John Adams' Holy Ghost letter: David Barton strikes back

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  • Lynn David

    Warren….. Given that David Barton has responded to one critic, I think he now needs to respond to the rest of us, but this time really address a substantial issue – namely the December 5 letter from Rush to Adams.

    I really doubt it. Barton said in that post:

    Normally, we simply ignore these types of absurd claims…..

    Absudity, thy name be Throckmorton! At least to Barton. Which is sufficient to say that he’s deluded himself enough not to care what you or anyone else might say. Afterall, he got on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart…. and you didn’t.

    And I hope you take that with the tongue in cheek humor in which it was given. No doubt Barton would say I was defending him, however.

  • On his website, David Barton strikes back at critics, notably Chris Pinto

    I’d never heard of Chris Pinto before, but after some Googling… sshheeee-yiiit!

    When one self-described “Christian historian” apparently believes that some sort of Masonic conspiracy to raise the Antichrist was secretly encoded by Pierre Charles L’Enfant in the street layout of Washington DC, and the other guy is David Barton… which side do you root for?!

    Or do you just make some popcorn and watch them bonk heads together?

  • Although, to be fair, I guess the point goes to Pinto, not Barton, with regards to the “Holy Ghost” letter.

    I mean, Pinto is slightly more correct than Barton, in that Adams clearly was deflating the conceit of organized Christian churches that the authority of bishops and other clergy is somehow vouchsafed by the Holy Ghost. (Barton desperately wants to believe that Adams was mocking the consecration of kings, but not the consecration of bishops.)

    On the other hand, I think Pinto is rather overreaching to accuse Adams of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It appears to me that Adams was merely attacking Pinto’s “orthodox” understanding of how the Holy Ghost functions, but was not necessarily attacking or rejecting the Holy Ghost Himself Zirself.

    So I guess I’d give Pinto only a half-point.

  • Lynn David

    Barton, it seems has attempted to rearrange John Adams’ paragraph to his own liking. Barton wrote:

    Adams begins by first establishing the accepted doctrine of the Holy Spirit according to Period III Reformation Christianity, telling Rush:

    But my friend there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, Who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop on the heads of candidates for the ministry.

    This statement is sound, solid, orthodox Christian doctrine. But Adams then contrasts that positive statement about the Holy Spirit with the perverted doctrine from Period II:

    In the same manner, as the Holy Ghost is transmitted from monarch to monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a dove and by that other phial [vial] which I have seen in the Tower of London.

    Notice his use of the very important phrase: “In the same manner, as….” That is, having stated the right doctrine of the Holy Ghost, he now looks at the distortion of it – at how it was presented falsely “in the same manner,” but this time not in regards to “candidates for the ministry” (i.e., the Church, which is the proper use), but rather by wrongly teaching that the Holy Ghost is transferred from king to king (i.e., the State, which is not the proper use) by way of the oil brought from Heaven. Concerning this perverted view of the Holy Spirit from Period II, Adams laments:

    Although this is all artifice and cunning in the sacred original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagot [bundle of wood used for burning individuals at the stake] for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe, human nature. There is so much king craft, priest craft, gentlemens craft, peoples craft, doctors craft, lawyers craft, merchants craft, tradesmens craft, laborers craft, and Devils craft in the world that it seems a desperate [hopeless] and impractical project to undeceive it.

    Adams clearly is not condemning Christianity or Biblical doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost, but is rather reproaching its twisting during Period II, noting that those who follow the Divine Right of Kings maldoctrine are willing to die for their belief “under the ax or the fiery fagots,” and thus suffer from that “poor weak ignorant dupe, human nature” – that is, human depravity is on full display, and so thoroughly convinced of the truth of this maldoctrine were its followers that it even seemed a waste of time to Adams to try to convince them otherwise.

    But Barton leaves out two very important sentences of that paragraph (double indented to align with the other quotes from Adams).

    There is no authority civil or religious: There can be no legitimate government but that which is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation.

    And these occur just after the “In the same manner” statement in which Barton claims Adams is stating distortions of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost and before the “artifice and cunning” statement which Barton claims is further condemnation of the transmital of the divine right of kings. And yet Adams says “no authority civil or religious” and “no legitimate government” except by “this Holy Ghost.” Thus if Barton must be correct then the government of the United States cannot be so blessed by “this Holy Ghost” or by Christianity because in the end it is all “artiface and cunning” – as in Barton’s.

    Barton’s screed is also rather anti-Catholic. Barton’s praise of the Reformation and his comparison of American Christianity to that of “European Christianity” seems a thinly-veiled condemnation of Catholicism.

  • Your post is an interesting read, Mr. Throckmorton. One I would characterize as a “rambling attempt,” imho.

    Two points:

    1) History most definitely proves that John Adams was a very knowledgable and vocal champion of Christian doctrine (of the Protestant flavor), particularly in regards to ‘Providence’ in the affairs of Man.

    In fact, Barton does not provide one other authority who supports him.”

    (You’ve obviously not read much of Barton’s blog or his numerous books.)

    2) I found Mr. Barton’s rebuttal of this Pinto guy’s critique to be rational, concise, well-documented and educational.

    To each their own.

    God bless you, and happy Independence Day!

    • LocoBreath – If you are correct about Adams, then he was a liar in public. As far as I can tell, Barton has never dealt with Adams’ statements about the Trinity to Thomas Jefferson. Adams views about Providence can be explained within a Unitarian framework, however, his statements on the Trinity, Christ’s atonement, etc., cannot be explained by seeing him as an Protestant evangelical. Until you all deal with that, you are guilty of selective quotation as you say the liberals are.

      Barton ignored completely Rush’s December 5 letter which puts this whole issue to rest.

  • Interesting analysis.

    But I did not accuse you, nor any one else, of ‘selective quotation.’

    I simply found your argument to be weak.

    John Adams, like most men, evolve in regards to their worldview. His youthful writings show a most grounded Puritan. As an old man, Adam’s writings illustrate a world-weary Unitarian philosophy, as you correctly pointed out.

    Throughout it all was a disgust for the corruption of Christ’s Gospel by self-serving priests and clergy, greedy for earthly power.

    Hence, his letters and arguments with others on the exact interpretation of doctrine – particularly as a cranky old man.


  • locobreath – You say the argument is weak, but you don’t say which argument.

    My argument is that Adams in his Dec. 21 letter replied to Rush’s Dec 5th letter and not to Rush’s October letter. Acknowledging Rush’s Dec 5 letter makes all the difference in the world. Barton does not cite the relevant information but imposes a narrative which has Adams speaking in some kind of coded message.

    I agree that Adams evolved from a more orthodox position to one much less. However, Barton does not acknowledge this. He creates fiction to hide the obvious.

  • jimshev

    I don’t agree with your findings…

    The first letter oct.17,1809 Rush clearly establishes that he only believes in the history of the bible which makes him a Christian

    “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.

    In his Dec. 5, letter when he starts to read the magazine he throws it down in disgust because it is mocking the bible and a true fairytale made up by Dr. Hobart and Dr. mason….since he was disgusted he clearly was not into people mocking God.

    Adams response is clear and concise…He doesn’t like the fact that the City of Philadelphia has these Science Arts and letters and its medical professor who makes up stories in magazines……..

    I really do not know whether I do not envy your City of Philadelphia for its Reputation for

    Science, Arts and Letters and especially its Medical Professor. I know not either whether I do not

    envy you your Genius and Imagination. Why have not I some Fancy? some Invention? some

    Ingenuity? some discursive Faculty? Why has all my Life been consumed in searching for Facts

    and Principles and Proofs and Reasons to support them

    He then goes on to state the facts as he believes them to be…….

    But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business. The Holy Ghost carries on the

    whole Christian system in this earth. Not a Baptism, not a Marriage not a Sacrament can be

    administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of

    the Bishops on the heads of Candidates for the Ministry.

    Meaning you have to be filled with the spirit..he goes on to mock the magazine in the next sentence..

    In the same manner as the holy Ghost is

    transmitted from Monarch to Monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought

    down from Heaven by a Dove and by that other Phyal which I have seen in the Tower of


    then he states that there is no authority other than the holy ghost ……..

    There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what

    is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All, without it is

    Rebellion and Perdition, or in more orthodox words Damnation,

    he then talks of all the people who believe in the “holy oil” coming down from the sky………

    Although this is all Artifice and

    Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they, would lay

    down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery’ Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe

    human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft, Gentlemens Craft, Peoples Craft,

    Doctors Craft, Lawyers Craft, Merchants Craft, Tradesmens Craft, Labourers Craft and Devils

    Craft in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it.

    His last line is the key…he is stating that there is so much “CRAFT”meaning falshoods in the world he would have a maajor project to”undecieve it!

    Admit it bro your interpretation is incorrect..I don’t know either one of you but you are totally off base and should retract your statements because it doesn’t look good for you . any intelligent person when reading this will know you ar not correct.

    Thats probably why nobody even commented on it..

  • jimshev – No, “bro” I don’t agree with your revision.

    I did not dispute that Rush was a Christian.

    However, your reading of Rush doesn’t address what Rush wrote on December 5. He was disgusted by Hobart’s and Mason’s dispute over ordination. Neither Hobart nor Mason considered the Bible fairy tales or mocked the Bible. They were orthodox men who thought each other wrong in their denominational teachings. Rush was very clear about his disgust – he penned a tale of two tailors who both believed they were the true keepers of the truth of Dorcas. Did you read Rush’s enclosure to Adams?

    Adams then responds to Rush’s “genius” via his Fable of Dorcas. It was the divines of New York that Rush was writing about and not someone in Philadelphia. Adams was saying that he was not sure why he envied Philadelphia – for their scientists or for Rush’s creativity in expressing truth in dreams and fables. Remember Rush was both a scientist, physician and an articulate patriot.

    At least you acknowledge that there was a December 5 letter. David Barton won’t do that. I will say however, that your creativity for telling tall tales does not match his. You will have to do better.

  • jimshev

    do more research bro cause Adams was a christian so you would be incorrect in stating that he was mocking christianity…he feared God and so did Rush…look at the bigger picture—-is it worth all your time to rip apart other people who believe in god ! Why dont you simply find facts to back up what you believe?? If there is no God then we must have evolved? Correct? Can you prove evolution? The Cambrian explosion? DNA? The flagellum? All I am saying to you is why not find the truth in what you believe? Does it really matter what others believe?

    just sayin

  • jimshev – If it doesn’t matter, then why are you here?

  • jimshev

    Directly from wikpedia John Adams

    Adams was born to a modest family, but he felt acutely the responsibility of living up to his family heritage: the founding generation of Puritans, who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s and established colonial presence in America. The Puritans of the great migration “believed they lived in the Bible. England under the Stuarts was Egypt; they were Israel fleeing … to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill.”[6] By the time of John Adams’s birth in 1735, Puritan tenets such as predestination were no longer as widely accepted, and many of their stricter practices had mellowed with time, but John Adams “considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency.” It was a value system he believed in, and a heroic model he wished to live up to.[6]

    are you also gonna say that they are liars too??

    just asking

  • If wikipedia is your high source of knowledge then perhaps you need to be on another board.

    Adams letters to Jefferson indicate his disbelief in the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Read the posts on Adams before you think you know where Adams ended up.

  • jimshev

    I am here because I don’t think its right to rip other people apart with false acusations… and trying to ruin others careers. There are many websites and also eyewitness accounts that Adams was a christian you just don’t want to face the facts because you would have to recant your statement and admit you made a mistake and usually people like you don’t have the guts to do it! I think you need to just prove that there is no god and then people will listen to you

  • jimshev

    here is the link to the letters

    right from the archives so there is no doubt that Adams is a christian and you sir are a phony

  • jimshev


    Read the Adams-Jefferson letters…in them they both professs to believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible…The “Religion ” they are ripping into is the man made religion of works..made up by bishops and popes read the letters closely

    Dig for the truth don’t just believe what anyone say…look for your self

  • Yes, indeed go read the Jefferson Bible referred to in the link supplied by jimshev – the one that omits, Jn 14:6; Jn 3:16; Jn 15-17; the miracles and the resurrection.

    Jefferson does not profess to believe in Christ as a god.

    I am really curious though; do you get this from Barton or some other source?

  • StraightGrandmother

    jimshev =

    re Warren-

    I think you need to just prove that there is no god and then people will listen to you

    StraightGrandmother = ahem, jimshev you do know that Warren is an Evangelical teaching at an Evangelical College, right?

    StraightGrandmother to self…obvious newbie erro

  • ken

    jimshev# ~ Feb 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    “right from the archives so there is no doubt that Adams is a christian and you sir are a phony”

    Warren never claimed Adams wasn’t a christian. Only that he didn’t believe in the trinity. Nothing in the letters you cite contradict that argument.

  • TXHistoryProf

    Adams was a Unitariam who believed in the moral teachings of Christianity but not in Original Sin, the Trinity, Salvation by faith alone. Read Pages 47-55 of Steven Waldman’s ” Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty.”


  • Krista Vessell

    I like the way jimshev tried to shift the focus on everything BUT the actual December letters themselves. LOL

    Adams made himself perfectly clear when he responded to Rush’s letter about how ridiculous the system of ordination by the “Holy Ghost.” He said:

    “Your Fable of Dorcas [btw, if you haven’t read it, READ IT!] would make a good Chapter or a good Appendix to The Tale of a Tub.”

    …followed IMMEDIATELY by…

    “But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business.”

    Obviously the entire “Holy Ghost” paragraph was written in response to Rush’s concern over the dispute in the article he sent! Mankind is corrupt, and we corrupt anything we can…even the word of God.