In His New Book, Eric Metaxas Whitewashes George Whitefield on Slavery

In his new book If You Can Keep It, Eric Metaxas provides an overview of early American history in order to remind us what is special about America. In the process, he provides a pithy formula for national success, but he makes significant historical errors and glosses over important facts. One such fact is the involvement of evangelist George Whitefield in introducing slavery to Georgia.
In his chapter on Whitefield (which appears to be summarized without attribution from Thomas Kidd’s excellent book on Whitefield), Metaxas asserts that Whitefield’s preaching was a great equalizer among American social classes. On page 111, he adds:

The egalitarian strains of the Gospel extended to women and blacks as well. Many female preachers were spawned by the revival of the Great Awakening and many African American preachers too. Unlike most of the mainline ministers of his day, Whitefield often spoke to “Negroes” and once remarked that he was especially touched when one of them came to faith. One of them even asked Whitefield, “Have I a soul?” That Whitefield believed he did meant that the Negro was in this most important respect perfectly equal to whites.
Metaxas, Eric (2016-06-14). If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (p. 111). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is a disturbing whitewash of Whitefield’s views and actions relating to African slaves. As Kidd documents in his book (see also this post), Whitefield was “convinced that introducing slavery into Georgia was essential to the colony’s economic prospects…” Prior to Whitefield’s advocacy for slavery, Georgia had banned it. Whitefield himself owned slaves. On March 22, 1751, Whitefield wrote about the need for slavery in Georgia:

As for the lawfulness of keeping slaves, I have no doubt, since I hear of some that were bought with Abraham’s money, and some that were born in his house.—And I cannot help thinking, that some of those servants mentioned by the Apostles in their epistles, were or had been slaves. It is plain, that the Gibeonites were doomed to perpetual slavery, and though liberty is a sweet thing to such as are born free, yet to those who never knew the sweets of it, slavery perhaps may not be so irksome. However this be, it is plain to a demonstration, that hot countries cannot be cultivated without negroes. What a flourishing country might Georgia have been, had the use of them been permitted years ago? How many white people have been destroyed for want of them, and how many thousands of pounds spent to no purpose at all?

Africans are expendable and whites are not.
Yes, Whitefield preached to slaves and expressed pleasure when they converted. However, he also resisted the urging of at least one of this colleagues to reject slavery.  Not only did he own slaves, but he used his considerable influence to change the attitudes of Georgia decision makers to allow slavery in the colony.
Whitefield biographer James Gledstone commented in 1871 on Whitefield’s efforts to bring slavery to Georgia:

How complete and miserable a failure was the attempt to unite slavery and Christianity will be seen by and by. Meanwhile we think of the orphans being habituated to look upon Negroes as a servile race, of their growing to manhood and womanhood educated in the ideas of slaveholders, and of their being able to throw over all the abominations of the system, the reputation of a philanthropist so humane and a saint so sincere and so holy as was George Whitefield; neither can we forget that every man who owned a slave would be able to justify it by Whitefield’s example.

This reminds me of David Barton’s whitewash of Thomas Jefferson on slavery.
It is beyond absurd for Metaxas to write, “The egalitarian strains of the Gospel extended to women and blacks as well.” In what universe can Whitefield’s approach to Africans be construed as regarding them as “perfectly equal to whites?”
Apparently, Whitefield worship is a matter of great importance to Metaxas. He needs Whitefield to fill the role of the great Christian reason we had the revolution. About Whitefield, Metaxas says:

We might also say that providence brought them [unity and self-government] into existence through the life and work of a single man, very little known to us today. We are talking about the life and work of the man named George Whitefield, without whom the United States simply could not have come into being.
Metaxas, Eric (2016-06-14). If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (p. 77). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Did providence also bring about slavery in Georgia?
Apparently, Metaxas needs Whitefield to be larger than life in order to bring God into the founding. At the close of the chapter on Whitefield, Metaxas says:

When we take the full measure of Whitefield’s role in creating what would become the United States, who can help but wonder whether our history is one in which God himself— and if not God, then at least those who are motivated by the idea of God and all it portends— has played a central role?
Metaxas, Eric (2016-06-14). If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (p. 114). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you want a book to delight you with pleasantries and clever phrasing, this one could work. However, if you want accurate and honest history throughout, this is not the book for you.
*In my Kindle copy, there are only 7 end notes. I could be wrong but it seems like Metaxas owes a large debt to Kidd’s book on Whitefield.

A Challenge to WND and David Barton on Thomas Jefferson and Slavery

Late last night, World Net Daily published another “exclusive” promo piece for David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. This one focuses on Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to his slaves and repeats Barton’s overconfident denial that Jefferson fathered any of Sally Heming’s children. We did not take up that claim in Getting Jefferson Right because there is no way to know for sure what happened.
However, the unknown author of the WND article then comes after me (and my co-author Michael Coulter without naming him). In his first edition, Barton selectively omitted a section of Virginia’s 1782 law on manumission which allowed slave owners to free slaves by going to the county court house with a “deed of manumission.” He claimed that Virginia law did not allow emancipation. Citing Barton, the WND article doubles down on that claim:

“Numerous historians of previous generations who sought for truth rather than political correctness affirm that the laws of Virginia did indeed forbid Jefferson from doing what he wanted to do throughout his long life: free his own slaves.”

Mr.Barton please name some of those “numerous historians.”
In fact, because of the 1782 law on manumission, many slaves were freed by their owners.
Barton continues:

But Barton says the situation was far more complicated, and takes on Throckmorton’s claim directly in a special section of the new edition. He argues Throckmorton seems to believe only one law governed emancipation in Virginia. In fact, he argues, there were many.

In Getting Jefferson Right, we deal with several relevant Virginia laws, not just one as Barton claims.

Barton asserts:

Because Jefferson suffered severe difficulties throughout his life, Barton says he would be exposing his slaves to possible re-enslavement if he tried to set them free.

Barton observed: “Particularly relevant to Jefferson’s case was a law requiring the economic bonding of certain emancipated slaves… Jefferson… was unable to meet the added financial requirements of that emancipation law.”

We never claimed that it would have been easy for Jefferson to free all of his slaves. We countered Barton’s assertion that Jefferson was not allowed to do so by Virginia law. In fact, there were some restrictions on emancipation for some slaves. On that point, the 1782 Virginia law enumerated the conditions (scroll down to page 39):

 II. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court, of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate; and upon neglect or refusal so to do, the court of the county where such neglect or refusal may be, is hereby empowered and required, upon application to them made, to order the sheriff to distrain and sell so much of the person’s estate as shall be sufficient for that purpose.

Males and females above 45, males under 21, females under 18 and disabled slaves required financial support. However, not all of Jefferson’s slaves fell in those categories. This provision of Virginia law did not prohibit emancipation. Furthermore, during this period of time, Jefferson voluntarily sold over 50 of his slaves to reduce debts, moving them from one condition of enslavement to another.

Barton and WND continue:

Another law applicable to Jefferson also stated, “All slaves so emancipated shall be liable to be taken… to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them.”

As Jefferson was, in today’s standards, millions of dollars in debt when he died, freeing the slaves might simply lead to them being taken by someone else.

The clause Barton refers to was passed as a part of a 1792 law. In full, the clause provided:

That all slaves so emancipated shall be liable to be taken by execution to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them, before such emancipation is made. (emphasis added)

Barton omitted the phrase in bold print. After 1792, a slave freed after an owner contracted a debt could be taken by authorities and sold back into slavery with the proceeds going to satisfy the pre-existing debt. However, if a slave was emancipated and then the slave owner went into debt, the slave could not be taken.

Two points should be obvious. First, this clause is a restriction but not a prohibition. Second, there was a ten year window when the 1792 restriction did not apply.

A third point isn’t as obvious because Barton doesn’t address what Thomas Jefferson did while some Virginia slave owners were manumitting their slaves. Jefferson continued to buy and sell slaves during this period. Jefferson even hired slave catchers to track down runaway slaves.

A Challenge to WND

Let me issue a challenge to Barton and World Net Daily: Allow me space to rebut these promo pieces. Stop misrepresenting my arguments and the evidence and link to this post. Right now, your behavior is a right wing version of the liberal bias you assert is true of the mainstream media. If you are so sure you are correct, then have the courage to back it up.

Rod Dreher on Doug Wilson's Scandal in Moscow

UPDATE: Doug Wilson has responded to Dreher’s article at American Conservative. Dreher then provides a helpful analysis.
In response to several requests, I have been researching Christ Church in Moscow, ID. As time permits, I have read blogs, court docs, and emails from concerned brothers and sisters about the church pastored by Doug Wilson. Most of what I have reviewed has been extremely disturbing.
With the publication of an article by Rod Dreher today, I may not need to do much more. On the American Conservative website yesterday, Dreher brought together many of the facts of the situation which involves child abuse and what appears to be a dysfunctional church in Moscow, ID.
In essence, it seems that the leadership at Christ Church in Moscow, ID have exercised extremely poor judgment in encouraging a serial abuser to pursue a kind of therapy via marriage. In the face of evidence that Christ Church’s pastor, Doug Wilson, provided remarkably unwise advice to the abuser and a young woman who married the abuser, Wilson has gone on the defensive. Cited by Dreher, Wilson said in defense of conducting this ill-fated therapy by marriage:

 Moreover, if everything is on the table, we do not believe the church has the authority to prohibit or “not allow” a lawful marriage.

To which Dreher countered:

Really? The church has no authority to prohibit a lawful marriage? I suppose same-sex couples in Idaho can show up at Christ Church and expect Pastor Wilson to marry them, then. This, and the claim that the church can’t withhold marriage from anybody, as long as both parties know what they’re getting into, is a pretty shameless example of passing the buck for a disaster. Wilson subsequently praised himself for the way he’s conducted himself in this matter, saying that persecution is a sign of his righteousness, and sneering that his wife celebrated the criticism coming their way by buying him a bottle of single-malt Scotch.

Wilson’s brazen self-defense is in contrast to a former pastor of Christ’s Church daughter church, Peter Leithart, who has apologized for his part in another case involving abuse.
Wilson has helped pioneer the classical schooling movement and has some disturbing views of American slavery. Wilson believes slavery, while not a moral good, was more benign than American abolitionists depicted. Lost causers and Confederate sympathizers love it.
According to some near the situation (speaking to me anonymously), things are getting more and more unsettled in Moscow with some of the empire unraveling. There might be more Scotch in Wilson’s future.
On a related note, Wenatchee the Hatchet has a post on connection between Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson.

David Barton Tells Half-Truth to the Wall Street Journal

David Barton just can’t stop it.
In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Barton says his book, The Jefferson Lies, is “upcoming.” He also falsely says that Virginia state law prohibited Jefferson from emancipating his slaves.
On July 2, Fergus Bordewich wrote a review of two books on Thomas Jefferson. At least one of the books mentioned David Barton by name as an example of an author who elevated Jefferson to counterfactual heights.  Barton was offended and so the WSJ allowed him space to defend himself (might require an account to read it all).
First, Barton defends Jefferson against the charge of having children with Sally Hemings. My reading of that material is that one cannot be sure about the truth. Barton is more sure of himself there than he should be.
It is intriguing that Barton calls The Jefferson Lies “upcoming.” Naturally, he failed to mention that another description of the book would be “removed from the shelves” or “debunked.” I have established that Simon & Schuster is not going to publish it so it is now a mystery who will publish the second coming of the book voted by History News Network readers as the least credible history book in print.
Regarding Jefferson and slavery, Barton sticks to his false claims about Virginia law. He says Virginia limited emancipation starting in 1691. In 1723, Barton says Virginia law prohibited freeing slaves. He is correct that in 1782 Virginia allowed emancipation but then takes us down a rabbit trail. He says slave owners had to provide income for young, old or infirm slaves. That sounds like all of them. However, slaves between 18 (females) or 21 (males) and 45 could be emancipated (see the case of Robert Carter who freed all of his slaves). Jefferson freed exactly two of his more than 200 slaves during that period of time, both members of the Hemings family. It not only was legal to do, Jefferson did it twice, and other slave owners freed some or all of their slaves.
Barton then does what he often does. He pulls out something true but fails to tell us when it was true. Barton said the 1782 law required freed slaves to leave the state. Not true. It was not until 1806 that the requirement to leave the state was added to Virginia law, and even then the legislature could exempt a slave upon request. Thus, there was a 24 year period where Jefferson could have freed his adult slaves to remain in Virginia.
In his WSJ defense, Barton reveled in author Andrew Burstein’s reference to him as a “self-taught historian.” In Barton’s case, self-taught means unable to self-correct. He is still making the same mistakes that caused Thomas Nelson to pull The Jefferson Lies from publication.

Was Tony Evans Right About the Stronger Slave Family?

On his Facebook page,* The King’s College professor Anthony Bradley, keeps this issue alive by asserting that Tony Evans was right to say that African-American families were “a lot stronger” during slavery than now. Although he didn’t break much new ground, Evans later clarified his remarks.
Bradley referred to an excellent book by Herbert Guzman and said:

Here’s the deal. Tony Evans was largely correct. The black family was stronger during slavery *and* Reconstruction. It’s simply not true that slavery was characterized by slave families being split up. While that did happen it was not the norm. To make Evans’ point stronger, the black family was also better off during Jim Crow. It was the 1970s, thanks to LBJ and Nixon, that the black family went South. The people up in arms about Evans must not know that much about the history of slavery in this country.

It is tempting to say to all concerned just read Gutman’s book and leave it at that. I believe Evans and others who take his position are incorrect and I recommend the same book touted by Bradley. Gutman’s interest in his book is responding to Daniel Moynihan’s book, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Gutman said this about Moynihan’s effort:

Although Moynihan emphasized the importance of unemployment as a cause of family disorganization among lower-class Afro-Americans, he confused the problems of poor blacks in the second half of the twentieth century with those of their great grand-parents in the first half of the nineteenth century. And he misperceived the history of both groups.

Moynihan argued among other things for what Gutman called “the slavery-specific hypothesis,” i.e., that slavery bred a culture of poverty among African-Americans. Critics of the hypothesis responded that if one controlled for income levels the racial differences in families diminished substantially. According to Gutman, critics of the slavery-specific hypothesis did not minimize the harshness and inhumanity of slavery but countered that problems in the African-American family were more related to “massive structural unemployment.” From my reading of the evidence, “massive structural unemployment” can’t be separated from white privilege and structural racism which can’t be separated from the reality of slavery.
In my reading of Gutman, he doesn’t make a case for a stronger African-American family during slavery. He addresses different concerns than which generation was stronger. He makes a case that African-Americans adapted as well as could be expected under the oppression of slavery. He demonstrated that African-Americans worked to maintain marriages and ties to children. However, he also told the truth about the horrors of slavery for slave families. No need to confuse the problems of slave families and modern African-American families with comparisons that do not illuminate the situation of either group.
* A commenter brought this to my attention.

Tony Evans Clarifies Statement About Stronger African-American Families During Slavery

About two hours ago, I received this statement apparently in response to the Christian Post article about Evans’ statements about slave families. The CP article triggered a post from me on the subject. Evans’ statement:
TonyEvansStatementSlaveFamiliesI never had or expressed a doubt that Evans condemned slavery or racism.
I offered my view in my post on the subject, linked to his full remarks in that post, and I am glad that Evans extended his remarks on the subject. Even though we don’t see this issue the same way, I want to thank Dr. Evans and A. Larry Ross Communications for sending this statement.

Dear David Barton: Virginia Law Allowed Manumission of Slaves After 1782

In his pulled-from-publication bookThe Jefferson Lies, David Barton took the position that Virginia law did not allow Thomas Jefferson to free his slaves. In our book on Jefferson, Getting Jefferson Right, Michael Coulter and I demonstrated that slave owners were allowed to manumit (free) slaves after Virginia lawmakers passed the 1782 Law on Manumission. However, Barton keeps spreading the misinformation.
In February, Barton told Charis Bible College students George Mason was not allowed to free his slaves (at 1:38 into the video). Prior to 1782, slaves could only be freed by the Virginia legislature due to some meritorious service by the slave.  Mason died in 1791 so his window of opportunity to free his slaves came near the end of his life. However, despite his strong rhetoric against slavery, he did not manumit his slaves in life or at his death. Barton told the Bible college students Mason didn’t free his slaves “because in the state of Virginia, it was illegal to free your slaves.” Not so.
More recently, he told the pastor of Calvary Chapel Jack Hibbs that Virginia law didn’t allow manumission. It is beyond me why he keeps saying this when it is an easy to look up Virginia’s manumission law as well as the many deeds of manumission which were filed after 1782 (Utah State’s Michael Nicholls is the go to person on this). In prior posts, I have pointed out the amazing story of Robert Carter III who began a process of manumitting more than 450 slaves beginning in 1791.
Barton’s remarks to Hibbs on his show Real Life with Jack Hibbs are below. I provide the video and link to the transcript.

Barton: So just—Let me jump in again on that because one of the blemishes is Washington owned slaves, Jefferson owned slaves, they could not have been good people. It’s interesting that Washington who did own slaves and inherited slaves and Thomas Jefferson inherited most of his slaves when he was fourteen, he got almost two hundred slaves between his inheritance and his and his in-laws. Virginia law made it illegal to free your slaves.
Hibbs: Listen why, yeah.

At 14, Jefferson was not allowed to free his slaves. As an aside, Jefferson did not inherit most of his slaves at 14. This is easily checked by examining Jefferson’s Farm Book. He acquired many of his slave through inheritance from his father-in-law John Wayles. By 1774, Jefferson listed “187 in all.
Barton asserts that “Virginia law made it illegal to free your slaves.” Before 1782, that was true; after 1782, Virginia allowed manumissions. Jefferson owned slaves until he died (1826) and so it is misleading to say Jefferson could not have freed slaves. In fact, he did. He freed two slaves before he died and then he freed five more in his will. Barton is simply misleading his audience.
In The Jefferson Lies, Barton made the claim that Virginia law did not allow manumission. In a prior post, I pointed out that Barton cited the Virginia law of 1782 in his book but left out the part of the law which allowed slave owners to free slaves by a deed of manumission. Here is what Barton cites from the law in his book:

[T]hose persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and…it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament…to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves.

Now, here is the entire relevant section of the 1782 law on manumission:

[T]hose persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and the same hath been judged expedient under certain restrictions: Be it therefore enacted, That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

Note the second selection above in bold print. This is the relevant portion of the 1782 law Barton omits. This section allowed living slave owners to release their slaves by filing a deed. Emancipated slaves needed a document which was recorded according to the law as proof of their status. This law allowed slave owners when they were alive to free their slaves, provided slaves were of sound body and older than eighteen if a female and older than 21 if a male, but not above the age of 45. Thus, Jefferson could have freed many of his slaves within the law while he was alive. Not only was Jefferson legally permitted to free his slaves, he actually freed two slaves in the 1790s, Robert (1794) and James (1796) Hemings.

Barton clearly knows what the law on manumission said but chose to remove the part of the law that contradicts his statements to the public. Even though this has been pointed out, he still fails to tell audiences that Virginia law allowed manumission.

While it would have been economically difficult for Jefferson and Mason and Washington to manumit large numbers of human beings, it is simply false to say there was not an opportunity to do it.

The Monticello website explains:


During his lifetime, Jefferson freed two enslaved men.  At his death, Jefferson bequeathed freedom to five men in his will.  At least three other slaves were unofficially freed when Beverly Hemings, Harriet Hemings, and James Hemings, son of (Critta Hemings Bowlesto leave Monticello without pursuit. 

A single paragraph cannot do justice to the issue of Jefferson’s failure to free more than a handful of his slaves. Some of the possible reasons include: the economic value of his human property (at certain times, his slaves were mortgaged and thus could not be freed or sold); his lifelong view that emancipation had to go hand-in-hand with expatriation of the freed slaves; his paternalistic belief that slaves were incapable of supporting themselves in freedom and his fear they would become burden to society; his belief in gradual measures operating through the legal processes of government; and, after 1806, a state law that required freed slaves to leave Virginia within a year. Jefferson wrote that this law did not “permit” Virginians to free their slaves; he apparently thought that, for an enslaved African American, slavery was preferable to freedom far from one’s home and family.

Jefferson did free slaves. It might have been economically difficult for him to free the rest of them at various times between 1782 and 1806 but Virginia law allowed it. Barton misleads the audience when he says without qualification that the law did not permit it. Jefferson said in a letter that the law did not permit Virginians to free slaves, but he wrote this in 1814, long after the laws had changed to make it difficult to emancipate slaves. Barton then has to account for George Washington’s actions to free his slaves at death in 1799.

They would not let you free your slaves, now there was a period of reprieve for a short time starting in 1782 and so when George Washington died he freed all of his slaves on his death, there was a loophole in the law and the legislature goes “oh my gosh we didn’t see that,” they changed the law, so Jefferson was not even able to free his slaves on his death.

This is a misleading story from The Jefferson Lies. Barton here mentions “a period of reprieve for a short time starting in 1782” and then correctly says that George Washington freed his slaves in his will in 1799. However, the “loophole in the law” is a fiction. As noted above, Jefferson freed five slaves at his death via his will in 1826. There was no loophole. Virginia made it more difficult for freed slaves after 1806 because freed slaves needed to leave the state. For some slaves, this was deterrent because it meant leaving family.
There are many other things Barton told Hibbs and his audience that are inaccurate. For now, I hope it is clear that Virginia law allowed manumission of slaves after 1782 and that many such slaves were freed by owners in Virginia.


Kirk Cameron vs. Paul Finkelman on Jefferson and Slavery

Although Kirk Cameron cites none of his own research, he refers approvingly to an article by Stephen McDowell (Providence Institute) which is hosted on the Wallbuilders website about the Founders and slavery. McDowell refers to Thomas Jefferson but does not give the whole picture. Historian Paul Finkelman in the NY Times accentuates the negative but reports Jefferson’s racist views and his active involvement in owning slaves much more accurately.

As we document in Getting Jefferson Right, Jefferson was not a passive slave owner, and he was legally allowed to free his slaves but did not do it.  I am pretty sure Cameron has been made aware of the problems with Wallbuilders’ “scholarship” and yet he continues to promote it.



Robert Carter III: A Forgotten Hero David Barton Doesn’t Want You to Remember

Fred Clark at Patheos reminds us that today is the day that Robert Carter III filed his deed of emancipation at the Northumberland District Court in 1791.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Robert Carter wrote what he called a “deed of gift” that set in motion the largest emancipation of slaves in the United States prior to the Civil War. Carter’s deed listed 452 slaves to be emancipated throughout the remainder of Carter’s life. To see parts of the six page deed, click here. See the image below for the filing date.


Carter, a Virginia plantation owner, became convinced that slavery was morally wrong and put his beliefs into action. David Barton claims in his book The Jefferson Lies that fellow Virginia slave owner Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law. On the contrary, Robert Carter relied on the Virginia’s 1782 law allowing owners to emancipate slaves via a deed recorded at the county court house. Barton modified his claim somewhat on the Glenn Beck show in mid-August by saying that Virginia law required owners who freed their slaves to provide a security bond for their care. To date, he has produced no evidence for this claim.

Carter’s story is an inconvenient truth for Barton and his fans. In the sad history of slavery, Carter is a brighter light, a true hero of his times. Yet, until recently, there has been little attention to him. Andrew Levy’s book on Carter (The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Work of Robert Carter the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves) helps to correct this but, on the other hand, Barton’s book on Jefferson serves to obscure Carter’s legacy. Levy’s observation about the place of Robert Carter in history is relevant:

It becomes difficult to argue that the founding fathers acted liberally within their own moral universe when small slave owners up and down the Virginia coast were freeing their slaves. It becomes impossible, however, to make that argument when one of their peers commits the same radical act. Similarly, the argument that there existed no practical plan for mass emancipation makes sense only if Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift is suppressed within the historical record.

David Barton claims his organization preserves America’s forgotten heroes. Robert Carter is one he might rather you forget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here again is the Glenn Beck segment on slavery:

For additional parts of this series see:

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