My Response to David Barton

Yesterday, on his Wallbuilder’s website, David Barton responded to Getting Jefferson Right. He also had strong words for Clay Jenkinson and Alan Pell Crawford, two other critical reviewers of The Jefferson Lies.

There is much I could respond to, but I will limit myself to some general responses and then issue a challenge to Barton.

Barton leads his response to Getting Jefferson Right by claiming that we are part of the academic elite with a need to publish or perish. His criticisms are not consistent; he says we are academic elites but demeans the book because we published it as an ebook first.  Publishing a digital book for $4.99 is not an elitist move.  If anything, an argument can be made that digital publishing allows authors to bypass the elitist system.  Barton says we are part of the “publish or die” mentality of academia. That criticism shows how little he knows about Grove City College where Michael and I teach (Barton incorrectly called it Grove College). While publications are appreciated around here, the real value is on excellence in the class room.

Barton sets up a straw man immediately by saying:

They begin by candidly admitting that they are critiquing “Barton and religious conservatives in general,” thereby openly confessing their hostility toward me and my personal religious beliefs. As they acknowledge up front, and as will be evident below, their real problem with The Jefferson Lies is much more about its worldview than its historical content.

Here is the rest of what we wrote about our aim:

Why focus on claims made by those who offer arguments for the Christian commitments and practices of Jefferson?  This question raises the general issue of Christians and scholarship. The authors of this book are both Christians who believe Christian ethics and Christian theology inform our scholarly pursuits. In that sense, we are speaking to audiences which are familiar to us. Thus, our aim is not to diminish the value of conservative religious traditions. Although we believe this book will be interesting to anyone who wants to get Jefferson right, we hope to make a contribution to our own communities.

Barton portrays us as liberals who dislike America and Christianity.  However, we are approaching this topic because we are citizens and Christians who seek to speak to our communities. We did not write our book to attack Christianity but to be faithful to it.

Barton spends some time going over the value of his historical document collection, faulting me for saying he has lots of newspapers.  My source for that statement was his words in a New York Times article last year.

As he proudly showed a visitor his library, which holds a shock of George Washington’s hair, it was clear that Mr. Barton had affection not just for yellowed pages but also for the hunt itself. And he is looking forward, even as he looks back. “We haven’t had the time to read through even 5 percent of these things,” he said, opening a sheaf of 18th-century newspapers. “You never know what you’ll find.”

I think that would be pretty fun, but I don’t know how disputes over his document collection address any of the 20 key claims we examined in our book.

Barton takes us to task for our examination of the treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians. In his book, he cites the Kaskaskia treaty twice. Barton notes the first citation and we note the second:

a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that directly funded Christian missionaries, and provided federal funding to help erect a church building in which they might worship.

While he wants to make the distinction irrelevant, the treaty paid the salary of a Catholic priest and provided for a church building. We got Illinois and more, the Indians got a priest and church and little bit of land.

The Kaskaskia were already Catholic so the framing of this as the government funded missionaries to Indians who were going to be evangelized is misleading.  That is our primary point with this claim. The other relevant point to keep clear is that the treaty was with a sovereign nation. In order to make proper application to first amendment questions, the status of native people at the time is important to remember.

Barton then complains about our treatment of his claim that Jefferson signed documents “in the year of our Lord Christ.” He says we don’t know what documents he has. There is a good reason for that. He won’t say.  In the notes to his book, he just calls it a presidential act dated October 18, 1804. It looks like a sea-letter to me, which is what we said in our book. If it is a sea-letter then our criticism holds – Jefferson did not choose to sign those words, he was required to by treaty and the document was a pre-printed form. If Barton has some other document where Jefferson chose to include those religious sounding words, then why not produce it? Mr. Barton, take an image of it and put it on your website.

About our critique of his approach to the Thompson hot-pressed Bible, Barton says:

As they do so often throughout their critique, they entirely miss the primary point obviously being made in that section of the book – which is that individuals associate their name and money only in projects with which they have a general philosophical agreement, as Jefferson did here. But if they are right that being a subscriber is trivial and irrelevant, then if we should someday see a racist anti-Semitic publication with Throckmorton’s name listed as a subscriber, we should dismiss it as meaningless??? Hardly! Being a subscriber to a work tells us something of what that person believes and supports – which is why it is significant that Jefferson’s name appeared in the Thompson Bible and that he also offered to help finance other Bibles as well.

Furthermore, the Thompson Bible was one of many examples I provided to demonstrate occasions where Jefferson helped promote/fund/print the traditional unedited Bible. But Throckmorton and Coulter deliberately ignore this broader point and devolve into a pointless discussion about what a subscriber is. On multiple occasions, these two acknowledge that the particular fact I set forth did indeed happen but then try to shift the focus away from the self-evident simplicity of that which appears in the original documents.

(By the way, contrary to their errant claim, subscribers definitely were investors, for frequent was the occasion when printers were unable to publish a work due to a lack of subscribers.  It was common that if printers or authors did not have sufficient up-front, in-hand funds from subscribers, the work was not printed; so subscribers definitely were investors in the work.)

Barton says in The Jefferson Lies:

Furthermore, in 1798 Jefferson personally helped finance the printing of one of America’s groundbreaking editions of the Bible. That Bible was a massive, two-volume folio set that was not only the largest Bible ever published in America to that time, but it was also America’s first hot-pressed Bible. President John Adams, several signers of the Constitution and Declaration, and other major Founders joined with Jefferson to help fund that Bible.

Do you see anything in this paragraph about Jefferson subscribing to receive the Bible from the printer? You have to go to the footnote to see that he references the subscribers names in the hot-pressed Bible. Barton’s critique of our book appears to assume that readers will know what actually happened. However, there is no explanation in The Jefferson Lies of what Jefferson did, how many subscribers there were or the specifics of Jefferson’s relationship to that Bible. You have to read Getting Jefferson Right to learn those details.

Being a subscriber to a Bible you are purchasing means you want to buy the item. Skeptics own Bibles and people buy books they disagree with in order to critique them. Buying something is often an indication of intent, but not always. Jefferson was a noted skeptic and critic of the Bible, but he appreciated fine art, and the hot-pressed Bible when bound was a beautiful item. Jefferson did have many Bibles and he also cut up a few.

In any case, Barton’s description in his book makes it sound like a small group of founders financed the project. That is not what happened which we detail in our book. By Barton’s description of financing, I personally helped finance McDonalds this morning when I bought some breakfast. Barton says we miss the broader point. I say we believe there is a difference between financing something and buying something. In any case, Jefferson didn’t finish paying for the Bible until after it was complete. Odd way to personally finance a project.

Barton finished by saying we focus only on small details and that these are not that important. I disagree. In general, I think accuracy is worth focusing on details.  Specifically, and on a point Barton did not address, I think citing the entire Virginia law on manumission is not a small detail. Forgetting to cite the middle sentence of an act doesn’t seem like a small detail when that sentence allowed slave owners to free slaves while alive rather than wait to do so in their wills at death. On balance, we illuminate those details that he glosses over; details which make a huge difference in meaning. He says Thomas Jefferson could not free his slaves due to Virginia law, the details say otherwise.

Barton says his success is that he simplifies history. He may be right. However, that is not a defense I would be comfortable to use.  I make no apology for reporting the complexity of Jefferson and his times; that is how you get things right.

As I close this, I have three challenges for David Barton.

1) Produce the documents that you say Jefferson signed where he chose to include the words: In the year of our Lord Christ.

2) Why do you say Jefferson included miracles from Matthew 9 and 11 in his 1804 version when the table of texts Jefferson used did not refer to these passages?

3) Explain why, in your book on page 92, you selectively quoted the Virginia law authorizing the manumission of slaves where you left out this phrase: “or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides.” This phrase allowed Robert Carter to free his slaves beginning in 1791 and even Jefferson to free two members of the Hemings family in the mid-1790s. You say Jefferson was unable to free his slaves.

That would be a good start.

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  • Forrest

    I have enjoyed Mr. Barton’s work for years, and I have enjoyed what worldview weekend has produced over the years. The shame of it is that there is so much infighting in the Christian community. I understand that the truth of the Gospel is at stake, as well as, our country’s history and documents. It seems that things are really starting to fall apart as a great shaking is going on in the world. What is the truth is being sifted out of what is lies. For so many decades the church has left its original intent and replaced it with what the surrounding society has. It has prostituted itself to gain members and sheer numbers as some kind of proof that validates its existence. God is truly working this time in mankind’s history, he is shaking old maintained beliefs for HIS truth.

  • MessengerBoy

    God may be shaking out old beliefs, but hopefully it’s primarily the doctrinal error that has crept into Protestantism over the past 250 to 300 years. I don’t know how anyone can enjoy a man who purposely spins history to make it fit his agenda of the United States being founded as a Christian nation. I suspect many of the Christians who “enjoy” David Barton’s shaking things up, do not equally enjoy the shaking being done by Rob Bell on the doctrinal front. I am glad that people like Prof. Throckmorton are taking the initiative to show how a lie is still a lie regardless of the motivation behind it.

  • photoshockpenn

    Mr. Barton has been proven time and again by a preponderance of the evidence to be an inveterate liar. His views are not that of academia nor people who understand history in the context of the times. Many works before his have shown the true intent of the founders and they were not “all together” Christian in their beliefs nor by acknowledgement attenders of any church.

    Plus the predominant church was not a modern day fundamentalist church as we know it, more likely the churches attended by the founding fathers that were self professed Christians were Congregationalist churches, Anglican Churches and some other form of church that would today be considered, by some fundamentalists mainstream. Plus among the founding fathers there were members of the Jewish faith and others who were professed free thinkers, rationalists and of course the odd deist.

    Prof. Throckmorton is one of a kind, the kind we desperately need in today’s multicultural society. The kind of person who stands for the truth and the faith of his fathers, he makes a stand for the reality of the historical veracity of his work. Please take the time to hear his words because it is important to the future of this nation in ways not yet imagined.

  • Derrick Moss

    I am no professor of a college. But i am a bornagain Christian by faith in the Lord Jesus. These men are to be commended for having their opinion. But Jesus”s blood Atonement still cries out from the Cross as the only means of how a man can be saved. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. I personally believe that this country was founded as a Christian country. But it is no longer one. It is pagan. In Christian in name only not in true practice.

  • James Ferguson

    I hope your rebuttals get widely circulated, Warren, as does the book itself. Barton has made it his business setting up straw men for his lame arguments. Quite successful at it, judging by his big sales, but that doesn’t make him an historian.

  • JCF

    Barton leads his response to Getting Jefferson Right by claiming that we are part of the academic elite

    Wow, he begins w/ an ad hominem? By all means dig into the details of his response…but I think his lead tells you MOST of what you need to know!


    @Forrest and Derrick: what’s falling apart is the Christianist twisting of the Gospel. The churches, most of them, will fall apart, as they’ve been corrupted by Power-over: the prejudice and oppression they’ve practiced over the centuries (bigotry against LGBT people perhaps being the LAST great oppression). The world’s turning anti-theist, and Rightly So, looking at the oppressiveness of most organized religion (its patriarchy and misogyny being the worst!).

    But (ahem) COMING OUT of this great collapse of traditional theism, I believe human beings will discover Jesus of Nazareth anew—will discover the divine anew. God is Dead…and behold, God is ALIVE!!! It’s an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus. After we clear out the patriarchal muck. But I expect MOST people I meet to roll-their-eyes or snarl at the mention of “Jesus” for the rest of my lifetime. And that’s OK. [I snarl at the patriarchal churches’ version of (what I call) “Geezus” too!]

  • Gary

    I have trusted Mr. David Barton in the past, but evidence suggests he has not presented the whole truth. That angers me. I am not able to trust him until he presents truth to back up his claims. Further, his insistence that Glenn Beck is a Christian when in fact he is instead a self-professed Mormon, is evidence that Mr. Barton is either lacking in discernment or willfully ignorant in that matter. I am also troubled by Mr. Barton’s affiliation with those who are called “Dominionists”, leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation (see http://herescope(dot)blogspot(dot)com for well-documented analysis of the NAR). I would like Mr. Barton to address these issues in a public forum with Christian men who have challenged him on the facts, men such as Mr. Throckmorton and Mr. Brannon Howse.

  • Donald Mann

    Warren, unlike the other commentors, I am an atheist. However, I like reading what you have to say because you are rational about most things and do not indulge in the lies and distortions used by so many who represent themselves as Christians and who contribute to the increasing dislike of religion in general.

    You can talk to people like Barton until you’re blue in the face, you can show him reams of evidence, you can show him how irrational he is and it will make no difference. He lives in the echo-chamber of absolute certainty and that he is 100% right while everyone else is wrong. Indeed, he has bragged, that because some many have criticized him, it shows how right he is. He really believes that he must be a true Christian since he is being “persecuted” just as the Bible says.

    However, just because Barton will never change, others who read your words will be more aware of how despicable his actions are, so keep up the good work.

  • Having once been enthralled by the Christian views of many of the founders, and spurned on by Barton and Peter Marshall primarily, I am sad to say that my interest has greatly diminished, having read rebuttals to Barton, and listened to some degree Brannon Howse and also Chris Pinto. It has diminished because what I see is that men 250 years ago, were still sinful men. Our founders were a collection, it seems to me of committed Christians, not so committed Christian, Masons with knowledge of Christ that is deceptive and just deist. We can’t group all of the Founders in one box and proclaim them Christian saints. We also can’t group them in a box and proclaim them all pagans. What I see is that Satan was waging war, and God was raising up standards against it then, as he does now. There were some great men, and some great battles won to be sure. I think the profound pagan/egyptian/occultic symbolism found all around D.C. along with scripture references in abundance spread throughout D.C. speak to this battle, an Epic battle that has raged continuously in human history and does so to this very day.


    Barton would help his cause if he had any actual credentials as a historian. As it is, he may as well be calling himself an astronaut. If Barton had any legitimacy as a historian he certainly wouldn’t be saying things like “liberals who hate America,” because, if he actually was a historian, he would know that America is one of the most liberal ideas ever conceived.

  • Being a Pagan, I can assure Derrick this is not a Pagan world – would that it were! It is not Christians who have to worry about losing their jobs, friends, and even their places to live, if it is discovered they are Pagans. All these things are sadly all too true for today’s Pagans, as I know from personal experience. Thirsting for martyrdom, alas, is not an admirable trait, particularly when coming from the dominant religious tradition in the Western world..

  • “[Throckmorton and Coulter] begin by candidly admitting that they are critiquing “Barton and religious conservatives in general,” thereby openly confessing their hostility toward me and my personal religious beliefs.”

    In the eyes of Barton’s fans—religious conservatives themselves—with this confession of animus, Throckmorton and Coulter discredit themselves with their own words; Barton wins without needing to go any further. Better luck next time.

  • Tom van Dyke – Not sure what your saying, but you do realize he is doing what he does – only taking a part of what we said to say something we didn’t say?

  • Warren, IMO, you should’ve printed the full quote that contains “Barton and religious conservatives in general” here in your rebuttal so we can see the context.

    By not doing so, you cede him the point.

    Again, my objections are formal. Your “three-point” challenge seems rather niggling over stray factoids: by not engaging his thesis—that Jefferson was not as hostile to religion in public life as 21st century secularists paint him—you allowed your side of the debate to sink to petty quibbles born of either professional jealousy or animus against “Barton and religious conservatives in general.”

    Either way, you lose. Again, I’m just judging by what you present to your public and what he presents to his.

    Your strongest point, #3—which I see you spent half your hour on during your appearance on Jerry Newcombe’s show—is that contra Barton, Jefferson could indeed have freed his slaves.

    Even so, that Jefferson was a hypocrite about slavery comes as old news to almost every American young, old, left, right, Christian or secular. So even your best argument simply doesn’t move the meter, and Barton’s overall thesis stands.

    This is one thing his critics never get. Although he argues via factoid, he’s got so many of ’em that like the Hydra’s heads, cut one off and two spring up in its place.

    Further, if his critics’ audience is already hostile to Barton [and often, we must add, to “religious conservatives in general”], then catching Barton in an error impeaches his credibility, another nail in his coffin.

    But what they don’t realize is that if Barton can score a similar point—that his critics are motivated by jealousy or hostility to “religious conservatives in general,” so it’s his critics whose credibility is impeached, just another example, one more nail in their coffin of whitewashing American history of its Christian content.

    Which supports Barton’s meta-thesis, that his critics are exactly the same people whose lies he makes a living correcting. He’s got you coming or going.

  • Tom – You wear me trying to follow your logic, so all I will say that you are just wrong that most people know about Jefferson’s hypocrisy. Everyone I talk to about it who is disposed to believe Barton, is dismayed by the facts he leaves out.

    Regarding what we said about our objectives, here is the entire section:

    This work is primarily about properly understanding some claims about Thomas Jefferson; but it does not attempt to consider all of the contested questions about Jefferson’s actions and beliefs as that would be a monumental task. This work is particularly aimed at understanding Jefferson in light of claims made about him by some religious conservatives, and in particular David Barton. Barton, named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals, is often called upon by prominent members of the Republican Party for information about the early history of America. We focus on his work because so many religious conservatives rely on him as a source and because he recently published a book of claims about Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson.

    Nothing there about hostility or disagreement with his religious beliefs. He just made that up.

    We could print the book on the web and he could take little snippets and make us saying things we don’t say – like what he does with historical events. He didn’t score a point, he made one up.

  • [Throckmorton and Coulter] begin by candidly admitting that they are critiquing “Barton and religious conservatives in general,” thereby openly confessing their hostility toward me and my personal religious beliefs.

    Barton put quotation marks around “Barton and religious conservatives in general,” indicating that it’s a direct quote from your book. Your excerpt here indicates that’s not a direct quote from you atall.

    If so, you just should have said that, that he misquoted you. And you should have added your denial that you have any “hostility toward me [Barton] and my personal religious beliefs.” And more to the point, no hostility toward religious conservatives in general, since they seem to be the ones you want to warn off of David Barton.

    But perhaps you couldn’t truthfully say that, so you didn’t. Ahem. In any case, it’s my opinion that your rebuttal wasn’t effective, whether due to a lack of precision about the quotation marks or that he hit upon a larger truth that you couldn’t deny, that you DO have an animus against religious conservatives in general.

    One of these days you’ll realize that what I write is an arm’s length, Warren, call ’em like I see ’em. If I were Barton’s advisor, I’d have told him that trying to enlist Jefferson in his cause was a stupid and unworkable idea in the first place—in fact, I wrote that the first time I heard of the project, well before it was published.

    And he did a spotty job on the factoids, as he often does. You have him cold on Matthew 9. But once again, by disputing him on the factoid level, his critics have played his game, for although they can be given the decision on points, in the fight game they say you need a knockout to dethrone the champ.

    Barton’s main argument, that Jefferson was far less hostile to religion in the public square than modern secularists paint him to be, stands, bloodied but unbowed.

    Respectfully submitted, as always.

  • Curt Hawkes

    Mr. Barton engages in the same sort of tactics in all of his writing. He does it with Freemasonry suggesting that it was different in the founder’s era. He outright states that the rituals originated in the 19th century. Any well read Mason could tell you that this is not true. The rituals, although there were variations, were practiced in the colonies from the early 18th century. But more importantly the rituals of that era as well as the modern rituals are available in print to compare. And they are substantially the same. Barton simply knows that most of his readers can’t or won’t go to the trouble to research what is a fairly esoteric subject. This is part and parcel of his efforts to turn the founders into fundamentalist Christians.

  • steven j

    First of all there are no Christian nations. Only people can be Christian. Next mormons and Catholics aren’t christians. Barton says Glenn beck is a Christian and has no beef with Rome either. He’s untrustworthy and makes Christians look bad. Let’s not raise the flag above the cross.

  • njean in texas

    sounds like this Barton dude got a good hustle going. you keep it going Trockmorton,all scammers need being exposd. you could use some funding. I’d give you money,if I had it and if you would accept.

  • ken

    Not only does Barton engage in childish attacks on this critics, but he hides from addressing the most serious criticisms of his work (and hides the fact that there are serious criticisms). Apparently, he does this to make it look like he is the one being attacked. For example, he notes the criticism about his use of the term “American Exceptionalism”. If that were the worst problem with his book, then he would have about you and Micheal attacking him. However, it isn’t. It is only a minor issue compared to what you brought up. And I suspect included more to show the breadth of Barton’s misrepresentations.

    I think Barton’s attack on you may have backfired. It appears some of his readers at Wallbuilders have found their way to your blog and are starting to see how he distorts history. How have your book sales been doing since Barton put up his attack page?

    Barton’s response reminds me of an old saying:

    A wise man makes a mistake and admits it.

    A clever man makes a mistake and hopes no one notices it.

    A fool makes a mistake and denies it is a mistake.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    July 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    “Barton’s main argument, that Jefferson was far less hostile to religion in the public square than modern secularists paint him to be, stands, bloodied but unbowed.”

    Once again Tom, who are these “modern secularist” who claim Jefferson was “hostile” to religion? And what did they actually say?

  • oft

    “the treaty paid the salary of a Catholic priest and provided for a church building.”

    For my two cents, the above quote puts your argument on sinking sand. To divert from the main point of separation doctrine, you claim those Indians were entirely Catholic–which the Treaty specifically says “most”. You distort TJ’s separation doctrine by adding “evangelizing” to the equation. The contention is TJ is interfering with another nations’ religion. U.S. taxpayers paying for a Catholic priest and providing for a church bldg is the final nail in the coffin. TJ was against intermedling with Indians’ affairs, especially intermedling with their religion. You posted this quote:

    TJ contradicts your assertion:

    ” I presume the views of the society are confined to our own country, for with the religion of other countries, my own forbids intermedling. I had not supposed there was a family in this state not possessing a bible and without having the means to procure one. when, in earlier life I was intimate with every class, I think I never was in a house where that was the case. however, circumstances may have changed, and the society I presume have evidence of the fact. I therefore inclose you chearfully an order on Messrs Gibson and Jefferson for 50.D.

    –TJ to Samuel Greenhow, January 31, 1814

  • ken

    oft says:

    July 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    ““the treaty paid the salary of a Catholic priest and provided for a church building.”

    You distort TJ’s separation doctrine by adding “evangelizing” to the equation. The contention is TJ is interfering with another nations’ religion. U.S. taxpayers paying for a Catholic priest and providing for a church bldg is the final nail in the coffin. TJ was against intermedling with Indians’ affairs, especially intermedling with their religion. ” ”

    No, Warren was not claiming Jefferson was trying to convert the native americans to christianty, Barton was attempting to do that. Warren was just pointing out that it was the Kaskaskia tribe (or I suspect the catholic church was negotiating for them) that wanted a church building and priest’s salary, not Jefferson that was offering it to them. As far as Jefferson was concerned, I suspect it wouldn’t have mattered to him if the tribe wanted a church and a priest, a mosque and an imam, a temple and a rabbi, or even a barbecue pit, dance hall and a band to play weekly.

  • Ken, when I give you the evidence you request, will it change your mind? Will you even thank me? Or will I be doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful?

    Oh well, I do not anticipate a satisfactory reply, so to cut to the chase, the answer is Everson v. Board, 1947.

  • oft

    Ken wrote: “”Warren was just pointing out that it was the Kaskaskia tribe (or I suspect the catholic church was negotiating for them) that wanted a church building and priest’s salary, not Jefferson that was offering it to them.””

    It doesn’t matter. TJ gave them our money for religious purposes: intruding into their internal affairs, of which TJ wrote “for with the religion of other countries, my own forbids intermedling.” That is a contradiction, period. The only explanation is the separation doctrine TJ refers to is not what you, modern secularism, and Warren believe.

  • Tom Lutes

    Thank you for addressing David Barton’s misinformation campaign. In grad school, I had a difficult time getting any scholars to take him seriously enough to deign to refute him. To be sure, his substance warrants glib dismissal. However, his influence far exceeds his cogency, scholarship, or credentials. He needs a scholarly thrashing. No one that has become intimate with the writings of Jefferson could suffer the claptrap of Barton gladly. His is a cautionary tale about conflating personal faith and historical argument. Making historical figures the servants of present-day ideology is a shameful disservice. One’s personal faith should not rest upon the beliefs of the Founders (one way or the other). Putting words in dead men’s mouths furthers no cause; let them speak for themselves.

    In response to Tom Van Dyke: I have seen no credible scholar offer the equally unfounded argument that Jefferson was an atheist, or lacked any religious view. Barton’s straw man tactic attempts to justify his absurd argument as a corrective to one never seriously advanced by anyone of merit. I’m thinking of Frank Lambert, Edwin Gaustad, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, Mark Noll, Stephen Prothero, Jon Butler,…. Where are the legitimate scholars that embrace a godless Jefferson. He was no Christian (by any genuine definition, as he denied the essential tenets of the faith), but he was clearly religious in his own way.

  • oft – we still give tax dollars to other nations for religious use. The PEPFAR program is tax money given to nations who use it often within religious organizations for AIDS treatment. That treatment is often given with religious trappings. Some oppose this but it does happen.

    What we do with sovereign nations is distinct from what the federal government does with citizens.

    Barton said in a Wallbuilders broadcast and elsewhere that “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.” By the common meaning of sending missionaries, he just did not do that. The Indians were already Catholic and they wanted a priest. He didn’t send missionaries (plural). He didn’t send them at all. He agreed that paying for a priest and a church was a good deal to get Illinois. When you remove the context (a deal for land with non-citizens who were considered a part of a sovereign nation), it alters the application that we might make now. If you still want to press this as an argument to use federal funds to advance Christianity in contrast to the First Amendment then that is your call, but let us agree about what happened before we dispute the meaning of it. Speaking accurately about it is the first step. Barton wants to change the words “Catholic priest” into the word “missionaries;” why?

  • oft


    I agree with Tom. Barton promoting Jefferson in this race was the wrong move. Perhaps Barton equates catholic priest’s do missionary work. Makes sense to me. Moreover, Jefferson did not promote modern separation doctrine.

  • Thank you, Mr. Lutes. You might be surprised I’m aware of all that. You might be surprised that I’m aware of Barton’s errors and overstatements. You may not be aware that his critics blow a few themselves.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Also, see Justice Hugo Black’s opinion in Everson as assayed by Daniel Dreisbach, who has a J.D. from the University of Virginia and his D.Phil. from Oxford and is currently Professor of Justice, Law and Society, American University.

    Those credentials should suit you and those here gathered well enough, one of the best law schools in the country and one of the best universities in the world.

    Everson is the real world, Barton is the Toy Dept. And in his way, Barton is more correct about Everson than his factoid-obsessed critics, and this, not simply religious fanaticism, explains his success in the culture wars.

    Dr. Dreisbach, then, not as easy pickins as Barton, on how Jefferson was misappropriated in the current culture wars:

    ” [I]n the landmark case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court “rediscovered” the metaphor and elevated it to constitutional doctrine. Citing no source or authority other than Reynolds, Justice Hugo L. Black, writing for the majority, invoked [the Jefferson] Danbury letter’s “wall of separation” passage in support of his strict separationist interpretation of the First Amendment prohibition on laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

    “In the words of Jefferson,” he famously declared, the First Amendment has erected “‘a wall of separation between church and State’. . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

    In even more sweeping terms, Justice Wiley B. Rutledge asserted in a separate opinion that the First Amendment’s purpose was “to uproot” all religious establishments and “to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion.” This rhetoric, more than any other, set the terms and the tone for a strict separationist jurisprudence that reached ascendancy on the Court in the second half of the 20th century.”

    And there you have Jefferson and the current culture war in a nutshell. Bold face mine. Without understanding the larger context in which Barton writes, this whole hubbub is a game of trivial pursuit. Does Barton overstate his case? By miles.

    But does he have a case? Yes, he does, despite his best efforts to ruin it.

    And frankly, I don’t think his critics do very well with theirs either.

  • Paul Zummo

    Tom – You wear me trying to follow your logic

    Welcome to the club.

    As a Catholic conservative, what galls me about Barton is that he does our side a disservice. His cherrypicking of quotes, his selective citation of evidence, and his ignorance of anything that doesn’t fit into his neat narrative allows his critics to make broader attacks on the legitimacy of Christian academics. Contrary to what some commenters seem to be suggesting, the Christian right is not full of mendacious pseudo-academics.

    Another problem from the conservative side of the ledger is that Jefferson, in my mind, serves as an anti-hero of sorts. When one breaks down his political philosophy, it is fundamentally at odds with conservatism. So when I see other conservatives attempting to mythologize Jefferson as a great conservative hero, it makes me a tad queasy.

  • “Perhaps Barton equates catholic priest’s do missionary work. Makes sense to me. Moreover, Jefferson did not promote modern separation doctrine.”

    It’s fairly obvious that your mind is made up on what you want to believe, regardless of how many ways the facts presented contradict that. Why do you fear the truth so? It is what it is. I can’t think of any scriptural support for establishing Christian governments on Earth in the first place. Quite the opposite, the Church functions best when it is under persecution — real persecution, not the nonsense spoiled US based evangelists wail about today.

  • Tom Lutes

    Mr. Van Dyke, I am very aware of Daniel Dreisbach’s difference without a distinction. I considered his book Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State several years ago in the context of other scholarship. I have also read his HIllsdale speech several times. I find it rather bemusing, to be honest. However more nuanced and erudite, he makes a similar error to Barton – although to a lesser degree – in his tendentious corrective. He downplays the wall metaphor by equivocating at several points. His is a more sophisticated straw man replete with non sequiturs. I fail to see how his argument overturns or even challenges the scholarly consensus.

  • Well, I’m glad you’re up to speed on this then, Mr. Lutes. But Everson is wrong in its hijacking of Jefferson, and your “scholarly consensus” is a bunch of militant secularists who spent the 20th century making the Founders deists and bleaching Christianity out of the Founding.

    I exaggerate, but not by much, and that’s Barton’s pitch. It works because there’s much truth to it.

    You’re just lucky his work is so sloppy or you’d really have your hands full. Your rebuttal of Professor Dreisbach is a collection of empty pejoratives, and were he the culture warrior that Barton is, he would make short work of critics of the quality of Barton’s.

    As my erstwhile pal Paul Zummo notes,

    Contrary to what some commenters seem to be suggesting, the Christian right is not full of mendacious pseudo-academics.

    Indeed, see Dreisbach. That I note the Barton’s critics tend toward the scornful and accept kudos from the positively hateful doesn’t mean I defend his errors, which are as obvious to me as they are to you.

    What I do say is that Barton’s critics are likely driving as many people his way than they are peeling off. Knock yrself out.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    July 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    I saw nothing in the link you gave were anyone suggested Jefferson was hostile towards religion in general or in the public square. Unless you are talking about his political opponents from 200 years ago.

    Further, Black’s citation of Jefferson in Everson v. Board of Education wasn’t to say “and Thomas Jefferson agrees with me about how high the wall should be”, he was simply giving Jefferson credit for coining the phrase.

    This is why I ask to see actual sources. I’m well aware of how they can be mis-interpreted.

    Finally, you trivialize what Barton is claiming about Jefferson, to the point of it being false. Barton has claimed Jefferson was a christian and that the 1st amendment only applies to christians (and Barton implies Jefferson believed it only applied to christians as well).

  • ken

    oft says:

    July 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    “It doesn’t matter. TJ gave them our money for religious purposes”

    No, he gave them the money for land that became the state of Illinois. However, since the tribe didn’t use currency, he simply made their purchases for them. Are you suggesting the tribe shouldn’t have been allowed to purchase what they wanted with the money? Because that would be like saying if the state bought your property from you (ex. under eminent domain) but then told you you couldn’t give that money to your church.

  • Guess this means you’re not going to thank me, Ken.

    Barton has claimed Jefferson was a christian and that the 1st amendment only applies to christians

    Hmmm. Thanks in advance for your direct quote of that. I’ll check back here hourly.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    July 17, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Warren has already documented these.

    Barton’s claim that Jefferson was a christian:

    Barton’s claim that the 1st Amendment is only for christians:

  • oft

    David wrote: “It’s fairly obvious that your mind is made up on what you want to believe, regardless of how many ways the facts presented contradict that.”

    As to the quote “for with the religion of other countries, my own forbids intermedling.” Here is the Treaty:

    Article 3 Kaskaskia Treaty

    “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 issue of land is a smokescreen as to the pertinent point at hand. It even talks about the Priest “performing the duties of his office” paid with our money. Does a Priest do missionary work?

  • Tom Lutes

    @Tom Van Dyke: A sound rebuttal of Dreisbach is not suitable to the brevity of this format. Furthermore, the entire discussion of Dreisbach is a red herring. When asked to present evidence of the alleged secular conspiracy to misrepresent Jefferson, you offer the Everson case? How does this indicate that the presence of a militant secular consensus? There may be reckless and zealous secularists overstating Jefferson’s aversion to all things religious; however, I do not see this among credible scholars.

    Barton’s appeal owes more to the dearth of knowledge among his audience than the cogency of his case. His quixotic venture has been a source of amusement for informed persons for some time. The facts he gets right are not news to historians. Those he gets wrong are due to his own ignorance or tendentious approach. His wild interpretations of the implications of his “findings” are the problem.

    There is no conspiracy to obscure the religious milieu of early America. There is natural and appropriate opposition to sophomoric, sloppy, agenda-driven drivel that Barton peddles while declaring, “They don’t want you to know!” He is the Kevin Trudeau of pseudo-history. His truisms are hardly earth shattering. When he points to the sermons of pastors regarding religious framing of the Revolution, I shrug. After all, that is what ministers do. When he concludes this as evidence of the Founders’ intentions, I cringe – I know better. Barton filled a vacuum. Shame on credible historians for not engaging the populace. I would like to see more responsible historians addressing the hoi polloi on these important issues.

  • Ken, Barton didn’t say the 1st amendment was only for Christians. He quoted Joseph Story saying ““The real object of the First Amendment was not to encourage, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but was to exclude all rivalry among Christian denominations.”

    Which Story did. Your rough paraphrases are as misleading as Barton’s.

    Speaking of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, Mr. Lutes claims victory over Daniel Dreisbach without firing a shot. So be it. But he need only google “The Founders were deists” to see the wreckage that 20th century revision hath wrought. Fortunately, there does seem to be some interest in setting the record straight, including Barton critic John Fea, a gentleman of my own acquaintance whom I hold in high regard.

    But for some reason, Mr. Lutes seems to think refraining from calling David Barton names—as he does and I don’t—implies agreement with every jog and tittle. Further, he accidentally lights onto my main formal and practical objection to the lion’s share of Barton’s critics—“His truisms are hardly earth shattering.”

    INDEED. And by ignoring the parts Barton gets right, they feed his narrative that their agenda is to destroy him and “religious conservatives in general.”

    Their vitriol indicates that this is agenda-driven, not a genuine concern for truth. And in my own experience, I find this to be largely correct. People got issues, usually an antipathy for the GOP—the correlation is near perfect.

    So you can heed this word up, or continue the counterattack. So far I and Daniel Deisbach have received approximately the same shabby treatment, which furthers the notion that this ain’t really about Barton.

  • oft

    Tom L:

    Allow me an interlude. It would not be unlikely for Jefferson himself to inform us of his own writings on the subject, rather than look to “credible scholars.”

    Is Gary North a credible scholar? He teaches a few miles from me, yet he believes most of the founding fathers were Deists, including Livingston–maybe Sherman, and makes the audacious claim the Masons were Deists, when the fact remains, most were Trinitarians.

    Barton makes mistakes like you and I, however I agree with him as to the secular agenda of “credible scholars.” It isn’t credible to deny primary sources.

  • OFT: I don’t think you’ve read Gary North’s ebook. He doesn’t assert what you claim. He claims the key Founders were unitarians. And he has a PhD in history from University of California, Riverside.

  • oft


    It’s good you know North has a PhD. You make that wisecrack like I don’t know where he works, despite it’s close to where I live, which is the reason I brought it up in the first place. You should read the book you mention–like p. 172, and 28. In fact, North claims Locke was a Trinitarian.

  • Curt Hawkes

    Well OFT makes a very salient point: most Masons during the founding era as well as today consider themselves Trinitarian Christians. This point is problematic for fundamentalists reading Barton. So Barton tries to manipulate the narrative to imply founding era Masons have little in common with modern day Freemasons who are a fundamentalist bogey man. And he does it by mashing up and distorting the 18th and 19th century history of Masonry. It is a fairly minor thing in the scope of his work. But it is indicative of his willingness to distort history to cater to his audience.

  • Ray Harwick

    In Barton’s mind a “critique” is “hostility towards me”.

    I’m reminded of the embarrassment suffered by Gannett Corporation newspapers throughout the country when they began publishing research on sexual orientation under the heading “Science News” then asking religious organizations and their spokesmen to comment on it. In other words, Gannett didn’t ask other experts in the field for a critique. They asked religious people who knew nothing of sexual orientation research to respond to science as if a religious view was on par with a scientific view.

    Here we have Barton delving into history and expecting historians to view his work from a religious perspective so his feelings won’t get hurt.

    It didn’t work for Gannett who *ceased* asking Tony Perkins if new research into sexual orientation was scientifically adequate and if Mr. Barton will restrict his “history” lesson to the choir, he won’t have to suffer what ever serious historian must in order to establish a credible reputation.

    I expect Barton will reap magnificent sums based merely on the persecution sermons he’ll preach. He’s an historian like Elmer Gantry was a minister.

  • Carol A Ranney

    The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church

    Looks like a good read.

  • Carol A Ranney

    The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Gregory A. Boyd. Looks like a good read.

  • Carol A Ranney

    The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. Gregory A. Boyd. Looks like a good read.

  • TXHistoryProf

    Mr. Barton obviously has not read “Founding Faith:Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America” by Steven Waldman and “Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations” by James H. Hutson which shows how the founders steered clear of founding the U.S. specifically as a Christian nation in order to afford EVERY American the freedom to choose to religious or irreligious and for the government to make no attempts to abridge that freedom.

  • TXHistoryProf

    Mr. Van Dyke,

    Thank you very much for your link to the Dr. Dreisbach’s article. While, as an academically trained historian, I find his thesis very credible in the overuse of the metaphor to create a mutually exclusive relationship between church and state to protect religious freedom. His assertion that the First Amendment’s intent with regards to religion kept the state from inserting themselves in religious affairs but never intended for religion to influence public policy makes sense until one reads James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” as seen below in paragraph 3:

    “3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?”

    And again arguing against religious influence in civil affairs in paragraph 8

    “8. Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.”

    This bill would be tabled and later replaced with Jefferson’s “Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” in 1786

    I doubt Mr. Barton raises the preceding primary source document or the following as they both show that even though we are a nation of Christians, we are not a “Christian Nation”. Dr. Driesbach failed to address either document as it would have poked serious holes in his assertion that the Establishment Clause was intended to only be one-sided.

    If one read’s Jefferson’s “Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” and Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments” they will see that many of the founders agreed that the state stay clear of religious affairs and that the church stay clear of state affairs contrary to Dr. Driesbach’s assertions.