Barton’s Bad Day

On the heels of all the criticism that David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies received from conservative historians, word comes down that the book’s publisher is pulling the book:

The Thomas Nelson publishing company has decided to cease publication and distribution of David Barton’s controversial book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson, saying it has “lost confidence in the book’s details.” […]

Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “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.”

Doubtless this means that Barton will soon carry the book through his own publishing house, but it’s still a major blow for accuracy in history, and a smack in the face for Barton. A reporter from The Tennessean caught up with Barton and got a response:

Barton said he met with a different group of scholars recently and they approved of his work.

“I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.’s were in the room,” he said.

But he would not give any names, saying the scholars hadn’t given their permission for him do so.

Right Wing Watch calls that “The Most Perfectly Bartontonian Response Imaginable.”

Among the people who’s efforts led to this happy occasion are Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, whose book Getting Jefferson Right is a careful fact checking of Barton’s one-sided historiography. The two worked with NPR to capture some of Barton’s most ridiculous claims, including the idea that parts of the American Constitution are verbatim quotes from the Bible.

Over at The Way of Improvement Lead home, John Fea takes a step back and looks at those methods of historical scholarship that Barton claims have led to a misunderstanding of Jefferson, including deconstructionism and post-structuralism. Fea points out that Barton is guilty of using many of the same methods that he insults.

I’m a public historian, so I’ve had very little exposure to these more academic methods of interpretation. But Fea makes one point that stands out to me:

According to Barton, any historian who chooses to focus on the flaws of our founders is engaging in deconstructionism. Barton has no place for historical inquiry that does not glorify the founders, the Puritans, or any other historical character who contributed to the founding or settling of the nation.

I’d call what Barton is doing “commemorative history,” the point of which is to instill virtues like patriotism and piety upon the reader. Great men from history are held up as saints in a civic religion. It’s a republican form of history that is intended to make good citizens rather than good history. So we’re still engaged in the same argument that historians have been having with conservatives for decades now. The only difference is that Lynne Cheney called everyone who disagreed with her “revisionists,” and Barton is calling them “deconstructionists.”

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