Thomas Nelson Pulls David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies

World Magazine is reporting that Thomas Nelson publishers has ceased publication of The Jefferson Lies by David Barton. Thomas Kidd reports:

Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

There will be more on this development which I will add through the afternoon.

UPDATE: The Nashville Tennessean has an extensive report here where Barton calls me “nuts.”

NPR has a report here with more from Thomas Nelson.

In the Nashville Tennessean article out this afternoon, Barton says I don’t understand how complex Virginia slave laws were and that I am “nuts” for saying Virginia law allowed Jefferson to free his slaves.  We document the laws on slavery in Getting Jefferson Right and have looked at this issue several times in blog posts. I invite readers to read those posts, paying particular attention to Robert Carter’s Deed of Emancipation, and the way Barton selectively quoted Virginia law in The Jefferson Lies. Next, consider a webpage posted by the Library of Virginia on manumissions of slaves. On that page is another Deed of Emancipation for a Francis Drake who was freed in 1791. The transcription is here. According to this source (consistent with other sources we consulted), “After the passage of the 1782 manumission act, many slaveholders privately manumitted enslaved blacks.”

Barton says there were fines against freeing slaves. We cannot find evidence for this and Barton provides none in The Jefferson Lies. Masters had to guarantee the care of slaves above and below certain ages (see the text of the law below), but these were not fines. As you can see from the text of the law, there were penalties for not following the law properly, but not for emancipating slaves legally. Clerk’s fees applied but these were minimal. Here is the 1782 Virginia Law of Manumission:



An act to authorize the manumission of slaves. [Ch. LXI. in original.]

[Chan. Rev. p. 159.]

I. WHEREAS application hath been made to this present general assembly, that those persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and the same hath been judged expedient under certain restrictions: Be it therefore enacted, That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, 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 to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

How slaves may be emancipated.

II. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court, of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate; and upon neglect or refusal so to do, the court of the county where such neglect or refusal may be, is hereby empowered and required, upon application to them made, to order the sheriff to distrain and sell so much of the person’s estate as shall be sufficient for that purpose. Provided also, That every person by written instrument in his life time, or if by last will and testament, the executors of every person freeing any slave, shall cause to be delivered to him or her, a copy of the instrument of emancipation, attested by the clerk of the court of the county, who shall be paid therefor, by the person emancipating, five shillings, to be collected in the manner of other clerk’s fees. Every person neglecting or refusing to deliver to any slave by him or her set free, such copy, shall forfeit and pay ten pounds to be recovered with costs in any court of record, one half thereof to the person suing for the same, and the other to the person to whom such copy ought to have been delivered. It shall be lawful for any justice of the peace to commit to the gaol of his county, any emancipated slave travelling out of the county of his or her residence without a copy of the instrument of his or her emancipation, there to remain till such copy is produced and the gaoler’s fees paid. and on the slave travelling out of his county.

III. And be it further enacted, That in case any slave so liberated shall neglect in any year to pay all taxes and levies imposed or to be imposed by law, the court of the county shall order the sheriff to hire out him or her for so long time as will raise the said taxes and levies. Provided sufficient distress cannot be made upon his or her estate. Saving nevertheless to all and every person and persons, bodies politic or corporate, and their heirs and successors, other than the person or persons claiming under those so emancipating their slaves, all such right and title as they or any of them could or might claim if this act had never been made.

Getting Jefferson Right is available here.

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  • Wow. Congrats!

  • Gus

    Wait for the outrage for the loss of freedom of speech. He will get another publisher and more sales.

  • Reinard

    …some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.

    And the award for Understatement of the Week goes to…

  • I am very happy to hear that Barton’s book has been pulled. That said, let the record reflect that I know Warren Throckmorton far better than does David Barton, and I have personally called Dr. Throckmorton “nuts”, and other even more graphic things, on more than one occasion.

    I’m just sayin’…

    Love ya, Warren!!!!!

    • Well, I can attest to that Byron.

  • Mark

    “..“in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.”

    You would think that this would also affect the credibility of Thomas Nelson Publishers; poor quality control and editorship.

  • With a foreword by the scholarly Glenn Beck, one would have expected a more thoroughly researched and nuanced work by Mr. Barton.

  • ^^ sarcasm^^ ;D

  • Dan

    Don’t be offended that he called you nuts. That is just how loving Christians express love between and among themselves.

  • Lynn David

    I suspect you gave the Tennessean a quote about the 1782 Virginia Law of Manumission and Robert Carter’s Deed of Emancipation; and yet they did not use it. In doing so they give creedence to Barton’s “nuts.” Though saying that and stating he has “sources” which evidently were not quoted (else you would have discovered them in your research of his footnotes) doesn’t bode well for Barton.

  • James Ferguson

    I suppose the Bartonites will organize a boycott of Thomas Nelson publishers. Too bad the the publishing house didn’t proof check the copy before printing it to begin with.

  • Gus

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

    Best quote from The Nashville Tennessean

  • With a foreword by the scholarly Glenn Beck, one would have expected a more thoroughly researched and nuanced work by Mr. Barton.

    Thanks for my morning laugh!

    Too bad the the publishing house didn’t proof check the copy before printing it to begin with.

    A very important point.

    Congratulations on the major part you and Coulter played in all of this, Warren.  Don’t stop.

  • Christian Nationalism takes a huge hit – I can’t tell you how joyful this make me!

  • AGR

    You do not have to go beyond Jefferson himself to know that slave owners could free slaves during his time. He freed two slaves in the 1790s, Robert and James Hemings. He freed 5 enslaved men in his will. You can see the records of the emancipations in the Albemarle County Court House and copies of the deeds in Special Collections at UVA and the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. That he freed these men is discussed in nearly every Jefferson biography.

  • David M.

    Warren, I echo the congratulations others have given you and Coulter on your work. I think it’s easy for scholars to let popular media go its own way. But you and your colleague have gotten down into the mud, and in doing so you have made scholarship matter. You have also helped protect the next generation from the tyrrany that some evangelicals/fundamentalists would like to exercise over the United States. You’ve won one for freedom and truth!

  • TxHistoryProf

    Dr. Throckmorton,

    Thank you and Dr. Coulter for bringing this poor attempt at historical scholarship to light and not giving up. We don’t like PC historical scholarship on either side of the political spectrum.


  • Annette Heinemeyer

    Thank you very much for your service to our great nation. I hope others are as inspired and heartened as I am by your example of excellent scholarship and respect for the truth. Bravo!

  • Hughuenot
  • Hughuenot
  • J.R.Francis

    I’m reading the book right now, and am curious about a few things. To begin with, how many of you commenting on this site have actually read the entire book? Secondly, the VA law you quote above is dated 1782. Barton states that some of these provisions were repealed in 1806 (see Barton, p. 92-93 and footnotes.) Also, critics on this site and others fail to acknowledge all of the other quotes by Jefferson and his contemporaries in which he seems to be quite distressed by the practice of slavery.

    I’m not an expert in any of this, but I have yet to see any substantial refutation. (For instance, none of the comments address Barton’s assertion of 1806 changes in the VA law. Why is this not addressed/refuted? It seems germane to the discussion. Why is the economic burden of the provisions of the 1806 law not mentioned?)

    Here and elsewhere, I see only accusation and gleeful triumph. Your collective criticism seems motivated more by opposition to Barton’s philosophy than by objective critique. Furthermore, all of the objections seem focused on a handful of statements in a single chapter of the book. To pull the book based on the minimal objections posed here, and on other sites, seems to prove Barton’s claim of academic incest. Woe to those who dare to articulate a different thesis!

  • ken

    J.R.Francis says:

    September 8, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    “Secondly, the VA law you quote above is dated 1782. Barton states that some of these provisions were repealed in 1806”

    Because Barton mis-quoted the 1782 law, claiming it was the law that prevented Jefferson from freeing his slaves. And warren has addressed the other laws in place after 1806 in this blog (and in his book).

  • TxHistoryProf

    J.R. Francis,

    I read Barton’s book first and then Throckmorton/Coulter ‘s book. The latter disproved the former. In “Getting Jefferson Right” the authors print the entire text of each source cited by Barton that they disagree with. When printed in their entirety, Barton’s cherry picking is easy to see even for the layman.

  • I haven’t studied Jefferson’s views on race/slavery as deeply as I have his views on religion; still I have looked over the race/slavery issue quite a bit. I’m no fan of Barton’s work. I do see Jefferson was quite distressed about slavery and give him credit for articulating the ideals of the Declaration of Independence which are anti-slavery (if you work out the logic of the DOI’s principles). I think Jefferson would have liked to have seen his slaves freed. What Barton doesn’t admit is it was Jefferson’s character flaws that were responsible for him not seeing his slaves freed. Yes Jefferson’s hands were arguably tied. But by what? By his financial improvidence that left his estate in so much debt that he couldn’t afford to free his slaves.

  • TxHistoryProf

    Jon Rowe,

    Jefferson’s lavish Parisian lifestyle caused more of his financial issues than other issues. If he truly wanted to free his slaves he would have found a way to curtail his spending that would allow him to free his slaves. Like others in the Southern planter class, he had grown to accustomed to the lifestyle that slave labor afforded him and also like others freed slaves upon his death when he would be in no need of temporal pleasures slaves afforded him.

  • Krista Vessell

    Jon Rowe, Jefferson also advocated deportation of blacks because, in his own words, “Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent.” – Letter to Edward Coles, August 25, 1814.

    He also expressed this same sentiment in his “Notes on the State of Virginia:”

    “Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”

    Personally, I feel that this had something to do with Jefferson’s reluctance to simply free his slaves the way Edward Coles did.

  • Krista,

    Yes, Jefferson was, by our standards a racist. That’s not good. But a lot of other Founders (probably most of them) were racists by our standards. Racism is not good. Neither is sexism and a lot of other things that plagued America’s Founders. I do have issues with “judging” them by our standards because it’s not as thought 20th and 21st century standards to judge them were clearly articulated and understood. Slavery was understood to be wrong by enough folks by that time. Ditto with genocide. Though the idea that we are going to have liberty and equality for everyone and it’s going to expand, that’s something those dead old white male racist Founding Fathers should get, I think, at least a good deal of partial credit for.