers (dunghill). Let that sink in a minute. Jefferson presumed to know what parts of the Gospels were really true and which were added and not genuine.
Barton is correct that there were two efforts but because of his story about Bennet’s sermon, he artificially makes Jefferson have two purposes. This is misleading.
Relevant to that point, I challenge Barton or Metaxas to identify the missionary who received Jefferson’s 1804 version. No primary source evidence exists that Jefferson ever gave the extraction to anybody.
What Is In The Jefferson Bible?
In fact, when Barton tells Metaxas’ audience to go read the 1804 version, he knows they can’t. There is no actual copy in existence. We have the tables of texts Jefferson wrote to help guide him in his work and we have the cut up Bibles as well. However, we don’t know for sure what ended up in the version since we don’t have it. We do have the 1820 (in the neighborhood of 1820, it is not known exactly when he finished it) which you can read here.
In the next post on Barton’s story on the Metaxas show, I will take up the question about miracles in the 1804 version. We can’t be as sure what was in that one as in the 1820 version but we aren’t completely in the dark as I will discuss in that post. In the mean time, one can see the following posts on that topic, or get my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.
Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part One
Is the Jefferson Bible All the Words of Jesus? Part Two
Are the Miracles of Matthew 9 in the Jefferson Bible?
On April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Virginia. Over 270 years later, Jefferson is trending on Twitter. Many people want to claim Jefferson. Today, for instance, the Heritage Foundation has an article claiming that the Tea Party embodies Jefferson’s legacy.
Jefferson had many sides and wasn’t perfectly consistent. The letter to James Madison below might be a surprise to many of Jefferson’s conservative fans.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison
28 Oct. 1785Papers 8:681–82
Seven o’clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley thro’ which runs a brook, and on each side of it a ridge of small mountains most of which are naked rock. The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. But as this is not indispensably required, and my finances do not admit the expence of a continued residence here, I propose to come occasionally to attend the king’s levees, returning again to Paris, distant 40 miles. This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest of the mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league. As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, which I began by enquiries for the path which would lead me into the mountain: and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance. She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics, not labouring. They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.
The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 32
Jefferson worried that too much wealth in the hands of a few would work against the natural rights of all. Clearly, Jefferson saw a role for the government in creating policies to address the needs of the poor and unemployed. Jefferson surely did call for limited government but not so limited as to ignore “those excluded from the appropriation.”
I don’t know what TJ would have thought about The Guess Who, but after reading this letter again, I thought of this song.
If you want a more scholarly treatment of Jefferson, why not treat yourself to Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President?
Thomas Kidd called George Marsden “the greatest historian of American religion of the past generation.” In The Jefferson Lies, Barton cited Marsden as an authority. In Marsden’s 2014 book titled The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, he described David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies as an effort to make Jefferson into an orthodox Christian. His footnote on Barton’s book leads to a description of Getting Jefferson Right. It is not a direct endorsement but it sounds good to me. First, read what Marsden has to say about The Jefferson Lies:
Marsden then leads readers to GJR in his footnote:
So much for the critics of Barton’s book being liberals.
I have just about run out of headlines to describe the errors in David Barton’s description of why The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication in 2012. He and World Net Daily continue to promote the idea that the book’s critics were liberals and that Thomas Nelson pulled the book due to political correctness. I’ve debunked these false claims more than once.
Now he is advancing another theory about why historians have been critical of The Jefferson Lies. In an article (another whitewash of Jefferson’s actions relating to slavery) at World Net Daily, Barton claims professional historians refuse to use “original documents.” From the WND article:
Barton blames the ignorance surrounding Jefferson on the refusal of professional historians to review original documents instead of second-hand sources.
Barton said: “Nobody knows anything unless they quote from another PhD. No, go back to the original documents. When you go back to the original documents you get things right. And so what they do, when you go back to the books, they all quote each other in a circular fashion. And because I went back to the originals instead of quoting PhDs, the PhDs said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Barton suggested his use of original sources is one of the reasons many historians are so hostile to “The Jefferson Lies.”
“That’s what gives them heartburn, because now they have to admit that what they’ve been taught may be wrong, their philosophy may be wrong, they’ve taken a position that no longer comports with history, and they’ve been saying that this is what history teaches,” Barton said. “So it really puts them in a hard spot.”
Barton must mean primary sources when he says “original documents.” He himself doesn’t use original documents for most of the claims he makes. For instance, he cites Jefferson’s letters which he takes from books and internet sources. Here are just a few relevant footnotes from The Jefferson Lies:
Thomas Jefferson, “The Thomas Jefferson Papers,” Library of Congress, to Robert Brent on August 14, 1805 (at: http:// hdl.loc.gov/ loc.mss/ mtj.mtjbib015028).
Thomas Jefferson, “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia,” The University of Virginia, August 4, 1818 (at: http:// nersp.osg.ufl.edu/ ~ lombardi/ edudocs/ jefferson_uva_1818. html).
Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Charlottesville: F. Carr, and Co., 1829), Vol. IV, 23, to Mrs. John Adams on July 22, 1804, Vol. IV, 228, to John Adams on October 28, 1813, and Vol. II, 48– 50, to Mrs. Cosway on October 12, 1786; Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. II, 253– 254, “Notes on Religion,” October 1776, Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, DC: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIV, 71– 73, to John Adams on January 24, 1814; etc.
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, WND Books. Kindle Edition.
As others do, Barton uses what are more accurately called primary sources to cite Jefferson’s words. One can find them on the web or in edited collections of his letters. I have yet to come across a footnote in Barton’s new edition which cites an original document only available to Barton. In the first edition, Barton cited a sea letter signed by Jefferson which he apparently has in his library. However, in the new edition, that letter is not cited. As an aside, Barton used that letter to claim Jefferson signed presidential documents with the phrase, “In the year of our Lord Christ.” We demonstrated in Getting Jefferson Right that Jefferson did not choose to write that phrase in his own handwriting on a shipping letter and apparently in response (I can’t find it in the new edition) Barton removed the claim from the new edition (for more on this claim check here and here).
Historians are taught to use primary sources. It is a foundation of the discipline. For instance, check out this article on using primary sources to teach history from the American Historical Association website:
Strategies and Resources for Teaching with Primary Sources
Free and open access to the raw materials of history is not enough for K–12 classroom teachers. They also need the strategies and resources for effective, relevant, and rigorous primary source instruction. All TPS professional development offerings for history teachers convey the same message: teaching with primary sources helps students ask meaningful questions, develop critical thinking skills, and acquire new knowledge. Whether students are learning about the Civil War, the dust bowl migration, or the civil rights movement, working with primary sources models the investigative process used by historians, and encourages active student engagement at all stages of the learning process. For example, a lesson on the Declaration of Independence in which students compare Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten “original Rough draught” with the final version adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, illustrates differences in word choice and intent, and hence demands greater scrutiny of Jefferson’s language and the meaning he attached to his words. Also available at the library’s web site is an online interactive program that assists students in sourcing the documents that Jefferson drew upon for ideas and phrases (http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/creatingtheus/Pages/Interactives.aspx).
Barton must know he is misleading people here. Perhaps he could give an example of an historian using secondary sources inappropriately but that doesn’t mean that a majority do it. Furthermore, his critics rely on primary sources. We certainly do and since he says he has read Getting Jefferson Right, he knows we do.
Another problem with Barton’s claim is that he uses secondary sources.
For instance, in the first edition of The Jefferson Lies, Barton claimed that Thomas Jefferson invited preacher James O’Kelly to the White House to preach. Barton wrote in the 2012 edition:
Jefferson also arranged for other ministers to preach at the Capitol, including the Reverend James O’Kelly, another of his strong supporters. Originally a Methodist, O’Kelly later founded a movement known as the “Republican Methodists” because of the common beliefs they shared with Jefferson’s political movement. He twice visited Jefferson at the White House, and Jefferson twice arranged for him to preach in the church at the Capitol. 31 Following one of those occasions, a newspaper editor reported that after O’Kelly’s sermon, “Mr. Jefferson arose with tears in his eyes and said that while he was no preacher, in his opinion James O’Kelly was one of the greatest preachers living.” 32
Barton, David (2013-02-15). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 3024-3030). WallBuilder Press. Kindle Edition.
Checking footnotes 31 and 32, one finds:
31 Wilbur E. MacClenny, “James O’Kelly: A Champion of Christian Freedom,” in The Centennial of Religious Journalism, ed. John Pressley Barrett (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1908), 265.
32 Dr. J. P. Barrett, editor of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, Dayton, Ohio, quoted in Wilburn E. MacClenny, The Life of Rev. James O’Kelly and the Early History of the Christian Church in the South (Suffolk: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1910), 171– 173.
Barton, David (2013-02-15). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 5926-5932). WallBuilder Press. Kindle Edition.
MacClenny wrote in 1908 and 1910 (click the link for the 1910 book). MacClenny provides one source for his information regarding O’Kelly and Jefferson, J.P. Barrett. Barrett was the editor of a church newsletter, Herald of Gospel Liberty. While I don’t know Barrett’s entire tenure at the newsletter, he was editor in the early 1900s and not during the early 1800s. He did not witness Jefferson calling O’Kelly one of the “greatest preachers living” because he wasn’t alive.
In this case, Barton not only used a secondary source (MacClenny), but he used one (Barrett) another step removed from Jefferson’s time and the event in question. Barton did just what he accused professional historians of doing. Furthermore, professional historians would find such a source laughable.
What about in the new edition? Did Barton keep the O’Kelly stories?
While Barton removed the story of Jefferson calling O’Kelly one of the greatest living preachers, he still relies on MacClenny to claim O’Kelly was Jefferson’s great friend and preached twice at Jefferson’s request.
Jefferson personally arranged for other Christian ministers to preach at the Capitol, including the Reverend James O’Kelly, another of his strong supporters. Originally a Methodist, O’Kelly later founded a movement known as the “Republican Methodists” because of the common beliefs they shared with Jefferson’s political movement. He twice visited Jefferson at the White House, and Jefferson twice arranged for him to preach in the church at the Capitol. 36
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 3620-3624). WND Books. Kindle Edition.
The footnote still points to MacClenny:
36 Wilbur E. MacClenny, The Centennial of Religious Journalism, John Pressley Barrett, editor (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1908), 250 and 265, “James O’Kelly: A Champion of Christian Freedom.”
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 6873-6875). WND Books. Kindle Edition.
In fact, there is no primary or contemporary source for the claims about O’Kelly. Barton relied on a secondary source (MacClenny) which in turn used a secondary source (Barrett) to spread questionable information about these events. Both secondary sources were 100 years removed from the events in question. In fact, there is no primary source evidence that O’Kelly ever preached at Jefferson’s request or even met him.
In preparation to write Getting Jefferson Right, I read James O’Kelly’s papers which are housed at Elon University. In them, there is no mention of a friendship with Jefferson or of preaching in the Congress. The only reference to Jefferson is correspondence between Senator Harry Byrd and the Library of Congress. Sen. Byrd asked the Library of Congress if O’Kelly ever preached in Congress. Frederick Scott, acting chief of the Library of Congress’ Government and General Research Division replied in 1971 that no records could be found to substantiate the story. I also asked Anna Berke at the library at Monticello if Jefferson ever corresponded with O’Kelly. After a search of all of Jefferson’s papers, she informed me that there is no letter to, from, or about James O’Kelly.
The short summary of this matter is that Barton did what he accuses others of doing. Those who are enamored with Barton’s extensive footnotes should check them out.
To promote David Barton’s second edition of The Jefferson Lies, World Net Daily, Glenn Beck, and David Barton claim the first edition was pulled from publication by publisher Thomas Nelson due to ideologically motivated attacks by liberals.
World Net Daily:
Despite the wildly popular success of the original hardcover edition, or perhaps because of it, a campaign to discredit Barton’s scholarship was launched by bloggers and a handful of non-historian academics.
What happened next was shocking – virtually unprecedented in modern American publishing history. Under siege from critics, the publisher spiked the book and recalled it from the retail shelves from coast to coast. The Jefferson Lies is thus a history book that made history – becoming possibly the first book of its kind to be victimized by the scourge of “political correctness.”
And you know, the other nice thing about it [republishing The Jefferson Lies] they say, is that it takes this, excuse the expression, this isn’t my expression, this would be somebody elses’; I don’t know who’s, but, the liberal bastards that went and have an agenda and not based in facts had it pulled off the New York Times bestseller list because it just didn’t have the facts. This [holding up The Jefferson Lies] has taken all of their arguments and dismantled all of their arguments.
Many in academia today openly proclaim their disdain for traditional American ideals and heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, routinely twisting his words to suit their own agendas. This is what happened four years ago. But through the new release of ‘The Jefferson Lies,’ Americans will not only meet the unfiltered Jefferson as he speaks clearly for himself on a variety of issues, but they will also understand why he was so proudly esteemed by Americans for literally centuries, until trashed by modern professors and critics.
The problem with this narrative can be illustrated with a sampling of conservative criticisms of The Jefferson Lies.
First of all, let’s recall that Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher who continues to publish books by conservative authors, including Jerome Corsi, Eric Metaxas, Richard Land, Judge Napolitano, Tom Coburn, William Bennett, Kevin McCullough, Star Parker, Sam Brownback, and others.
When the book was pulled in 2012, several conservative organizations and media sources reacted with approval.
Just after The Jefferson Lies was pulled, Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor titled an article: “Thomas Nelson Ceases Publication of David Barton’s Error-ridden Book on Jefferson’s Faith” Taylor concluded: “This is actually a very interesting test case for those who have bought in to Barton’s historiography, methodology, and conclusions. Do we care about the truth, or do the conclusions we want to hear justify the means used to obtain them?”
Joe Carter, also on the Gospel Coalition’s website, wrote:
Why It Matters: In 1950, British biologist Sir Peter Medawar said that French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin “can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.” A similar criticism could be made about Barton. While his books and videos have deceived thousands of Christians about the historical record, Barton appears to be sincerely convinced of the superiority of his own interpretations.
Yet despite his claims to being an “historical expert,” Barton tends to make sloppy, factual errors and extrapolations that are wholly unsupportable. For instance, he claims the U.S. Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.
The Gospel Coalition’s council consists of additional mainstream, conservative evangelicals such as John Piper, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Tim Keller and Anthony Carter, just to name a few better known non-liberals.
Colson Center for Christian Worldview – Breakpoint:
On The Point, a Colson Center radio show, John Stonestreet summarized the controversy over The Jefferson Lies by referring to Jay Richards’ efforts to involve 10 Christian historians in an evaluation of the book. As Stonestreet noted, the response was negative.
Then, writing in a Breakpoint column, Tom Gilson said:
The story has been told in both the secular and the Christian press: Barton’s most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, was riddled with misinformation. Its publisher, Thomas Nelson, pulled it from distribution. Barton is standing firm in his position, but reliable historians—strongly conservative Christian scholars among them—continue to hold him in error, and not just because of this work but because of others as well.
To accept any human teacher without checking on his message with due diligence is to abandon our responsibility to the truth. David Barton’s errors are not only his. They also belong to those of us who bought his message carelessly, unquestioningly, too eagerly, and too comfortably.
Later on his own blog, Gilson said:
Barton’s errors seem sufficiently well documented. They are nothing less than tragic, for him and for his large audience. Inevitably some Christians will be angry with those who have shined a light on David Barton’s errors. Far better they recognize that the best way to rally around him is to encourage him to stick close to the truth. Far better we all stick close to the truth.
Institute for Religion and Democracy:
The IRD was founded in order to monitor and counter the evangelical left. From IRD’s website:
Welcome to the website for the Institute on Religion & Democracy. We are a watchdog of the religious and evangelical left, disputing their claims to represent millions of church members when espousing a liberal or far-left political agenda.
In 2012, Bart Gingerich wrote about Barton’s work on the IRD blog, concluding:
And as for the powerhouse spokespeople for such reactions, David Barton provides the material to meet the agenda. Thus, the “exaggerations” are propped up even more since they meet the requirements of a belly-aching pattern of decline and ruin. Unfortunately, the agenda comes at the expense of individual souls. Students—especially the scholastically adept—are hurt very badly by the misinterpretations, misportrayals, mistruths. I barely survived coming across the knowledge, and there are many who do not. David Barton isn’t helping by circulating lies. Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war. I’m not really much for the metaphor in the first place, but if we’re really serious about protecting marriage, life, and the Western heritage, we ought never to stretch the truth to get our way. Proceedings have already gone underway; it’s time to court martial David Barton.
Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull the book, the well respected conservative Catholic website First Things published an article by Greg Forster critical of Barton’s treatment of John Locke. Forster, a conservative, wrote:
The focus of the current controversy is Barton’s new book on Jefferson. My friend Jay Richards doesn’t mince words; he says this book and Barton’s other books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”
I’m not a scholar of Thomas Jefferson, but I am a scholar of John Locke . Barton has an article about Locke on his website, so I thought I’d weigh in with my opinion on whether it matches Jay’s description of Barton’s methods. It does, and then some.
I should note for the record that I’m not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke’s Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.
On the GU website, Professor Jim Eckman wrote in review (click through to read the entire review) of The Jefferson Lies:
As a Christian historian and Christian leader, I believe very strongly that we must be truthful and forthright about our beliefs. We must also be people of integrity and be scrupulous in how we present our case. In my judgment, David Barton has not done this. (Thomas Nelson has ceased its publication of Barton’s book on Jefferson.) He needs to be called to task and evangelicals in the US must be much more discerning and careful in what is claimed about our Founders.
On some issues, I suspect American Vision is to the right of Barton. This Christian reconstructionist group is politically and religiously on the very far right. Writing on the American Vision website, Joel McDurmon provided a lengthy rebuttal to one chapter of The Jefferson Lies. About Barton’s book, McDurmon concluded:
Sadly, with the level and degree of error I have found in just the chapter I reviewed, I cannot recommend this book to the average Christian reader. While a book like this needs to be written vindicating Jefferson from much liberal nonsense, the reader nonetheless will need to fact-check nearly every claim Barton makes for accuracy. And this is way too much to ask of the average reader. If that is to be the task, it would be better to skip Barton’s book altogether and go read all of Jefferson’s papers directly, because that what the reader will have to do eventually anyway.
In light of these conservative criticisms, it is clear that Barton, Beck and WND are engaged in a massive effort to revise history, and not just about Jefferson. Liberal attacks did not doom The Jefferson Lies, numerous conservatives weighed in. Historians, pastors, culture warriors, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines publicly expressed concerns. Eventually, Thomas Nelson conducted a review and made their decision.
Brannon Howse is a very conservative minister who has been a critic of Barton’s Christian nation teaching for several years. He consistently reposted information critical of The Jefferson Lies. Howse is quite conservative.
Getting Jefferson Right Reviewers
Some conservative reviewers of my book with Michael Coulter about Barton’s Jefferson claims, Getting Jefferson Right, specifically mentioned their views of Barton’s claims in their review. For instance:
Getting Jefferson Right by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter stands up for truth in scholarship against the scholarly problems found in David Barton’s ‘The Jefferson’s Lies.’ Because of the courage of Throckmorton and Coulter, Barton has regrettably fallen from his pedestal of preeminence as a scholar of the early American era. Throckmorton and Coulter deserve the ‘Medal of Honor’ for courage and probity.
-Chuck Dunn, Distinguished Professor of Government. Regent University. Author and/or Editor of 20 books on American politics, including The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership and American Culture in Peril.
Getting Jefferson Right is an intellectual and historical take down of David Barton’s pseudo-history of Thomas Jefferson by two Christian professors who teach at a conservative Christian college. Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton have done their homework. Anyone who reads this book must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program. I have yet to read a more thorough refutation of Barton’s claims.
–John Fea, Chair of the History Department, Messiah College and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
More Recent Conservative Criticism
Since The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, other religiously and/or politically conservative groups have advance critical opinions of Barton’s approach to history. For instance:
Jeff on the Pulpit and Pen blog wrote:
Widely discredited faux historian and seductive propagandist, David Barton, of Wallbuilders, along with his co-conspirator, Glenn Beck, are now joining TBN for a weekly series titled “Foundations of Freedom.” Barton, who pushes a politically right-wing form of Christianity at the expense of historical truthfulness, is widely known for his disproven book, Jefferson Lies, which was subsequently withdrawn from publication after being voted the “least credible history book in print.”
I am aware that some conservative Christian groups continue to laud Barton’s approach to history (e.g., after a brief hiccup, Family Research Council; even though they had to correct his facts, Focus on the Family; and American Family Association). My reason for documenting the response of other prominent conservatives is to counter the hoax now being perpetrated by Barton, Glenn Beck and WND that any opposition to Barton’s Christian nation approach to history and The Jefferson Lies comes only from liberals, non-historians, non-evangelicals or leftists.
Prior to Thomas Nelson’s decision to pull The Jefferson Lies, several critical reviews from Jefferson and/or American history scholars appeared in print. John Fea teaches at Messiah College; I don’t know how the others would describe themselves.
Wall Street Journal – A Still Unsettling Founding Father – Alan Pell Crawford.
Religion Dispatches – The Quixotic Task of Debunking David Barton – Paul Harvey
The Jefferson Hour – Review of The Jefferson Lies – Clay Jenkinson
The Way of Improvement Leads Home – (The Jefferson Lies, parts one, two, three, four,five and six) – John Fea
In his new edition of The Jefferson Lies, David Barton claimed that I recruited Jay Richards to find Christian historians who would engage in a campaign against him. That charge is still false.
I denied the charge in a post here and in a review on The Jefferson Lies Amazon page.
Today someone at Barton’s organization, Wallbuilders, replied to my review with an accusation that I told one story in the review and another story to some undisclosed persons. See below:
I then replied:
At one point in November 2013, Barton claimed that “secular guys” recruited Christian professors to attack Barton. At the time, I wrote:
Barton claims his Christian critics were recruited by “secular guys.” Of course, this is flatly false, at least in my case and anyone I know. No one recruited Michael Coulter and me to critique Barton’s book. Furthermore, there are dozens of Christian professors who have critiqued Barton’s work simply because it is the right and honest thing to do.
Jay Richards is a Fellow at the Discovery Institute who recruited 10 scholars to read our book and The Jefferson Lies. None of these scholars were recruited by secular people to critique Barton.
Even the Family Research Council recognized flaws in Barton’s presentations and pulled his Capitol Tour video from view. Also, Focus on the Family edited Barton’s talks to remove two major historical errors. Perhaps Barton is going to include FRC and Focus on the Family among those recruited by the unnamed “secular guys.”
I don’t know if Barton, Wallbuilders or WND will ever admit it, but it is undeniable that numerous conservative Christians have come forward with major academic critiques of the claims presented by Wallbuilders.
To support his claim that I recruited Richards, Barton wrote this footnote in the new edition of The Jefferson Lies.
The publisher of another of my works, The Founders Bible, released after The Jefferson Lies, reported to me some unexpected and unsolicited contacts he had with Warren Throckmorton, explaining: “About a month ago, I started to get hounded by Throckmorton via email and on our website. He even called my former publishing partner and ended up issuing a warning and a threat. Warren ‘warned’ that he had assembled a coalition of people, supposed conservative Christians, who were mounting a campaign against David. If we intended to publish The Founders’ Bible, anyone associated with Barton was likely to suffer financially, because they were going to come against him. Sort of hit me blindside.” I received this email from the publisher of The Founders Bible on August 16, 2012.
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 4669-4675). WND Books. Kindle Edition.
On July 3, 2012, I wrote to a friend who once was involved with the publisher of The Founders Bible with a heads up about the issues relating to The Jefferson Lies. The email was not a threat but rather a concerned personal alert to a friend. As I understand it, that email was forwarded to the publisher of The Founders Bible. I also made attempts to contact the publisher directly for comment about various aspects of the Founders Bible (for instance, I wondered if The Founders Bible was really going to include a favorable reference to a defender of Southern slavery). In my contacts with my friend and with the publisher I recollect describing the emergence of critiques from Christian conservatives.
Jay Richards contacted me in May 2012. He told me he had been commissioned to contact Christian historians to explore fact claims in The Jefferson Lies. While I was happy to hear that Richards was involved, I did not recruit him. Later, I made contacts with my friend and the publisher of The Founders Bible in July 2012, months after Richards first contacted me.
I have yet to hear from Wallbuilders about their claims but will update this post if I do.
GROVE CITY, Penn., Jan. 13, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — Yesterday was the official release date of the second edition of “The Jefferson Lies” by Ted Cruz’s Super PAC coordinator David Barton. Published by World Net Daily, the second edition promises to answer Barton’s critics and restore Jefferson’s reputation.
However, there is much World Net Daily and Barton are not telling the public about the circumstances surrounding the new book.
In August 2012, Thomas Nelson confirmed that the first edition of “The Jefferson Lies” had been pulled from publication because the publisher “learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.” Thomas Nelson stated that it was in “the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”
Many of those historical details are addressed factually in “Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President,” a 2012 book by Christian college professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter. With the release of the second edition of “The Jefferson Lies,” the fact checking in “Getting Jefferson Right” is more important than ever.
The new version of “The Jefferson Lies” contains an entire section in critical response to “Getting Jefferson Right.”
In his response, the first error Barton makes is to assert that “The Jefferson Lies” was pulled from publication due to attacks from liberals. However, critics Jay Richards. Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and Gregg Frazer, professor of history at The Master’s College are not liberals. “Getting Jefferson Right’s” authors are not liberals. Many other conservative historians have also expressed negatives reviews of “The Jefferson Lies.”
Members of the media may contact Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter regarding the facts surrounding the removal of “The Jefferson Lies” from publication in 2012, the allegations of liberal bias now and the historical claims made in “The Jefferson Lies” about Jefferson’s life and work.
For more information, see Getting Jefferson Right.
“Anyone who reads ‘Getting Jefferson Right’ must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that [David] Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program.” — John Fea, Chair, History Department, Messiah College
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Michael Coulter, PhD is Professor of Political Science, both at Grove City College (PA)
Even though the book has been available on Amazon for over two weeks, yesterday was the official release of the second edition of The Jefferson Lies by David Barton. To promote the book, Glenn Beck was in typical hyperbolic mode throughout the day on his network. I caught some of the radio segment and watched Barton’s appearance on Beck’s afternoon television show. Prior to Barton’s television appearance, Beck introduced the segment by trashing me as a leftist psychology professor.
Earlier on his radio show, he went further and referred to the “liberal bastards” who got Barton’s book pulled from publication. Watch:
I have debunked idea that somehow Barton’s book fell victim to political correctness. Furthermore, to cast me as a leftist is laughable.
To read the book by Michael Coulter and I that addresses many of Barton’s Jefferson claim, see Getting Jefferson Right.