Monumental Question: Did Signers of the Declaration and Constitution Finance a Bible for Every American Family?

David Barton told Kirk Cameron they did for Cameron’s new movie Monumental. Watch the video clip from the movie:

For this post, I am interested in what Barton and Cameron say about the first Bible mentioned by Cameron and Barton dated 1798.

Kirk Cameron: What are these?

David Barton: This is a family Bible done in 1798.

Barton: This Bible was funded by about a dozen signers of the Constitution and signers of the Declaration as well as by President John Adams and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. They’re the guys that put up the financial backing to do this Bible.

Cameron: Funded by signers of the Declaration…

Barton: and Constitution

Cameron: and Constitution

Barton: yeah, Gunning Bedford, signer of the Constitution, John Dickinson, signer of the Constitution, you had so many of the signers who were part of this, you had Alexander Hamilton helped fund this Bible.

Cameron: Because they wanted families to gather around the Bible…

Barton: They wanted the Word of God out to every family.

Cameron: Because they believed that would make for a better country.

Barton: Makes for a better country, makes for a better faith. And again, this is a product of our atheist, agnostic, deist Founding Fathers, or at least, that’s who we’re been told they were today, When you see this stuff, you go wait a minute. These guys…why would any atheist, agnostic, or deist promote the Word of God, fund it and want it distributed to every family and everyone in America? Why would they fund a Bible that you can take and give out to your neighbors, and evangelize them, it doesn’t make sense. Now, on the other hand, if these guys happened to be Christians, that makes a lot of sense.

Did a dozen or so Signers of the Declaration and Constitution finance this Bible to give to every family in America? Since Barton did not say who published the Bible mentioned in the clip, I cannot respond with 100% certainty. However, given the size and the publication date, I doubt the claim that the Founders put up money to get that 1798 Bible to every family.

The only Bible of that size published in 1798 that I can locate is the Thompson Hot Press Bible. At the time, it was the largest Bible printed in the new nation and it was the first hot press Bible published. The ink and type were heated and then seared — hot pressed — onto the page, making a very clean impression.

The 1798 Bible was issued originally in 40 sections starting in June 1796 at half a dollar a number. One of the sources I consulted indicated that Thomas Jefferson paid $5 in February of 1798 as a payment on a subscription of $20 for a hot press Bible. Jefferson’s name is listed among the subscribers.

Buying a Bible by subscription was common then and was a way to provide the printer with some idea of how many copies to print. An analogy today might be to think of a magazine subscription is a purchase of a year’s volume of issues. You are committing to pay one price but might pay in payments instead. Here is a description of a Bible being offered by subscription in 1688 by William Bradford:

The first proposal to print the Bible in English in America was made in 1688 by William Bradford of Philadelphia. The publication that announced this intention was worded as follows: —

“These are to give Notice, that it is proposed for a large house-Bible to be Printed by way of Subscriptions, [a method usual in England for the Printing of large Volumns, because Printing is very chargeable] therefore to all that are willing to forward so good (and great) a Work, as the Printing of the holy Bible, are offered these Proposals, viz.: 1. That It shall be printed in a fair Character, on good Paper, and well bound. 2. That it shall contain the Old and New Testament, with the Apocraphy, and all to have useful Marginal Notes. 3. That it shall be allowed (to them that subscribe) for Twenty Shillings per Bible: [A Price which one of the same volumn in England would cost]. 4. That the pay shall be half Silver Money, and half Country Produce at Money price. One half down now, and the other half on the delivery of the Bibles. . . . Also, this may further give notice that Samuell Richardson and Samuell Carpenter of Philadelphia, are appointed to take care and be assistant in the laying out of the Subscription Money, and to see that it be imploy’d to the use intended, and consequently that the whole Work be expedited. Which is promised by

“william Bradford. “Philadelphia, the 14th of the 1st Month, 1688.”

Bradford wanted half down and the rest later. Buying by subscription allowed printers to go ahead with a project but the result was that the subscriber got what he paid for. Barton told Cameron that the 1798 Bible was funded and financed by the Signers so that it could be “distributed to every family and everyone in America.” If, indeed I am correct and the Bible in the movie Monumental is the 1798 hot press Bible, then this claim is quite misleading.

Barton says the Bible was “funded by about a dozen signers…” However, the 1798 hot press Bible had, by my count (I have the two page subscriber’s list), 1272 subscribers. Some of the signers of the Declaration and Constitution were on that list, but they were subscribers just like the other 1200+ people who paid their subscription money to get the entire Bible. Barton’s narrative makes it seem as though the signers mentioned (e.g., Adams, Jefferson, Bedford, Dickinson, etc.) put up money over and above the price of a personal copy in order for the printer to distribute them to others. That is not what happened with the 1798 hot press Bible.

If there is some other folio sized Bible published in 1798 that was created in the manner described by Barton, then I hope he will identify it. I can’t find it. However, if the Bible mentioned in Monumental is that hot press Bible, then Cameron’s movie will be at least one part historical fiction.

 

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  • http://exgaywatch.com David Roberts

    Excellent sleuthing. It seems to me that Barton makes a habit of stretching the truth beyond all recognition. If the average reader bothers to look at all, they might see a reference to the subject in historical text and think that Barton is correct. If the truth does not matter to the Church, what have we got left? These are strange times.

  • AJ

    Warren, I am curious, do you think that Barton actually believes what he says? I just don’t understand the thought process that would lead someone to lie like this.

    And honestly, why do Christians care what the founding fathers thought about the Bible? Are we now worshiping them instead of God?

  • stephen

    He reminds me of the Shakespeare deniers. The same obsessive focus on misunderstood minutiae, the same imperviousness to reason, the same up is down/right is wrong mentality, the same glib certainty.

    “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure.” Theocritus in ‘On The Nature of Things’. Remind you of anything? That was the book that seemed most to influence Jefferson’s thinking. He had it in Greek (several copies), English, French and Italian. ‘Pleasure’, in the sense of a life lived doing things you like for reasons that bring a sense of purpose, was of course changed to ‘Happiness’ so as not to freak a clergy still consumed with visions of witches dancing naked in forest clearings.

  • StraightGrandmother

    What would be VERY effective is if someone used your key words “david barton” and presented the information in your articles as a YouTube video. Look how you constantly embed Barton videos, someone should make a YouTube video of the truth. It would be very helpful.

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

    AJ,

    Good question. I’m just guessing but i suspect he does.

    Conservative Christians – like most people – have the ability to believe things that are absurd if such things support their faith. Evidence is accepted or dismissed out of hand based not on credibility but on its ability to confirm or deny cherished beliefs.

    Yes, of course that guy climbing Mt. Ararat saw pieces of Noah’s Ark. Certainly the hurricane that damaged New Orleans was a sign of God’s displeasure (and let’s ignore that it destroyed red counties while leaving the French Quarter unmarred).

    Or, to take it out of formal religion, consider the two cults based on global warming. Depending on the direction of their deeply held faith, the evidence clearly points to the unmistakable fact that the planet is without question going to have severe climate change, or is not. And these are scientists doing this.

    Is Barton able to convince himself that the evidence agrees with him? Absolutely.

    My only response to Barton’s claims would be to agree with him. Yes, the Founding Fathers were Christians seeking to advance a Christian Nation for the glory of God. In precisely the same way that today’s politicians are Christians seeking to advance a Christian Nation for the glory of God.

  • George

    I agree with StraightGrandmother.There would be nothing more educational for this country to wake up to than a YouTube David Barton Anthology gone viral.

    Looking at the Monumental trailer, has anyone else noted the copy of ‘The Godless Constitution’ Barton keeps in his inner sanctum, along all his other Holy American Documents?

  • Nelson

    Warren, the idea that David Barton actually believes the hype about his greatness in the history of Early America. I have way too much doubt that he is such an authority, he neither publishes in peer reviewed journals nor does he have any academic credentials that speak to his acumen and accumulated knowledge regarding the early history of the Republic.

    What is so amazing about this man, is his bold faced lies about a subject that he is a self proclaimed expert on. What can the normal person do when confronted by a prevaricator of such epic proportions? The only thing to do is to proclaim that the truth does not reside in his mind neither in his house. Why if such prevarication exists do the people of faith not call him on such nonsensical and irrational speeches?

  • CA

    Barton, like his religidroid peers, are in the god bubble..they’ll stop at nothing and say anything that can confuse people, manipulate and scare people all as a part of there self-annointed mission of making everyone else in this country lives as they feel you should…and no, the majority of the Founding Fathers were documentatbley agnostic or at very least deists with doubts… Batron and his church pals all want twist history, which they know most arent well educated in, so as there false arguments will support their twisted faith. Faith is the unltimate “choice”..Faith is learned, not inate and, as with most learned things, lessons of faith are subject to adulteration and distortion by those with their own personal agenda for which they earn god merit badges which they wear on their sleeves, along with the galzed, creepy jesus smiles. They do this, not for us or otheres, but, conceitedly and arrogantly for themselves. It’s all about them, and how christ-like they like to feel about themselves. It’s an ego thing they strive to acheive, most cant see this forest because they are so buried in the spiritual trees they tie themselves to. Their premise of god is severely flawed, which has so effected the validity of their arguments of what’s true, even when all logic and reason must be ammended for their arguments to appear to make sense. Then, they say it’s a “matter of faith”…this is a great blanket reasoning statement that allows them to sleep at night and get up the next day and keep demonizing all those who dont dwell in their neck of the ‘forest’. IMO, religion is humans just trying to control humans with notions of fear and prey on the insecurities all people have. Break ‘em down, build ‘em back up with twisted truths and false prophecies disguised as “god” The closer you look, the more obvious the tactics used by religion to control it’s “flocks”…baah baah baah…

  • Andrew
  • stephen

    Stephen: It’s Lucretius, you dolt. Even Sarah Palin knows that. Theocritus wrote: Beauty’s truth, Truth beauty. Gabriel blow your root toot tooty.

  • http://queeroncampus.blogspot.com.au/ Craig

    Did David Barton claim that the signers of the Declaration and Constitution, provided the finance to produce copies of Bibles to every American family? Or did he claim that those signers financed the translation and production of a Bible (“financial backing to do this Bible”) that Christians in turn would buy copies of and would distribute to every American family (“give out to your neighbors, and evangelize them”) ? I know it’s not crystal clear, but his words suggest the signatories were intending that others would enable the distribution, so I suggest Barton probably meant the latter.

  • Corey Mondello

    Are they talking about Thomas Jefferson’s version of the bible, the one that removes all the supernatural aspects of the story of Jesus? I doubt it:

    “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, (1743-1826), Third US President, second Vice President

    “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” ~ Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to John Adams (April 11, 1823)

    “The Christian god is a three-headed monster, cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three-headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

    “In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Craig – Even if your version is what he meant, it still would not be true. The Founders involved simply bought the Thomson Hot Press Bible. That is all they did, along with 1260+ of their fellow citizens. And then once they bought the pages, they had to get it bound. They did not put up any money to get it translated, because Thompson used an existing translation of the Bible for his new printing method.

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  • Ron Lester

    And so now we’re taking on Kirk Cameron and Monumental, too. When is Throckmo’s debunking of the Declaration of Independence coming out?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Ron – Do you have anything to say really? If you have actual evidence to offer then please do so.

  • J.Green

    I’m curious then what you would have to say about the 1782 (Aitken?) Bible that was approved by Congress and produced for the schools in our country at that time. Was the Bible not used in our country’s schools for a very long time? How many have actually read the Mayflower Compact? Was that not a government civil charter? Christians are no different than ANY person who has convictions. Who isn’t attracted to those platforms that support our convictions, whatever those might be? Most people do not do further research when they find those platforms, liberals and conservatives alike. I have found that many “leftists” leave out just as many facts as you accuse David Barton of doing. Those who put more effort into finding the truth on their own will not be disappointed. Read the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and its many ammendments, then travel to Washington D.C. to see for yourself our many national monuments and engravings.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      J.Green – I have been to DC many times and read the documents but that doesn’t have anything to do with factual accuracy.

      Read here for more on Aitken’s Bible: http://www.religiontoday.com/news/monumental-documentary-history-accurate.html – That Bible was not produced for schools by Congress. Congress approved the accuracy of it. It was Aitken in his letter to Congress that pitched it as a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use in schools. However, Congress did not say that nor approve it for that purpose.

      I don’t know what the Mayflower Compact has to do with getting history right.

      If you want to discover primary sources, you should our book, Getting Jefferson Right.

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