Gospel Coalition: David Barton is Doing it Wrong

Writing for the Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor gets right to the point: David Barton does history wrong. And Taylor recommends my book (with Michael Coulter) Getting Jefferson Right.
That right there is a great post.
The reason for the post is to point readers toward well researched and written sources on America’s founding. For the most part, I think Taylor put together a great list of resources on the religious dimensions of the founding era.
I do take issue with two sentences Taylor wrote:

In fairness to Barton, he has gotten better in recent years in not circulating as many bogus quotes, labeling some of them as “unconfirmed.” However, the source mining and the problematic historiography, where the evidence is forced to fit the predetermined thesis, continue.

In fairness to Taylor, it is hard to keep up with Barton’s shenanigans. However, Barton hasn’t gotten better. For instance, there is the Jefferson quote Barton essentially made up using Jefferson’s words but with a rearranged meaning. Then, there is the Lincoln quote which Barton claimed for Lincoln but did not come from honest Abe. In a WND article, Barton goes for two questionable quotes which can’t be found in original source material. These problems all occurred in 2017.
One more thing Taylor could have mentioned is Barton’s fraudulent doctorate degree. Back in late 2016, Barton blasted progressives for saying he didn’t have an earned degree. Then, when it was discovered that Barton’s earned degree came from a diploma mill, Barton went quiet. Not only does Barton do history wrong, he does academia wrong as well.
I hope Taylor’s post gets distributed widely.

What You Can Get Thomas Jefferson on His Birthday!

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

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

David Barton's Jefferson Lies: The Immigration and Healthcare Edition

Chris Rodda has done it again. Although I can’t add much to this take down of David Barton, I want my readers to be aware of it. Let me summarize and further illustrate Rodda’s excellent post.
On the March 9 edition of Wallbuilders Live radio program, Barton took a question from a listener about immigration. To answer her, Barton claims to offer a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Listen:

Transcript:

Let me read a Thomas Jefferson quote on what the federal government’s to do with this combination of immigration-health care. He says quote, “The federal government is to certify with the exact truth for every vessel sailing in from a foreign port the state of health on that vessel, which prevails from which country she sails. But the state authorities are charged with the care of the public health.”
So the feds get to do health care only for ships carrying immigrants coming to the United States and we see what the health conditions were when they left, what they are when they get here, and everything else belongs to the states on health care. And immigration was very much the same.

Chris Rodda points out that Jefferson did not say what Barton made him say.
First, let me repeat what Barton said Jefferson said.

The federal government is to certify with the exact truth for every vessel sailing in from a foreign port the state of health on that vessel, which prevails from which country she sails. But the state authorities are charged with the care of the public health.

Barton changed Jefferson’s words in ways that make next to impossible to believe he did it without knowing he was distorting Jefferson’s words and meaning.
What is the source of Barton’s fractured quote? In his 1805 report to Congress on the state of the nation, Jefferson began by mentioning the yellow fever epidemics in the U.S.  Jefferson first acknowledged the epidemic and then he told Congress that he had taken steps to reassure our European trading partners that the fever wasn’t spread via vessels sailing from our ports. Do you see how Barton changed Jefferson’s meaning?

In taking a view of the state of our country we in the first place notice the late affliction of two of our cities under the fatal fever which in latter times has occasionally visited our shores. Providence in His goodness gave it an early termination on this occasion and lessened the number of victims which have usually fallen before it. In the course of the several visitations by this disease it has appeared that it is strictly local, incident to cities and on the tide waters only, incommunicable in the country either by persons under the disease or by goods carried from diseased places; that its access is with the autumn and it disappears with the early frosts. These restrictions within narrow limits of time and space give security even to our maritime cities three fourths of the year, and to the country always. Although from these facts it appears unnecessary, yet to satisfy the fears of foreign nations and cautions on their part not to be complained of in a danger whose limits are yet unknown to them I have strictly enjoined on the officers at the head of customs to certify with exact truth, for every vessel sailing for a foreign port the state of health respecting this fever which prevails at the place from which she sails.. Under every motive from character and duty to certify the truth, I have no doubt they have faithfully executed this injunction. Much real injury has, however, been sustained from a propensity to identify with this endemic and to call by the same name fevers of very different kinds, which have been placed among those deemed contagious. As we advance in our knowledge of this disease, as facts develop the source from which individuals receive it, the State authorities charged with the care of the public health, and Congress with that of the general commerce, will become able to regulate with effect their respective functions in these departments. The burthen of quarantines is felt at home as well as abroad; their efficacy merits examination. Although the health laws of the States should be found to need no present revisal by Congress, yet commerce claims that their attention be ever awake to them.

To make this very clear, let me reproduce Barton’s quote but omit the words Jefferson didn’t say.
___ ______ ___________ __ to certify with ___ exact truth for every vessel sailing __ ____ a foreign port the state of health __ ___ ____, which prevails __ ___ _____ from which ________ she sails. (75 words) ___ the state authorities __ charged with the care of the public health (21 words).
Now let me do it a different way. I will reproduce the entire actual quote from Jefferson with the words Barton chose to include in his fractured quote in bold print.

In taking a view of the state of our country we in the first place notice the late affliction of two of our cities under the fatal fever which in latter times has occasionally visited our shores. Providence in His goodness gave it an early termination on this occasion and lessened the number of victims which have usually fallen before it. In the course of the several visitations by this disease it has appeared that it is strictly local, incident to cities and on the tide waters only, incommunicable in the country either by persons under the disease or by goods carried from diseased places; that its access is with the autumn and it disappears with the early frosts. These restrictions within narrow limits of time and space give security even to our maritime cities three fourths of the year, and to the country always. Although from these facts it appears unnecessary, yet to satisfy the fears of foreign nations and cautions on their part not to be complained of in a danger whose limits are yet unknown to them I have strictly enjoined on the officers at the head of customs to certify with exact truth, for every vessel sailing for a foreign port the state of health respecting this fever which prevails at the place from which she sails. Under every motive from character and duty to certify the truth, I have no doubt they have faithfully executed this injunction. Much real injury has, however, been sustained from a propensity to identify with this endemic and to call by the same name fevers of very different kinds, which have been placed among those deemed contagious. As we advance in our knowledge of this disease, as facts develop the source from which individuals receive it, the State authorities charged with the care of the public health, and Congress with that of the general commerce, will become able to regulate with effect their respective functions in these departments. The burthen of quarantines is felt at home as well as abroad; their efficacy merits examination. Although the health laws of the States should be found to need no present revisal by Congress, yet commerce claims that their attention be ever awake to them.

Barton added and subtracted words he wanted to make Jefferson say something he didn’t say. Surely David Barton knows the difference between “sailing for” a port and “sailing in from” one.
Clearly, Jefferson told Congress that he had taken steps to address foreign worries about disease coming into their countries, not from them. Barton also eliminated references to federal oversight of health because Barton wants his audience to believe the founders believed health care was a state matter. However, Jefferson refers to the State authorities and “Congress with that of general commerce.” Barton omits this reference.
Sometimes Barton’s errors are interpretive, but in this case, he simply took liberties with Jefferson’s words and has presented a false story.  Such conduct disqualifies Barton as a historian.

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

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


Trump’s barrage of animosity toward the press reminded me of the Sedition Act of 1798. I hope we do not go back to that dark day.
Thomas Jefferson was a staunch critic of the Sedition Act. Jefferson believed a free press was essential to republican government. In light of Donald Trump’s attacks on the press, I believe we should consider Jefferson’s thoughts on a free and independent press.
In a letter to James Currie in 1786, Jefferson complained that John Jay had been treated unfairly by the “public papers.” However, instead of calling the press the enemy of the people, Jefferson said:

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

Even though Jefferson believed the papers to be wrong, he asserted that the liberty of the nation depends on the freedom of the press without limitation.
Three years later, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington from Paris with a similar sentiment.

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

Jefferson was aware that the newspapers were sometimes wrong and he became exasperated with the press at times. However, he was sure that the liberty of the people depended on a free, if imperfect, press.
To Elbridge Gerry in 1799, Jefferson wrote:

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

Jefferson himself was the subject of just and unjust criticism and yet he did not start a war with the press.
Jefferson maintained this view through his old age. To Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson wrote in 1823:

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Barton Again Whitewashes Thomas Jefferson Views on Race

Yesterday, David Barton came to Thomas Jefferson’s rescue after a statue of the third president was defaced last weekend at Jefferson’s alma mater the College of William & Mary. Those who attacked the statue painted Jefferson’s hands red and wrote “slave owner” nearby.
Indeed, Jefferson was a slave owner at the same time he made some steps to end the slave trade. He signed the bill ending the slave trade in 1808. However, Jefferson owned slaves at the same time he signed that bill into law.
When it comes to his positions and actions relating to slavery, Jefferson remains an enigma. However, Barton considers Jefferson to be a civil rights hero.  Barton told WND:

Barton argues Thomas Jefferson was a major opponent of slavery who worked all his life to end the practice. He also contends Jefferson was not the “racist” he has been portrayed as.
“Students today need to study Thomas Jefferson’s own writings and actions rather than listening to the blatantly false claims of those who hate America and her Founders,” he advised.

I agree that we need to study Jefferson’s own writings. In fact, I have some for you below.
Read Jefferson’s opinions of African slaves from his Notes on the State of Virginia, pages 264-267. Partly correct, Barton tells us that Jefferson wanted to free the slaves. What Barton doesn’t tell you is that Jefferson didn’t want the freed slaves to have American civil rights. He wanted them sent elsewhere because he didn’t think blacks and whites were of equal ability. Jefferson wanted America to be white. Jefferson wrote:

To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed.
It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race. — To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral. The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable
265
veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man? Besides those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites. Perhaps too a difference of structure in the pulmonary apparatus, which a late ingenious experimentalist has discovered to be the principal regulator of animal heat, may have disabled them from extricating, in the act of inspiration, so much of that fluid from the outer air, or obliged them in expiration, to part with more of it. They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep
266
of course. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed. It will be right to make great allowances for the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and born in America. Most of them indeed have been confined to tillage, to their own homes, and their own society: yet many have been so situated, that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that circumstance have always been associated with the whites. Some have been liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before their eyes samples of the best works from abroad. The Indians, with no advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. Misery is often the parent of
267
the most affecting touches in poetry. — Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar ;oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism. The heroes of the Dunciad are to her, as Hercules to the author of that poem. Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition; yet his letters do more honour to the heart than the head. They breathe the purest effusions of friendship and general philanthropy, and shew how great a degree of the latter may be compounded with strong religious zeal. He is often happy in the turn of his compliments, and his stile is easy and familiar, except when he affects a Shandean fabrication of words. But his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric, as is the course of a meteor through the sky. His subjects should often have led him to a process of sober reasoning: yet we find him always substituting sentiment for demonstration. Upon the whole, though we admit him to the first place among those of his own colour who have presented themselves to the public judgment, yet when we compare him with the writers of the race among whom he lived, and particularly with the epistolary class, in which he has taken his own stand, we are compelled to enroll him at the bottom of the column. This criticism supposes the letters published under his name to be genuine, and to have received amendment from no other hand; points which would not be of easy investigation. The improvement of the blacks in body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has been observed by every one, and proves that their inferiority is not the effect merely of their condition of life.

Later in the WND piece, Barton says:

Yes, Jefferson owned slaves, but he repeatedly tried to pass laws not only to free his own slaves, but all those in his state of Virginia. Sadly, he was unsuccessful. And state law would not allow him to free his own slaves. History clearly shows that Jefferson should be seen as an early anti-slavery advocate who was far ahead of his time in his home state.

In fact, after an early attempt to emancipate slaves in order to send them somewhere else, Jefferson had little to do with emancipation efforts in VA. After Virginia slave owners got the right to free slaves in 1782, Jefferson did not move to emancipate his slaves. Barton is simply wrong on this point. While it may have been difficult financially for Jefferson to free his slaves, he was legally allowed to do so after 1782. History clearly shows that many Virginia slave owners emancipated slaves while Thomas Jefferson did not. Jefferson talks about his early efforts on behalf of African slaves in the passage cited above and repeated below:

To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed. (emphasis added)

Yes, if this bill had passed, the slaves would have been freed but they would have been colonized to another location (he favored Santo Domingo) and exchanged for white people living elsewhere. Jefferson’s plan wasn’t perhaps as harsh as others who wanted slavery to persist in this country, but he certainly maintained views that can only be described as a racist. Jefferson’s tenure as a slave owner also requires scrutiny. He sent slave catchers after runaway slaves and profited from the babies born to slave women. These facts should not be minimized.
Barton’s whitewash of Jefferson doesn’t serve anyone well. When Barton obscures the truth, he gives ammunition to those who wish to obscure the positive contributions that Jefferson made to the common good. We must see historical figures in their time and place but not change the facts to make them fit our wishes. Jefferson’s racist words should be studied so that we can understand the errors he made, why he made them, and seek ways to avoid making them again.

Eric Metaxas and David Barton: Show Me the Miracles

Barton Metaxas picOn Tuesday, I posted an audio clip of David Barton on Eric Metaxas’ radio show talking about the two times when Thomas Jefferson cut up the Gospels to create an extraction of the morals of Jesus. During Jefferson’s first term, he revealed his beliefs about Christianity to some of his closer friends and in the process decided to cut out of the Gospels portions which Jefferson believed were actually from Jesus, leaving the rest behind.
On the program, Barton told Metaxas a made up story about what Jefferson did and mixed in a little truth with some error to create a flawed picture. Metaxas took it in without question. In my Tuesday post, I debunked Barton’s story about how Jefferson got the idea to cut up the Gospels and today I want to set the stage for what is a more difficult aspect of this story: identifying the verses Jefferson included in his first effort to extract the true teachings of Jesus from the Gospels.
The reason it is more difficult to know what Jefferson included in his 1804 effort is because the original manuscript has been lost. There isn’t a copy we can look at. The version completed sometime after 1820 is the one commonly known as the Jefferson Bible. That version can be purchased from the Smithsonian and viewed online.
Do We Know What Jefferson Cut Out of the Gospels?
Reproductions of the 1804 version exist but for reasons I will address in this series, there are some disputed verses which Jefferson may or may not have included. There really is no way to be sure.
Jefferson mentioned both versions in a letter to Adrian Van Der Kemp in 1816, Jefferson wrote about both extractions:

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.’

The “work of one or two evenings only, while I lived in Washington, overwhelmed with other business” is a reference to his 1804 effort which was done for his “own satisfaction.” When he referred to “his intention to go over it again at more leisure” in an “ensuing winter,” he referred to the version he later completed sometime after 1820. It should be obvious from this letter that Jefferson viewed the second project as a completion of the 1804 work which was “too hastily done” while attending to his presidential duties. Jefferson does not refer to them as two separate projects with separate purposes. Rather, the 1804 version was more like a trial run and the latter was the product of more time and concentration.
How Do We Know What Verses Jefferson Included?
There are two primary sources for our knowledge of what verses Jefferson included. First, ever meticulous and organized, Jefferson prepared a listing of texts he planned to include. Michael Coulter and I included images of the originals (housed at the University of VA) in our book Getting Jefferson RightThe second source is the cut-up Bibles Jefferson used to cut out the verses he pasted together to form the 1804 version. In contrast to Barton’s claim, Jefferson didn’t cut out only Jesus’ words and he certainly didn’t cut them all out and paste them end to end.
Although these sources are critically important, they are not sufficient to be sure about what Jefferson included. A major barrier to certainty is that Jefferson cut out some verses which were not listed in his table of texts. This can be discerned by reviewing the parts of the Gospels which were cut out. What can never be known for sure is why Jefferson cut out more verses than he intended. We cannot assume that he intended to cut out any verse other than what he listed in his table of verses. However, we cannot assume he didn’t decide as he was doing it that he wanted to include something on the fly.
There are good arguments to be made for both possibilities. Jefferson said he did the 1804 version “too hastily.” Thus, he may have made some errors in cutting and cut too many verses or simply cut some in error from the wrong page. Anyone who has literally cut and pasted any kind of craft project can probably relate to that possibility.
On the other hand, it is certainly plausible to think that Jefferson changed his mind as he read through the Gospels again. He may have decided he wanted a particular verse that he didn’t include in the table. Nothing would have stopped him from clipping it.
Another possibility exists for the 1804 version which we know is true for the 1820 version. At times, Jefferson surgically extracted miraculous content from within a verse. In other words, he cut out a verse from the Gospels but when he included it in his manuscript, he only included a part of the verse.  For instance, Jefferson included Matthew 12:15 in his 1820 version, but he left out the end of the verse where the healing took place.*
jefferson bible mt 12
Mt. 12:15 in entirety reads:

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.

Jefferson intentionally left out the healing (“and he healed them all”) even though he included the verse. Clearly, it is not enough for us today to know what Jefferson cut out of those Gospels in 1804. For a perfect reconstruction, we would have to know what parts of the verses he included. A few disputed verses do have some miraculous content but that is no guarantee that Jefferson included that content in his compilation. We know he used partial verses in his second attempt; it is very plausible that he did the same thing the first time around.
Barton’s story to Metaxas completely glosses over these facts. If we really want to get inside Jefferson’s thinking about Jesus in the Gospels in 1804, we should first look at the table of texts he constructed (click here to examine those tables). Then we can look at the verses which Jefferson cut out but didn’t list. However, we must approach those disputed verses carefully. We don’t know why he cut them out and we don’t know what parts, if any, he actually included.
Barton Also Uses a Flawed Secondary Source
In The Jefferson Lies, Barton links to two secondary sources for his information about what is in the 1804 version. In at least one case, the source has a major error which we point out in Getting Jefferson Right. In the next post, I will address that secondary source error.
 
I challenge Eric Metaxas to bring on an actual historian and/or me to discuss the issues raised recently about his book, If You Can Keep It or this series.
*Jefferson Bible, ch 1:59-60.

David Barton Told Eric Metaxas an Untrue Story about the Jefferson Bible

Barton Metaxas picLast 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.

Metaxas: Unbelievable.

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

With slight editing, this post is reprinted from prior posts on Independence Day. Last year it was the culmination of my Daily Jefferson series.
Happy Independence Day!
john adamsIn addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

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

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

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.
“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

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

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.
Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

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

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

Rush had at least two options to get across his message of reconciliation: a dream or an appeal to a future history book. He first wrote about the history book, then he chose a more creative device, one which he had already used in letters to Adams and which Adams had actually requested in March of that year.
In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c
Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship with Adams. It took awhile (1812), but Adams and Jefferson did resume contact. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political views. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”*
 
*Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.  Read more about Jefferson in Getting Jefferson Right by Michael Coulter and me.

In New Book, Eric Metaxas Takes a Page from David Barton

Yesterday, History professor Gregg Frazer posted a very helpful preview of Eric Metaxas’ upcoming book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. In this book, it appears that Metaxas has taken some pages from David Barton.

There is a preview of the parts of the book available at Amazon and Google so I was able to check some of what Frazer wrote and look into a couple of additional problems. Given what I found, I would not recommend it unless one plans to fact check it. However, as Frazer notes, fact checking is not easy since Metaxas didn’t include many end notes or source materials.
Given what I read, Frazer is spot on.

One of the more egregious historical errors is the claim that the “very first settlers on American shores” came “precisely” to gain religious freedom, along with the equally false claim that “in America the idea of religious freedom was paramount,” and that there was “a complete tolerance of all denominations and religions” from the beginning (34–35).

These are not minor differences in interpretation. As Frazer says, these claims are false. Even though it may be a common false claim, it is disappointing to see Metaxas perpetuate it.

Thomas Jefferson and Yahweh

Of interest to me is Metaxas’ treatment of Thomas Jefferson. The first issue I checked revealed an error and a significant misrepresentation of Jefferson. Metaxas, like Barton, seems to want his readers to see Jefferson as much more religious than current political leaders. In doing so, he uses a questionable quote attributed to Jefferson to make it appear that Jefferson believed in “Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures.”
MetaxasJefferson
Here Metaxas claims that Jefferson wrote Daniel Webster a letter in which Jefferson said: “I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the [Bible] will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”

First, Jefferson did not write this in a letter to Webster. The fact checkers at Monticello have looked into this and concluded, “This quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.”

Actually, in a June 16, 1852 letter to a “professor Pease” Daniel Webster claimed Jefferson told him this quote during Webster’s visit to Monticello. Webster said he “spent a Sabbath with Thomas Jefferson many years ago, at his residence in Virginia.” Webster added that “It was in the month of June and the weather was delightful.” According to Webster, on that Sunday in June, Jefferson uttered the words about the Bible (actually Webster said Jefferson said, “sacred volume”).

There are several problems with this quote. First, Webster visited Monticello from December 14-19, 1824, not in June. The weather was not delightful, as they were delayed in leaving because of bad weather. Webster wanted to leave Monticello early because, according to an account of the trip, he received troubling news about an illness in one of his children. When the weather broke (December 19, 1824 — which was a Sunday morning), they left the area. In the historical account of the visit, Webster made no mention of religious discussions or Jefferson’s quotes about perusing the sacred volume.

Thus, the quote itself is suspicious and Metaxas reports it incorrectly as being written by Jefferson.

There is another problem with Metaxas application of the quote to suggest Jefferson believed in the God of the Old Testament. Jefferson didn’t have very good things to say about the Old Testament. Jefferson wrote that Jesus reformed the deficient religion of the Jews.

His [Jesus’] object was the reformation of some articles in the religion of the Jews, as taught by Moses. That sect had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.

and

Jesus had to walk on the perilous confines of reason and religion: and a step to right or left might place him within the gripe of the priests of the superstition, a blood thirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel. (letter to William Short, August 4, 1820)

Jefferson’s view of Yahweh is not well represented by Webster’s questionable quote, but rather by his own words, calling Him “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.”

I am pleased that Gospel Coalition published this review and hope that Metaxas will quickly address the errors and misleading narrative.

Note: The one concern with Frazer’s review is that he says Metaxas’ used a fake quote attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville. Apparently, Frazer had a prepublication copy of the book with the Tocqueville credited with the quote. Sometime prior to the Google preview being posted, the error was rectified because Metaxas acknowledges in the Google copy that the quote is false (although he cites it and says it summarizes Tocqueville well).

Happy Birthday to Thomas Jefferson – Share the Land

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.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nY_B-K-TU[/youtube]
If you want a more scholarly treatment of Jefferson, why not treat yourself to Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President?