Two Years Ago David Barton's The Jefferson Lies Was Pulled From The Shelves

Two years ago today, Tommy Kidd was on the case, reporting for World Magazine that Thomas Nelson ceased publication and distribution of David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies.
Eventually Barton claimed that the book would be republished by Glenn Beck’s Simon & Schuster imprint. However, currently there is no second edition.
World featured an online debate of sorts involving my Getting Jefferson Right co-author Michael Coulter, The Masters College historian Gregg Frazer and me on one side and Barton on the other.
I’ll present some of this work in Pepperdine University next month at the Conference on Faith and History.

Nice Review of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President

This was a pleasure to see:

Excellent Rebuttal of David Barton’s inappropriately named book, “The Jefferson Lies.”, March 12, 2014
This book saved me the trouble of rebutting David Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies.” The authors supply the reader with the missing words of Thomas Jefferson. They also supply information from Jefferson’s time to provide background. David Barton is so intent on making all Founders agree with his ideas of what belief in God, the Bible, and Christianity entails that he “cuts and pastes” their writings to suit his needs. It is not enough for Barton that there were Founders who believed as Barton does. He cannot accept that some Founders, like Jefferson and John Adams beliefs were unorthodox to Barton’s faith. Jefferson in an Oct. 19 letter to William short footnotes all that he disbelieves about Christianity and Jesus. These include the virgin birth, deification, miracles, resurrection, ascension, trinity, corporeal presence in the Eucharist, original sin, atonement, election (pre-destination).
Bruce Braden, Editor of “Ye Will Say I Am No Christian: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values.”

Still wondering when Barton’s second edition of The Jefferson Lies is coming out. We’re ready when it does. For now, one can pick up Getting Jefferson Right at a bargain price at Amazon.
Not sure if the stars will ever align properly, but if they do, I would like to do a similar book on John Adams.

A Year Ago Thomas Nelson Lost Confidence in The Jefferson Lies

This week a year ago, Thomas Nelson publishers pulled David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from publication. As I recall, I first learned of the event from Tennessean reporter Bob Smietana who called me to ask for comment. I think the first to get it on the web was probably Thomas Kidd at World Magazine on August 9. The news broke the day after a major NPR expose on Barton’s historical claims. A day before that World posted an article citing Jay Richards and others who had raised concerns about The Jefferson Lies. There were many stories at the time on the removal of the book, an event which Thomas Nelson described as “extremely rare.”
Two of the stories World did on the constroversy (David Barton Controversy – #3; Lost Confidence – #5) were in World’s top 25 news stories for 2012.  In the aftermath, World magazine hosted a debate of sorts involving Barton, Glenn Frazer, Michael Coulter and me.
Another surprising source of coverage was The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s web presence. Without taking sides, Billy Hallowell made a good effort to present our concerns about Barton’s claims, and then allowed Barton to respond.  The Blaze also did two webcasts, the first with Barton and then with us. In the end, Beck allowed Barton to present his claims unanswered on his television broadcast. Since we were not invited to rebut those claims on the air, we addressed them in a  series of posts here (on Jefferson and slavery, part 1; Jefferson and slavery, part 2; Jefferson and slavery, part 3; Jefferson and the Bible, part 4; Jefferson and the Bible, part 5).  As I post these links, I notice that Beck’s network has removed some of the Barton videos.
Since then, a few Christian groups have reviewed Barton’s materials and made edits or ceased using his materials. Most notably, Family Research Council made Barton’s Capitol Tour video private on YouTube. Barton then made audio edits to the video to repair some of the errors and posted the edited version on his Wallbuilders’ account without explanation.
The Barton controversy continues to expose the gulf between evangelical scholarship and evangelical participation in the culture war. Just recently, Barton incorrectly said that out of 60,000 professors, just four criticized his book. He also said that “Christian professors were basically trained by pagan professors who hate God, and they’re just repeating what they’re been told.” Over the past year, Barton and his defenders have portrayed critics as academic elites who are using the strategies of Hitler and Alinsky. All because evangelical academics want to get the facts right.
For evangelicals to truly defend religious liberty and retake some moral high ground, there must be a truce in the war between culture warriors and evangelical scholars. Academics shouldn’t be judged by the academic cover they give to culture war talking points or icons. Nobody is really fooled anyway, and increasingly, younger people are just checking out. Hopefully, the ripples have not stopped rippling and there are more important lessons to learn from the controversy over The Jefferson Lies.

David Barton Says 4 Professors Criticized The Jefferson Lies; He Forgot Some

Facts are pesky.
On July 19, Steve Deace interviewed David Barton (at 24:12 in hour 3) in Iowa after the big political confab there with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Deace asked Barton to describe the controversy over The Jefferson Lies (now approaching a year ago). He also asked if there was any substance to the criticism.
Barton said a bunch of stuff he usually says about it (e.g., publisher Thomas Nelson got scared of the scary professors, etc.). Then he said:

You’ve got about 6,000 universities in America and they found four professors who criticized what I did. Well, 6,000 universities, you probably have 60,000 professors and they found four who didn’t like it.

Well, we all know who two of them are. But just four? I think he forgot some. Last August, World Magazine reported that Jay Richards assembled 10 Christian professors who expressed a negative response to the book.  Then there was Clay Jenkinson, and Martin Marty, and John Fea, and Paul Harvey, and Regent University’s Chuck Dunn, and Greg Forster, and Gregg Frazer and Steven Green. And then there were the 650 voters in the History News Network poll who helped Barton squeak out the Least Credible History Book in Print designation, just beating out Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” Then more recently, 34 Christian history and social science professors approached Family Research Council about the Capitol Tour video (which FRC removed from view due to the errors).
Please note that most of the people referred to in this post are evangelical Christians.
Christian publisher Thomas Nelson’s reasons for pulling the book were expressed in World’s report:

The publisher “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

Need to refresh your memory? See the World coverage here and here
UPDATE: Readers have reminded me of some additional historian/professors who have had negative things to say about The Jefferson Lies. Let’s add Daniel Dreisbach, Kevin Gutzman, and James Stoner, and Miles Mullin and John David Wilsey and Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson

P.S. He still is completely botching the Jefferson Bible…
P.P.S. Are you a professor? Email or tweet to add your name, or leave your name in the comments.
English prof Jeff Sharlet and Religious Studies prof Julie Ingersoll have added their names to the “four.”
Add History professors Jared Burkholder, Jay Case, Brenda Schoolfield, Keith Beutler, Joseph Moore, Scott Culpepper, Bobby Griffith, Paul Fessler, Jason Dikes, Chris Gehrz, Chris Cantwell, Jonathan Wilson, Alan Snyder, Glenn Sunshine, Philip Perdue, and Rachel Larson, and also Religious Studies profs Michael J. Altman and P.C. Kemeny to the list of profs. Independent historian Michael Miles concurs.
Glad to add Yoni Appelbaum, GCC colleague Dan Brown (the entire GCC history dept is included in the 34 profs who wrote to FRC), math prof Sharon McCathern, Environmental Ethics prof Bron Taylor and English prof Steve Roberts.
UPDATE: Steve Deace posted my rebuttal to Barton.

David Barton Promotes Debunked Jefferson Claims

One might think David Barton would reconsider some of his claims in light of his problems with his book on Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies.  The book was voted “least credible history book in print”  by readers of the History News Network, the subject of multiple negative reviews in major publications (e.g., Wall Street Journal), and then pulled from publication by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. Some authors might allow such negative reactions to generate some reflection and moves to correct obvious errors.
Not so with Mr. Barton. On his Wallbuilders website, Barton features links to claims about Jefferson that have been thoroughly debunked. First, Barton is promoting the claim that Jefferson used the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ”  to close his presidential documents. Barton has a partial image of a sea letter and says the reference to Christ “is the explicitly Christian language that President Thomas Jefferson chose to use in official public presidential documents.”
The problem is that Jefferson did not choose to construct the form of the sea letters he signed. As Jefferson once said, “sea-letters are the creatures of treaties.” The treaties with Holland and other European countries specified the exact language to be used in the sea letter. If Barton knows this, he ignores it to make his claim about Jefferson and his signatures. To date, Barton has produced no other Jefferson document with a closing using the word Christ. For more on this claim, see this post.
The second claim demonstrates where Barton derived some of the material for The Jefferson Lies.  In a 2009 article co-authored with Mark Beliles, Barton claims that Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to be a “trans-denominational” college. Barton constructs a narrative which does violence to the chronology of events leading up to the opening of Virginia’s public university. Barton makes much of the fact that the UVA Board of Visitors offered to allow denominations to form theological schools in the vicinity of UVA but he fails to mention that UVA and theological schools created would be independent of each other.
In a letter dated November 2, 1822, Jefferson described the plan to Thomas Cooper.

In our university you know there is no Professorship of Divinity. A handle has been made of this, to disseminate an idea that this is an institution, not merely of no religion, but against all religion. Occasion was taken at the last meeting of the Visitors, to bring forward an idea that might silence this calumny, which weighed on the minds of some honest friends to the institution. In our annual report to the legislature, after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets, on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there, and have the free use of our library, and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences. I think the invitation will be accepted, by some sects from candid intentions, and by others from jealousy and rivalship. And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality.[i]

Note the order of events. The decision was made to have no professor of divinity, then observers criticized the decision, and then the idea for allowing denominations to establish schools, independent of UVA, was hatched.  Barton’s article makes it seem as though the decision to have no divinity professors was a result of the plan to make UVA “trans-denominational.” In fact, Jefferson was prodded into accepting the idea of religious schools in order to preserve support and funding. Even with this accommodation, no denominations took advantage of the offer and no theological schools were established there.
Barton also says the reason chaplains were not appointed in the beginning few years of the university was to solidify the reputation of UVA as a trans-denominational school. This is Barton’s invented reason. Although Jefferson did not want to prevent religious worship, he had nothing to do with the eventual policies regarding chaplains. There is nothing in his correspondence or reports which cite any of the reasons Barton gives. Madison, also on the  board of visitors, said he hoped that students and parents would take care of religious worship. Note also, that the school did not have a chapel until the late 1800s. Building a college with no chapel seems like an odd way to begin a trans-denominational school.
We cover this and other claims about UVA in Getting Jefferson Right.

[i] The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10:242.

Response to World's Coverage of the David Barton Controversy

I am getting good feedback on the excerpt of Getting Jefferson Right at World Magazine. There are many questions that are floating around among evangelicals about this matter and for good reason. Michael Coulter and I are now working on a response to Mr. Barton’s rebuttal to GJR. For now, I posted a comment at World on both articles. Here it is:
“I want to thank World for hosting this exchange of views. Michael Coulter and I have read Mr. Barton’s rebuttal and plan a response to it which World has agreed to publish. Mr. Barton’s response sounds convincing, especially when one has not read our book, but there are numerous concerns which we will address. For instance, it is unfortunate that Mr. Barton does not address completely his or our position on Jefferson and slavery. In The Jefferson Lies (pg. 92), Mr. Barton omitted the section of the 1782 law on manumission which allowed owners to emancipate their slaves while the owners were alive. He simply omitted it from his presentation of the 1782 law leaving the impression that owners could only free their slaves via a will at death. We have asked Mr. Barton why he chose to omit that section with no reply.
Regarding our position in Getting Jefferson Right, we do not claim that Jefferson could have freed his many slaves at any time during his life. We identify a 24 year window (1782-1806) when Virginia law was relaxed and allowed for emancipation of slaves by owners. We acknowledge that freeing slaves was more difficult (although still possible) after 1806. Please note that Jefferson did not make his statement about the laws not allowing emancipation until 1814. Furthermore, Mr. Barton, in this current World article, acknowledges that security bonding was required only for “certain emancipated slaves” (page 3). This is an important clarification, but it is not news to us; we document these requirements in our book.  Adult slaves under age 45 and older than 18 (women) or 21 (men) could be freed with a deed of manumission without financial guarantee from the master. Jefferson owned many such human beings.
In our book, we do not say that Jefferson could have freed all of his slaves, but we document that he could have done more to put into practice the words, “all men are created equal” than he did.
There are other instances of the kind I have described and we will address them in our response.”

Point/Counterpoint with David Barton at World Magazine

This morning, World Magazine is featuring an excerpt of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President along with a lengthy rebuttal from David Barton.  Our section is here and Barton’s article is here.
I have not read Barton’s response yet. I wanted to get the links up in order for readers to have some time to wade through the material.  I suspect some of what Barton has to say will be the subject of separate posts. We will have an opportunity from World to post a rebuttal to Barton in a couple of weeks.
So I invite you to comment at the World site and here.
UPDATE: I have read through Barton’s commentary. Although it may take a month, Michael and I will write a response to it for World.  It is hard to know where to start when there is so much to address.
Do I start with Barton’s claim that he welcomes appraisal of his work? Barton did not seem welcoming when he called Michael and me academic elitists and allowed without comment his Wallbuilder’s staffer Rick Green to say that his critics were using tactics of Hitler and Alinsky.  All that nastiness aside, his tone has improved for this rebuttal.
One of the clearest impressions I have after the first read is how Barton simplified our critique on most of the points. For instance, on the slavery question, we never said Jefferson could free his slaves at any time during his life with ease. We said there was a window from 1782-1806 when the laws had been relaxed to allow voluntary manumission of slaves. Jefferson indeed did free two slaves during that period. In that section, Barton gives a lot of dates for other slave laws but he gives no quotes from them.  Also, he cites examples (e.g., Coles leaving the state to free his slaves) that were outside of the window we identified. Throughout that section, Barton does not provide dates to place the requirements within context.
More to come…

Bradlee Dean says distorting history is a lie and lying is against the law. Can I make a citizen's arrest?

In his WorldNetDaily column today, Bradlee Dean says:

Friends, distorting American history is a deliberate lie, and lying is not permissible by law.

Dean enters David Barton’s world to make several claims about Thomas Jefferson that we cover in our book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.  I’ll note them briefly with links to the correct information.
First, Dean says that Jefferson worked for religious freedom under the umbrella of Christianity. Jefferson worked for religious freedom and he did want the VA law for religious freedom listed as an accomplishment on his tombstone. However, Jefferson said that VA law covered non-Christian religions as well.
Dean said Jefferson help found the Virginia Bible Society and was a “substantial financial contributor.” In fact, Jefferson did not help found the organization.  He once gave $50 to the group with the proviso that they not extend the work of the society to foreign nations.  Fifty dollars was not an insignificant sum but it was a tiny fraction of Jefferson’s expenditures for fine wine and imported china.
Dean said Jefferson had a “had a long history of working with missionaries,” especially those evangelizing Native Americans with Christianity. We deal with this myth extensively in our book. In at least two letters, Jefferson said mission work was the last thing one should do to advance the Indians.  Furthermore, he advocated a plan to get native people into debt so that they would be willing to sell off their lands cheaply as payment. At times, Jefferson used missionary societies to collect samples of Indian languages. However, a leader of one of those mission societies was William Linn who became a staunch opponent of Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. Linn said in an influential pamphlet written to oppose Jefferson:

…my objection to his being promoted to the Presidency is founded singly upon his disbelief of the Holy Scriptures, or in other words, his rejection of the Christian religion and open professions of Deism.

While Jefferson was not an atheist, he did not work to convert Indians to orthodox Christianity.
Dean says the Jefferson Bible was constructed to evangelize Indians, was then given to members of Congress and contains miracles of healing.  Dean seems unaware that Jefferson edited the gospels twice.  The 1804 version has been lost and so it could not have been given to members of Congress. The post-1820 version was found long after Jefferson’s death and copies were given to incoming members of Congress from 1904 through 1957.
Dean takes a page from Barton’s mistakes by claiming that the Jefferson Bible contained healing miracles. As I point out here, here and here, this is not true. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton failed to check his sources which turned out to be incorrect. A comparison to Jefferson’s list of verses to be included, along with what he actually included, reveals that Jefferson did include passages about the afterlife but excluded parts of the gospels that make Jesus appear to be divine, including His miracles.
After distorting history, Dean then writes:

Friends, distorting American history is a deliberate lie, and lying is not permissible by law.

Who wants to make a citizen’s arrest?

Dizzy Up the Book: Amazon Switches Jefferson Lies Publisher Again

Even though neither Wallbuilder Press nor Thomas Nelson are currently publishing The Jefferson Lies, has switched the publisher from Wallbuilder Press to Thomas Nelson again on their page for David Barton’s book.
Yesterday, I pointed out that Amazon had switched the publisher designation to Wallbuilder Press. Today, it is back to Thomas Nelson.


I acknowledge that the situation with this book makes it difficult to assign a publisher but something should better than what is up there now or was there yesterday.


Perhaps this is a Fringe event in honor of the next to last show tonight. Maybe Wallbuilder Press publishes the book in one universe and Thomas Nelson in the other. The universes are coming together at a weak point in space-time — The Jefferson Lies Amazon page — resulting in alternating publishers.

Now Amazon Lists Wallbuilders as the Publisher of The Jefferson Lies

As Chris Rodda pointed out after Christmas, Amazon listed Wallbuilders as the publisher of The Jefferson Lies after Thomas Nelson dropped it. However, after she informed Amazon that Wallbuilders did not publish the book, the bookseller changed the publisher to Thomas Nelson. Read her post here.
When it comes to The J-Lies, one thing is sure: nothing is sure.
Now Amazon has changed the publisher designation again and lists Wallbuilder Press as the publisher.


As Rodda pointed out in her post, this is a misleading designation. Wallbuilder Press did not publish the book in April of 2012 and Barton has not revised and republished the book. I don’t know what designation could be supplied in this situation.