David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians

 

UPDATE: For more information about Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, go to GettingJeffersonRight.com.

Recently, I have been writing about the First Amendment. In the process, I have been reading much about the religious views of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison, all firm defenders of freedom of conscience.  Jefferson is particularly interesting given claims made about him by historical document collector David Barton. Barton runs an organization called Wallbuilders, dedicated to finding God’s hand in American history.

Over the next several days, I plan to examine some of these claims. Given the blog format the examination will be brief but I hope sufficient to demonstrate that what is being claimed by Mr. Barton about Jefferson is often misleading.  Barton has made several claims about Jefferson in a variety of places but I will use a recent audio file from his WallbuildersLive site as a springboard. On his April 11 podcast, Barton said:

And then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Not only did Jefferson recommend that the great seal of the US depict a Bible story and include the word God in the national motto, but as President, Jefferson negotiated treaties with the Indians in which he included direct federal funding to pay for Christian missionaries to evangelize the Indians. And these treaties were ratified by the US Senate. Furthermore, Jefferson closed Presidential documents with the appellation, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ,” thus invoking Jesus Christ into official government documents.

You know I have a lot of fun with Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, because people think they know those two, but you take those two, and they are clearly the least religious of the signers of the Declaration. And by using their original documents, they look like a couple of radical right, Bible thumping evangelicals. And they’re the least religious, And I’ll give you a great example. We moved into the US Capitol in 1800, November of 1800. And when we moved in, one of the first acts of Congress was to approve the use of the Capitol as a church building. You can find that in the records of Congress, Dec 4 1800. Now, who did that? You had the head of the Senate and the head of the House, the speaker of the House was John Trumpbell, the president of the Senate who approved that was Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson approves church in the Capitol? Yep, he went there as Vice President, he went to the church at the Capitol for 8 years as President, and as President of the US, he’s going to church, and this is recorded in all sorts of members of Congress, their records, their diaries, because they went to church at the Capitol too. And so, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, thinks, you know I think I can help the worship services at this new church at the Capitol, they met in the Hall of the House of Representatives, so Jefferson ordered the Marine Corp band to come play for the worship services, in the church services at the US Capitol. The worship band is the Marine Corp Band? Pretty good worship band. Thomas Jefferson did that. I thought he wanted separation of church and state. If you read his letter on separation of church and state, he said separation of church and state, he makes it very clear, separation of church and state will keep the government from stopping a public religious activity.

We’re not going to learn about what Jefferson actually did cause we’ve got a couple of his phrases where we can say he didn’t like religion. So we’re not going to look at the fact that in 1803, Thomas Jefferson, President of the US, signer of the Declaration, did a treaty with Kaskaskia Indians, where that he gave federal funds to send missionaries to the Indians, ratified by the US Senate. Now, I don’t know anybody on the radical religious right that would be comfortable with doing that today but Thomas Jefferson did. It was not a problem for him. So we look at the guys today and we look only what appears to be their non-religious or anti-religious side, and we think that is who they are…And You look at the rest of Jefferson and he would make most Christians today look embarrassingly shallow and yet Jefferson still had questions about the divinity of Christ and still so much further in promoting Christian principles.

The principle claims I plan to examine are that Jefferson:

  • signed a treaty which provided federal funds to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians
  • closed Presidential documents with the statement: “In the Year of Our Lord Christ,” thus setting out Jefferson’s belief in Jesus as Christ.
  • approved holding church in the US Capitol and ordered the Marine Band to play for the worship service.
  • merely had questions about the divinity of Christ. In fact, he looks like a “radical right, Bible thumping” evangelical when one examines the original documents.

First, did Jefferson enter into “a treaty with Kaskaskia Indians, where that he gave federal funds to send missionaries to the Indians?”

When I first heard that claim, I thought I would find evidence that Jefferson authorized funds to give to a church organization or denomination for the purpose of sending missionaries to an unchurched tribe. The phrasing of Mr. Barton makes it sound like the government paid missionaries to spread Christianity and make converts.

I did not find that.

In 1803, a treaty was signed with the Kaskaskia tribe which contained the following reference to religion. This is the only treaty I can find in 1803 with the Kaskaskia tribe.

ARTICLE 3.
The annuity heretofore given by the United States to the said tribe shall be increased to one thousand dollars, which is to be paid to them either in money, merchandise, provisions or domestic animals, at the option of the said tribe: and when the said annuity or any part thereof is paid in merchandise, it is to be delivered to them either at Vincennes, Fort Massac or Kaskaskia, and the first cost of the goods in the sea-port where they may be procured is alone to be charged to the said tribe free from the cost of transportation, or any other contingent expense. Whenever the said tribe may choose to receive money, provisions or domestic animals for the whole or in part of the said annuity, the same shall be delivered at the town of Kaskaskia. The United States will also cause to be built a house suitable for the accommodation of the chief of the said tribe, and will enclose for their use a field not exceeding one hundred acres with a good and sufficient fence. And whereas, The greater part of the said tribe have been baptised and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church. The stipulations made in this and the preceding article, together with the sum of five hundred and eighty dollars, which is now paid or assured to be paid for the said tribe for the purpose of procuring some necessary articles, and to relieve them from debts which they have heretofore contracted, is considered as a full and ample compensation for the relinquishment made to the United States in the first article.

The United States gave money toward a church building and provided a stipend for a priest to continue work already begun, which included both religious and non-religious duties.

The Kaskaskia were already Catholic converts. Nothing is said directly about evangelizing, and is an inference. Nothing in the treaty required the priest to attempt to make converts. He certainly could have involved himself in numerous other pastoral duties to the already converted, in addition to his duties teaching literature. Apparently the funds were paid to the tribe for the listed purposes.

One reason why this treaty is important to those who want the government to establish Christianity as the nation’s religion is because funds were paid for religious purposes. However, it is very important to remember that the Indian tribes were considered sovereign nations. This treaty provides money for another, albeit very small nation of people, to pursue religious ends of their choosing. This is not the same as awarding money to a state government for the purpose of paying ministers. Some state governments debated those kind of proposals but eventually all of those initiatives were defeated.

In addition, it appears that Barton wants to make Jefferson look more evangelical than he was. He attempts to compare Jefferson’s action in signing the treaty to today’s evangelicals who would not be comfortable with such an arrangement, thus casting Jefferson as one who was willing to mesh political policy with religious practice.

In fact, the Kaskaskia tribe turned to Catholicism via the ministry of Father Marquette in the mid-1600s. By the time they signed the treaty with the United States, there were only about 200 members of the tribe.  The United States government recognized their allegiances and responded accordingly. What Jefferson allowed was an acknowledgement of the practices of Kaskaskia tribe rather than an effort to convert them with government money.

Next: Did Jefferson sign official documents with the appellation, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ?”

Previously: Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

 

 

  • ken

    The United States government recognized their allegiances and responded accordingly. What Jefferson allowed was an acknowledgement of the practices of Kaskaskia tribe rather than an effort to convert them with government money.

    and what is unclear is who wanted the money for the church put into the treaty, the US government or the Kaskaskia tribe? Barton implies it was Jefferson who wanted that provision, however, that seems unlikely. Further, I think referring to them as “christian” missionaries rather than catholic was deliberate (either on Barton’s part or whoever his source was), because he wanted to avoid people questioning why Jefferson would be funding a catholic church.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Clearly Jefferson was an ardent Catholic and it was his intention that the nation be a Catholic Nation under his Holiness, the Pope. Clearly. Right, Mr. Barton?

  • OneOfTheWatchers

    Warren, you should simultaneously see if you can get this published in the Christian Post. I would be most anxious to hear the responses you’d get dismantling Barton’s prevarications.

  • Robert

    Good piece, warren. I have always thought that the Kaskaskia issue is a non starter simply because of the fact that it was a treaty with a sovereign nation.

    If today we are re building mosques in Iraq as part of our committment to that nation, are we now Muslim?

  • Lynn David

    Now in Vincennes, Indiana, two years prior to that treaty Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison asked Fr. Rivet to set up a public school, Jefferson Academy, the predecessor of Vincennes University. Often on the frontier it was the religious who were most educated and people looked to them for educating their children.

    Now earlier in 1792 by Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget, who set up a school in the old St Francis Xavier church. Fr. Flaget is called the Father of Parochial Education in Indiana. But Rivet’s classes were taught in a large room in the rectory. And yet Fr. Rivet is called Indiana’s First Public School Teacher.

  • Lynn David

    Hmm… cannot seem to think and write…

    Now earlier in 1792 Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget set up a school in the old St Francis Xavier church. Fr. Flaget is called the Father of Parochial Education in Indiana. But although Fr. Rivet’s classes were taught in a large room in the rectory. Fr. Rivet is called Indiana’s First Public School Teacher.

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  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Further, I think referring to them as “christian” missionaries rather than catholic was deliberate (either on Barton’s part or whoever his source was), because he wanted to avoid people questioning why Jefferson would be funding a catholic church.

    Also, a non-trivial percentage of Barton’s audience may have trouble uttering the phrase “Catholics are Christians” without crossing their fingers behind their backs…

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Er, by the way, Washington DC is our nation’s Capital; the domed building where Congresscritters meet is the Capitol.

    (I assume this was a “mistake” of a speech-to-text transcription program, rather than human error.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    So we look at the guys today and we look only what appears to be their non-religious or anti-religious side, and we think that is who they are…And You look at the rest of Jefferson and he would make most Christians today look embarrassingly shallow and yet Jefferson still had questions about the divinity of Christ

    Note that even when Barton is seemingly being honest and making a concession, he is in fact fibbing.

    Because Jefferson “had questions” about the divinity of Christ like I’ve “had questions” about my heterosexuality since my sophomore year of college 20 years ago — which is to say that every single time, I answer the question with a very resounding “No, I’m NOT heterosexual.” (Or, rather, “Ngumph, um MOB mebawo-fefuah!”) ;-)

    As a politician in a mostly Christian country, Jefferson may have preferred carefully ambiguous language in his public statements — but in his private correspondence, he bluntly rejected the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Another weasel phrasing by Barton:

    You know I have a lot of fun with Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, because people think they know those two, but you take those two, and they are clearly the least religious of the signers of the Declaration. And by using their original documents, they look like a couple of radical right, Bible thumping evangelicals.

    I’m not sure it’s at all clear that Jefferson and Franklin were less religious than all the other signers of the DoI, since Deism is itself a religious ideology and both of them were apparently sincere Deists. (Some have speculated that Jefferson would call himself an atheist rather than a Deist if he were alive today, but I’m not sure that you can make this case for Franklin.)

    What’s clear, instead, is that Jefferson and Franklin were among the least Christian most overtly non-Christian of the Founders. But of course it wouldn’t suit Barton’s purpose to say that, because he wants to show some like-mindedness between these two men and “Bible thumping evangelical [Christians].” Alternatively, you could say that Jefferson and Franklin were “the least traditional(ist) in their religious beliefs,” which is different from saying “the least religious.”

    P.S. To say that they were “less Christian” is problematic because it may be taken as suggesting that they were “un-Christian” or “anti-Christian” in their behavior and moral sentiments. But what I mean, instead, is that they were markedly “non-Christian” in their theology, if you’re using adherence to the Nicene Creed as a definition of “theologically Christian.”

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  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    The United States gave money toward a church building and provided a stipend for a priest to continue work already begun, which included both religious and non-religious duties.>>>>>

    Another proof Jefferson rejected the modern notion of separation of church and state.

    Nothing is said directly about evangelizing, and is an inference. Nothing in the treaty required the priest to attempt to make converts.>>>>

    Jefferson gave money to a Priest and a church. What does a Priest do? TJ could care less what Priests did day to day, and would not be there to stop them anyway. “the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion”

    a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office >>>>

    A catholic priest evangelizing? You think?

    Here is the main flaw in your argument:

    <<<>>>

    Jefferson was against any government, or nation prohibiting a religious establishment to any people:

    “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”

    –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. Papers, 12:440

    Thus, you have TJ violating his own command by giving taxpayer money to support another govt’s established church.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Correction. Jefferson was against any government, or nation supporting a religious establishment to any people or nation.

  • Pingback: David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – Did Jefferson approve church in the Capitol? — Warren Throckmorton

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  • LanceMH

    I think it is interesting that Barton decided to “extrapolate” – which is really a euphemism for speculate – from a select provision of the treaty in order to conclude that the primary intent and purpose of the treaty was to promote the Christian religion.

    What Barton fails to recognize that every treaty every entered into by the U.S. government with the various American Indian tribes was to “compensate” them for our pillage,and plundering of their communities, the savage murder of their people, the “expropriation (theft) of their land, and and utter destruction of their cultures primarily through forced religious indoctrination into Christians.

    Pat Paulson said it best: The flaw in U.S. immigration policy can be traced back to the failure of the American Indian to recognize that the first illegal immigrants (the white man) were going to take over the country for their own ends (under the notion of Manifest Destiny).

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  • Ron Lester

    Justice Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree supports David Barton’s claims and refutes Throckmorton’s claim.

  • Ron Lester

    Just two days after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association President Jefferson attended public worship services in the U.S. Capitol building, something he did throughout his two terms in office.

    He also authorized the use of the War Office and the Treasury building for church services in Washington, D.C.

    He put chaplains on the government payroll.

    Jefferson dated official documents “in the year of our Lord Christ.”

  • Ron Lester

    If we’re really concerned about lies, let’s spend the next year on the ACLU’s whoppers.

  • http://wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Mr. Lester: Please see our book Getting Jefferson Right for a fuller explanation of the claims you are making here.

    Here is Wallace vs. Jaffree for those who want to read Rehnquist’s views.

    Supreme Court justices are human and make mistakes. Rehnquist in his opinion did not make an appropriate distinction between the treaty with the Kaskaskia – a sovereign nation – and government support for religion. The government negotiated a payment for religious purposes, much like money from the PEPFAR program went to religious groups in sovereign nations in Africa.

    Mr. Lester, don’t just list claims from David Barton without providing evidence. I have debunked these claims here and in the Getting Jefferson Right book.

  • Mike

    Here’s some sources for all of you. A univerity law school and an antique dealer that has several original documents for sale.

    David Barton posts the actual original documents for review on his site as well. Here is a link to a antique dealer selling historical documents that you can view http://www.raabcollection.com/george-washington-autograph/george-washington-signed-washington-and-jefferson-sign-passport-schooner – you can own this piece of history for $32,000. Both Washington and Jefferson signed this In the Year of our Lord Christ. Jefferson has others on this site as well some just signed In the year of our Lord. While there are many gods, only one is referred to as Lord.

    For my next source I will use the University of Missouri Law Dept. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/estabinto.htm “It is far less clear whether the Establishment Clause was also intended to prevent the federal government from supporting Christianity in general. Proponents of a narrow interpretation of the clause point out that the same First Congress that proposed the Bill of Rights also opened its legislative day with prayer and voted to apportion federal dollars to establish Christian missions in the Indian lands. On the other hand, persons seeing a far broader meaning in the clause point to writings by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison suggesting the need to establish “a wall of separation” between church and state.” Federal funds went to Christian missions.

    Just pointing this out- Barton is telling the truth. This is America and the beauty is you get to follow your own heart and conscience. Our history is Christian- nondenominational primarily due to the corruption of the church of England. I do not know any Christians interested in a theoracy as so many claim- the exact opposet is true. Seperation of church and state in the Jefferson letter to the Baptists was for the protection of the chruch, not the state.

    We are free to follow our own paths. If you’re an athiest, that is your choice and I respect that. If you don’t want to discuss God, then I’m up for talking football, I’m interested in talking about Jesus only if the other person is. Jesus changed my life and is my Lord and Savior- I preach Christ because I believe in the depths of my heart all are lost without him.

    Let’s not change history, but seek to mold our future.

    Thanks for reading my post- God bless.

    • http://wthrockmorton.com Warren

      Mike – Thanks for your civil tone. However, you actually support the evidence I have presented. The documents you linked to were sea passports, as I pointed out in Getting Jefferson Right. Those documents had the words “In the year of our Lord Christ” preprinted – this was a form that was printed in advance and Washington and Jefferson simply signed their names as required by several treaties we signed with European nations. Washington and Jefferson were bound by treaty to sign that particular form. They did not chose that language. No act of Congress chose the language out of any deference to Christianity. The Dutch, French and other countries used this language in their diplomatic forms and when the treaties were signed, passport language already in use was inserted into the treaty. You sound like you could have an open mind, Mike, please read this article and it will give references and links to prove what I say here: http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/04/20/david-barton-on-thomas-jefferson-in-the-year-of-our-lord-christ/ — Mike, if you ever find a document where Jefferson signed with his own hand, without requirement of law or treaty, in the year of our Lord Christ, then you will have a million dollar document — it would be that rare. I know of no such instance. I have read hundreds of Jefferson’s letters. Not one is signed with any religious closing. No “in Christ,” “in His service,” “prayerfully” etc. Such a letter may exist, but I haven’t seen it.

      Regarding your second source, the author offers two views of the Establishment Clause. This is accurate; this has been and will be debated at length. However, we need to get the facts and their context clear. Yes, Jefferson accepted the requests of the Kaskaskia Indians to build them a church and pay for a priest to work in that church. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic. If they had not been Catholic, they would not have asked for a church and a priest in exchange for the state of Illinois. The government did not impose that on them as a condition of signing the treaty. That makes a huge difference. The second huge difference is that Indians at that time were not citizens of the United States and thus they nor Jefferson were precented by the Establishment Clause to negotiate issues of religion. The Kaskaskia tribe was a sovereign nation. These facts matter. Just because Jefferson traded a church and a priest’s salary to a sovereign nation for land does not mean much when it comes to how to interpret the First Amendment for citizens of the US. As an imperfect analogy, current the US govt negotiates with other nations over such matters. We give PEPFAR money for AIDS treatment to African nations who used religious groups to do the work of AIDS prevention, etc. These groups mix religion and treatment in ways that we would not allow under the First Amendment. Some here don’t like it, but I would argue that these funds are being used constitutionally. This analogy has flaws but I hope you can see that understanding what happened with the Kaskaskia really matters to how you apply the situation today.

      PS – Read my posts, I am not an atheist, nor a leftist. Barton’s straw men are many but none of them apply to me. I am not attacking Christianity but, if anything, defending it.

  • TxHistoryProf

    Dr. Throkmorton ,

    Would it stand to reason that Jefferson supported an existing Catholic parish among the Kaskaskia Native Americans as means of further attempts to “civilize” them under the auspices of the Catholic Churches priests and schools later paving the way for further American settlements in the Northwest Territories? This treaty seems like a typical foreign policy expenditure like we make with Israel or African nations.

    Why is it that Protestant Christians fail to realize the Catholic Church is the ORIGINAL Christian Church for 1500 years until a renegade monk suddenly decides he knows more than priests who had hands laid on them that can be traced back to Peter whom Jesus laid hands on first establishing Peter as the “rock” or foundation of the Church?

    Thank you,

    Mark

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  • Jason

    Wow I see alot of people being extremly manipulative in the comments section while accusing an extremly honest man of being manipulative. Not really suppriseing considering this is from the same type of people which will say the the 1st amendment says seperation of church and state (a phrase found nowhere in the constitution) and will tell me I am violateing other peoples first amendment rights when I exercise the rights they want to violate. Namely freedom of speech and free exercise thereof. The word hypocricy comes to mind when I read the comments section.

  • Gorbert

    America has fallen so far from God, of course people are so mixed up about who God actually is and where he belongs in society. Our economy is where it is now because of our nation’s leader’s choices to neglect god in making choices for our nations. So obviously, there is a lot of contention about God and his word.

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