Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part One

By Michael Coulter & Warren Throckmorton

On Thursday August 16, Glenn Beck had David Barton on to “clear the air” about The Jefferson Lies. Our impression is that Mr. Beck is a very loyal friend and his loyalty is preventing him from objectively considering the evidence. A more objective approach would be to have had someone else on the show to counter Barton’s claims.  That did not happen even though there was some discussion of evidence.

In any case, there are several clips of the broadcast posted on The Blaze website. During the broadcast, Beck said he would never promote another Thomas Nelson product. Given that statement and others, we think Thomas Nelson should come out with details about their rationale for pulling the book. Since we have not spoken with Thomas Nelson about Barton’s book, we don’t know what their specific problems with the book were.

The first clip to which we want to respond is the one on slavery and Jefferson. Barton provided more detail about this claim than in his book so we want to respond to what he said last night.  Roll the tape:

Barton said we were wrong (he kept referring to me while ignoring Michael Coulter, a political science professor) because we only refer to the 1782 law in our book. Actually, in our book, we discuss the laws passed in 1782, 1806 and 1816. Barton explained to Beck:

I say you could free your slaves at death like George Washington, and I say because of the laws, you couldn’t free your slaves.

Barton acknowledged that he left out the section which allowed slave owners to free their slaves during life, but gave no explanation why he did so. He then pivoted to say:

The point I make throughout the whole chapter is that there’s a whole bunch of laws Jefferson had to deal with.

Barton says our whole rebuttal is based on that 1782 law. At the point Beck takes a swipe a me because I am a psychology professor, completely ignoring my co-author Dr. Coulter. It continues to amaze me that Barton supporters use that defense since Barton is not a professor of history.

Barton then said we don’t take into account other laws in Virginia relating to slavery which he said prevented Jefferson from freeing slaves. On the program, Barton listed laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798, and 1802 as relevant to emancipation. In The Jefferson Lies, when he takes up the issue of Jefferson and slave owning (pages 91-94), Barton refers to laws dated 1692, 1723, 1782, and 1806. He only quotes part of the 1782 law (leaving out the part of freeing slaves by deed) and then says that the 1806 law changed the conditions for emancipated slaves.  Barton is correct to say that the burdens on both master and slave were added to make emancipation a more difficult proposition after 1806. However, between 1782 and 1806, slave owners did, in fact, free slaves. Jefferson freed two slaves and he could have freed more.

The main change in the 1806 law was that emancipated slaves had to leave Virginia within a year of being emancipated.  Regarding, that change in Virginia law, Barton cites Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello (footnote 25 on Page 92). On the page that Barton cites, Malone only states that the 1806 law required that emancipated slaves leave the state.  Malone never indicates that the 1806 law created an “almost impossible economic burden.”(The Jefferson Lies, 92)

On the Beck show, Barton then referenced various other slave laws passed between 1778 and 1802. There is another law (1785) that he didn’t mention as well. We will take up this list in part two of this series. However, as far as we can tell, none of these laws encumbered owners in ways that prevented owners from freeing able bodied slaves. Some related to treatment of slaves and others related to rights of slaves to petition for their own freedom.

We did not say Jefferson could have easily freed all of his slaves. We agree that there were some financial considerations involved for some slaves.  In keeping with provisions with the 1782 law, slaves which were judged not to be of sound mind or were infirm or above age 45 or below the age of 18 for women and 21 for men required the guarantee of the master for their care. However, there were many slaves owned by Jefferson which were of sound mind, and between these ages which could have been emancipated. None of those slaves would have needed a pledge of support from Jefferson.  Since Jefferson could have freed some additional slaves between 1782 and 1806 and did not, then Barton’s description of Jefferson as “a bold, staunch, and consistent advocate and defender of emancipation and civil rights” can reasonably be questioned (The Jefferson Lies, 113).

On the Beck show, Barton then brings up the 1814 letter to Edward Coles where Jefferson said “the laws do not allow us to free them [slaves].

Here is the pertinent section of the 1814 letter to Edward Coles:

It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man. But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. That, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the missionary of this doctrine truly christian; insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily, through the medium of writing and conversation; associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment.

Coles wanted Jefferson to be more involved in efforts to end slavery and informed him that he wanted to leave the state to free his slaves. It is important to note that Jefferson advised against this abolitionist move. Jefferson urged him to stay and maintain the status quo all the while “softly and steadily” work for emancipation.

In this letter, Jefferson claimed the law did not allow owners to “turn them [slaves] loose.” This was technically incorrect even in 1814, as emancipation was still an option for owners. However, as we say in our book, the situation became much more difficult in the practical sense after 1806. Jefferson’s complaint about the law at that time was more of a practical restriction than legal one. However, between 1782 and 1806, Jefferson, like Robert Carter and other Virginia slave owners, was legally able to emancipate a good number of his slaves. In fact, as we point out, but have never heard Barton address, Jefferson did free two slaves, one in 1794 and the other in 1796. Barton’s reference to the 1814 letter to Coles is not relevant to the legal situation between 1782 and 1806.

Barton and Beck discuss Jefferson’s financial situation as a barrier to emancipation.  We agree that financial considerations were relevant to Jefferson since he considered slaves to be his property. However, this is a different set of factors than the legal ability to emancipate his slaves. Barton inappropriately cites Jefferson’s 1814 statement as covering the years between 1782 and 1806. The law allowed emancipation during that period for slaves, as  we noted above.

In our view, Barton does not consider the economic issues from all angles. Slaves were costly to keep (even for the slaves which required security, emancipation might be cheaper since he had to provide for them anyway) and owners had to pay taxes on them. In some cases, it might have been more economical to emancipate slaves rather than pay taxes on them and for their care. Furthermore, Jefferson bought and sold slaves as well as leased them from other slave owners. Important considerations relating to Jefferson’s financial situation were his continual building at Monticello and his acquisitions of finery from Europe.  A fuller treatment of Jefferson’s finances would be necessary to discuss his actions toward his property (slaves) but one cannot say he was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law, especially during the period between 1782 and 1806.

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  • Krista Vessell

    Just read a letter from Jefferson to Washington, Jan. 4, 1786:

    “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people (the Blacks) are to be free, nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be pari passu filled up by free white laborers. If on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up. We should in vain look for an example in the Spanish deportation or deletion of the Moors. This precedent would fall far short of our case.”

    Funny how Barton advocates taking into consideration ALL of Jefferson’s sentiments and writings regarding religion over the course of his life, but refuses to do the same thing in regards to Jefferson’s ideas on blacks and whites. Anyone making a statement like this today would immediately be labeled a racist, and rightly so. But I guess because Jefferson is a “founding father,” we’re supposed to take it with a grain of salt and give him special exception? Sorry, but “separate and equal” is not “equal.”

  • Dave

    Good work… looking forward to part 2

  • Wanda

    I am almost finished with Mr. Jefferson’s Women by Jon Kukla and he documents two points which I’m not sure have been discussed on this issue of Jefferson and his slaves. The first is that Jefferson freed all Sally Hemings children when they reached the age of 21 and all her relatives, except two, prior to his death. Provision was made in his will for those two as well as Sally so that they weren’t sold. The second point is how sizable the debt Jefferson had at the time of his death and how that liability necessitated the sale of all the slaves as well as a significant amount of his belongings. Jefferson was able to protect his relatives from that liability by the provisions of his will, but he was not able to protect any others.

  • Krista Vessell
  • Krista Vessell

    While reading the Edward Coles letter, I came across this part of Jefferson’s ideology:

    “Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo, excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our Country, and offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over. As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that as emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation after a given age. This would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labour & substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce. [NOTE this section in particular] For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. 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.”

    Yep, he certainly was “a bold, staunch, and consistent advocate and defender of emancipation and civil rights.” NOT!

  • Warren

    Krista – Yes – Jefferson did not want emancipation without removing blacks from white society. Why? Note the last line. He did not believe intermarriage was best for the country, or human character.

  • Krista Vessell

    Barton could’ve put everything in perspective right from the beginning if he’d written something like this (and I’m not even going to pretend to be an authority on the subject, this is just a basic idea):

    While Jefferson did hold some opinions that would be considered “racist” by today’s enlightened morality, during Jefferson’s time, people were being denounced just for suggesting that blacks were more than livestock. At the time, Jefferson’s speaking out against slavery was revolutionary. He certainly did hold some errant views regarding the differences between blacks and whites and deportation of emancipated blacks, but his advocacy for ending slavery helped pave the way for more progressive thought, more realizations into the immorality of slavery, and eventually the civil rights movement itself. (Insert citations as necessary)

    Now that is giving a descriptive, accurate portrayal of Jefferson. Not “sugarcoating” his life…not trying to portray him as a civil rights leader while completely ignoring the ridiculous, racist opinions he did hold. An account like that puts everything into perspective without hiding any information that, when later discovered, would cause people to exclaim, “Jefferson said WHAT?!?!?!” in shock.

  • Krista Vessell

    I guess this has a major impact on me because I am in an interracial marriage and have a mulatto son. While I can understand the sentiments of the time, and definitely understand that Jefferson was a “racial activist” of his day, that doesn’t mean that ideas like these weren’t racist and need to be ignored. If anything, telling the truth, the WHOLE truth, not only lends more credibility to your writings, but gains more understanding, respect and appreciation for the historian AND his subject (in this case, Jefferson.) I can respectfully acknowledge and disagree with Jefferson’s racism towards blacks while at the same time absolutely respecting and appreciating his efforts to speak out against slavery as being immoral and against Christian moral standards.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    This is a far more temperate—and informative—rebuttal to David Barton than the circus that the Cincinnati preachers’ protest turned into.

    The idea that Jefferson was a civil rights visionary appalls the Rev. Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati.

    “Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans,” McMillian says. “He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body.”

    This is what your research precipitated, just as wrong as Barton and far more divisive to our country.

    “My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control.”

    This is not a man who “hates” African Americans. I’m no Jefferson fan, and I do think he was good at lying to himself and rationalizing his actions. And although I think you gentlemen get closer to the truth of Jefferson in your rebuttal here, the early hubbub bore none of this nuance—and neither did it allow that Barton got Jefferson at least partially right, that he was no “hater” of African Americans nor a denier of the wrongness of slavery.

    As you make clear, David Barton is a bit overwhelmed by the evidence, and does not have the time and/or historical and legal chops to sort out the laws governing manumission. He takes the word of a secondary source [Dumas Malone] and an uncritical reading of Jefferson [“The laws do not permit us to turn them loose”].

    But these are typical mistakes from an amateur, especially an amateur who has learned not to trust the “professional” historians, and frankly, he shouldn’t.

    Tip o’the brim on this one, gentlemen. Would that it had been this way from the first, that Barton’s work met rebuttals rather than condemnations. That feeds the ugly, from either side.

  • Teresa

    @Tom Van Dyke:

    I’m not quite sure Tom what your main argument with Warren is; but, I offer the following recent quote from Russell Moore, the influential Evangelical writer and dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, regarding Pat Robertson’s suggesting International Adoption is a bad idea:

    I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.

    Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.

    … The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years … For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.

    Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned …

    How’s that, Tom, for some ‘tough Christian love’ from one Christian to another? Not so much rebuttal, as downright condemnation. Pat Robertson quickly offered an apology, of sorts, for his statements.

    No matter how well-intentioned people may be, if they put themselves in the public arena as ‘experts’, then it’s everyone’s duty to call foul and point out the errors. If that means condemning falsehood, all the better, when all other avenues have proved futile.

  • Dave

    Tom … the rebuttal to Barton was in book form … no condemnations or attacks on character. You seem to hold Warren responsible that by having an academic challenge to Barton’s work he is now somehow responsible for all the whacked out responses to the book and to Barton. Contrary to your way of thinking I believe everyone is responsible for their own thinking and responses. I confess that I knew little of Barton and his book and ideology ubtil this came out. But having visited Barton’s facebbok page and the pages of his allies such as Lively and Green I have learned alot about the caliber of these folks version of Chrisitanity. … very eye opening and informative beyond the history lessons I am learning. From the title of Dr. Throckmortonthis is what this blog is all about … looking at the intersection of faith and politics in the public square (not the exact title but I cant scroll up on this cheap mobile phone). Ad I am personally gratefull for the work he does


  • Thomas Hagedorn

    A very good discussion. I read a lot of it, not all. I would categorized this as a matter of an honest difference in interpretation between two self-trained historians (Barton and Throckmorton). If this is a good example of the reason for all the furor over the book, including the very troubling cancellation of its publication, then I am quite puzzled and concerned. Differences of opinion should not lead to one side of a debate trying to silence the other with boycotts, attempts to influence publishers, a public speaker’s audiences, etc. That violates my appraisal of what the first amendment stands for and what Christian debates should look like.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    You seem to hold Warren responsible that by having an academic challenge to Barton’s work he is now somehow responsible for all the whacked out responses to the book and to Barton.

    Actually, yes. In the least, the same concern for truth that begets a book refuting Barton is obliged to refute the preachers who used “Getting Jefferson Right” as ammo in the circus that followed.

    • Warren

      Tom – The preachers have been around pointing out Barton’s problems for much longer than I have.

  • Joshua Wooden

    (From a post on my blog)

    So Beck not only gives overly-sympathetic attention to Barton, a man with no more than a B.A. in Christian Education from Oral Roberts University, but scoffs at Warren Throckmorton for not being an expert?


    There’s no way of winning with people who think this way. If they’re not experts, then they are criticized for being amateurs (of which, Barton is ironically one himself), and if they are experts, then they’re just “academic elitists” schooled by liberals steeped in secular humanism. Well which one is it folks? If amateurs are unqualified and academics are elitists, than who should we listen to?

    Both of them. And neither of them.

    This is over the evidence and making claims grounded in fact. Credentials are secondary.

  • Dave

    Plenty of people with more credentials then I have who do recognize Christianity’s influence in founding America have trouble with the scholarly credibility of Bartons work. Barton picked what appears to be the worst founding father to try to ascribe a christian view to. Why he picked the least likely candidate is a mystery. I suspect IMO that his zeal for his agenda blinded him to the reality of the complexity of the person he chose. On the other hand .. when one simply looks at the founding fathers or any other person in history with the sole objective of understanding them in their cultural time one can avoid this type of thing. However since they have tied their understanding of Jefferson in with their agenda any scholarly critique is seen as a threat to that agenda. Thus their over the top reaction to any critique. So IMHO .. this has nothing to do with free speech (another common battle cry) but is likley a response by Nelson to the scholarly critique of this book. Nelson has said as much but has not given details least not publically.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Warren, was

    Rev. Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati.

    “Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans,” McMillian says. “He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body.”

    not spurred on by your work? They seem connected in the NPR article.

    Are you saying that their protest against Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, is not connected with your own “Getting Jefferson Right?” As you know, unlike the work of longtime Barton critic Chris Rodda [who is quite dismissive of you*], it focuses precisely on Barton’s “whitewashing” of his attitudes on slavery in Barton’s “Jefferson Lies.” You seem to be ground zero for Rev. McMillian’s argument, not Ms. Rodda.

    It you’d like to affirm that the preachers’ protest against Barton’s publisher is mere coincidence, OK. I just don’t see how you can, but maybe there’s more to the story.

    Regardless, Warren, at some point, if Barton is to come under your guns, you owe it to the truth to set these preachers right also, that perhaps “Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans” is not quite getting Jefferson right either.


    *Forgive me for this one.

    “Should I have put out a half-ass book to get my debunking of Barton’s book out faster? I also could have thrown together what the authors of that little book that’s out there now refuting Barton threw together in a month. But I decided to take a few more months and actually research and debunk all the new lies that Barton used in his Jefferson book that he hadn’t used before, rather than just taking the easy route to be the first one out with something.”

  • Warren

    Tom – The Cincinnati folks like the book but they were aware of Jefferson’s views on slavery and race before we came along. As Barton said, they have been articulating their views for a long time. If you have a problem with them, you should contact them. The phone number is in the press release.

    As for Rodda, she may only be aware of the first version of the ebook which was a little smaller than it is now. We added a good bit to it within the first couple of weeks and Amazon has allowed people to update their files. In any case, it is sad to me that she takes that position. I am not going to comment further.

  • TxHistoryProf

    Why has no mention been given to the “Somerset Case” in 1772 which forced southern colonies to join northern colonies to push for independence when slavery was threatened, causing Jefferson to write “…life,liberty, and the pursuit of happines.” instead of his original idea of “…life,liberty, and the pursuit of property.” which would have cemented slavery into American society? Congress deleted his section on slavery to keep the South on board. [1]

    Why very little focus pn Jefferson’s “Notes of the State of Virginia” where he advocates emancipation but not equality as he suggests a plan for all emancipated African Americans to emigrate to an American created country in Africa because Jefferson found them inferior and incapable of living among whites. Freedom did not mean equality even after the “War of Northern Agression” as evidenced in Plessy v. Ferguson with “Separate but Equal”.[2]

    Both books rely heavy on primary source material. Are they both wrong and only Mr. Barton is right?

    1. Blumrosen, Alfred W., and Ruth G. Blumrosen. Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies & Sparked the American Revolution. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2005.

    2. Rakove, Jack N. Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Tom – The Cincinnati folks like the book but they were aware of Jefferson’s views on slavery and race before we came along. As Barton said, they have been articulating their views for a long time. If you have a problem with them, you should contact them. The phone number is in the press release.

    I’m afraid I can’t take this wordage as a direct reply to my question about the influence of your book on the preachers’ protest of Thomas Nelson.

    And following, about your obligation to reply to all “sides” of the controversy, as manifestly qualified arbiters of the Truth About Jefferson.

    I do thank you for the courtesy of answering. Best regards.

  • Warren

    TXHistprof – In GJR we have that long section from Notes on Virginia where his racial views and plans for emancipated slaves are on full display. We also highlight his views later in life about African Americans which aren’t that much different from what he articulated in Notes.

  • Dave

    @Tom … perhaps in this dysfunctional viewpoint you are espousing you would like to offer Barton your services .. afterall .. if Barton had not put out an erroneus book we would not be having this discussion. So perhaps if you make a valiant effort to correct him you can stop the liberals .. along with those who are using a 21st century lens to view TJ’s view on blacks. Then, if you fail .. we can blame you. Of course your chances of Barton listening to you are about zero .. but who cares about that .. we’ll blame you anyway.

    Yes be clear .. I am being sarcastic here … obviously (or perhaps not so obviously to you) …. you .. nor the doctor have nuch control on how people are going to spin things to their own agenda. But I doubt you are going to shut down your website over that though you do seem to expect everyone to muzzle themselves out of the conversation for fear of how others will act.

    Some folks are actually learning things from this discussion .. others are spinning their typical rhetoric to align it to their own agenda. The spinners will always be there and there is nothing anyone can do about that.

  • TxHistoryProf


    Thank you. I just downloaded GJR to my kindle. I look forward to reading it after reading Jenkinson’s detailed review. Rakove does a great job explaining the founders before and after they were thrust into the development of a radically new nation.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Thank you, “Dave.” Although you’re quite clearly drunk and ranting, not only do I understand you but y’d be surprised to discover that I agree with you.


    Warren & I have no problems with each other on the gentlemanly discussion of history. The culture war part is what gets quite a bit more squirrelly.

    Even when I think the dispute between Barton and Throckmorton/Coulter is a matter of interpretation or sourcing, I most usually agree with Throckmorton/Coulter.

    As Barton’s “lawyer” on this blog, the best I can argue is that Barton’s interpretation isn’t a “lie,” it’s a legitimately arguable interpretation, as seen by a Christian who sees what he wants to see. Do I agree with Barton against Throckmorton/Coulter? Almost never.

    Jesus Christ’s Second Coming is in the Jefferson Bible. Did you know that? That’s a fact, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Barton argues that fact truthfully, against all the critics who say the “Jefferson Bible” cuts out all miracles, all references to Jesus being anything more than a wise man.

    Did Jefferson believe that Jesus the Christ would come on the Day of Judgment to separate the sheep and the goats?

    Well, based on my own research and copious reading of the blabbermouth Jefferson, no. But there it is. Look with your own eyes, the “Jefferson Bible” from the Smithsonian

    cut and pasted by and with Thomas Jefferson’s own hands.

    I agree with Throckmorton/Coulter that Jefferson put this in to illustrate that good works gets you saved, not “faith.” My own reading of Jefferson is that jesus is no “Christ,” dying for your sins, whatever.

    But to dismiss David Barton as a liar or worse because he looks at the “Jefferson Bible” and sees the Second Coming right there in Jefferson’s own cut-and-paste hand, that’s not right, to call him a liar.

  • James Ferguson

    You expect Beck to be objective? Have you read the first chapter of his new book, Cowards, where he tries to link Teddy Roosevelt to Hitler through the white supremacist writer Madison Grant? This guy wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him square in the face. Lies and distortions are the implements of his hack journalist trade.

    Of course, the attempt to spin the Founding Fathers into the forefathers of Conservativism is nothing new. Barton isn’t the first, or the last writer to engage in this historical revisionism. Eric Foner sees a second wave of “Redemption” taking place, as occurred after Reconstruction, which ultimately gave way to the Dunning School of Reconstruction. One of the few outspoken critics of this “school” of thought was W.E.B. DuBois.

    For the better part of the 20th century we lived in a historical fog, with many historical half truths and lies filtered through school history books. Now, we see the same thing occurring again in states like Texas, where religious conservatives are rewriting textbooks,

    How much you want to bet that several of those on the Texas Board of Education have been influenced by Barton’s writings?

  • Zoe Brain

    Given that he’s a consultant to that august body, and has sued two of the people on it, no bet.

    That’s only one of the problems with the “expert” reviews of the current social studies standards provided to the Texas Education Agency last week by the panelists. The panel is made up of six members, including a trio of mainstream academics from Texas universities. The others include political activist David Barton of Texas and evangelical minister Peter Marshall of Massachusetts, who used their reviews to criticize the inclusion of Chavez and other historical figures they consider inappropriate. In addition, they and fellow panelist Daniel Dreisbach of American University make lengthy arguments that the Founders intended to create a distinctly Christian American nation based on biblical principles.

  • Dave

    Hi Tom, “Dave” here again. I’m a minister of the gospel in the Church of the Nazarene. If you had actually followed my link you would have known as much along with a major portion of my theological beliefs. So I think I will have to pass on your slanderous accusation of being drunk and ranting.Next time .. think before you speak. For someone as investigative as you appear to be I would have thought you would have figured this out by now. It only required one click of your mouse.

    In case you haven’t noticed my constant theme has been truth and integrity. I put that over any agenda you or anyone else mmay have. I am well aware of the distorted far right lens that Barton is using. At one time in my life I might have been more sympathetic to it. But not anymore. I have noticed that something happens to folks that go this route. Their perspective distorts everything they see. Respectful dialog becomes elusive to them. Slander and painting people with a broad brush is the norm for them.Everyone who disagrees with them is regarded as an enemy. They demonize the very people Christ died to save. Hardly a good depiction of the faith they presume to represent.

    I am on cheap mobile phone so I apologize for spelling errors.

    Peace and God bless,


  • Thomas Hagedorn

    I would characterize myself as a defender of Barton in this dispute. However, I recognize that his approach is eclectic, as compared to the approach normally used by a professionally-trained historian. And I also will allow that he has likely made some clear errors. But differences in interpretations are NOT errors, they are simply differences in interpretation. That idea has seemed to have been lost in this dispute. I have read enough history (and attended enough conferences and participated in enough academic list-serves) over the last 15 years to come to the conclusion that academic history has its own problems with errors and contains many interpretations with obvious, major flaws. They tend to get “papered over” within the profession and even ignored. Even demonstrable falsification of data has been ignored by the profession (related to the Second Amendment). There is also an incredible lack of representation of conservatives in the ranks of academic historians. Individuals espousing conservative religion (evangelicals), politics (Republicans), and economics (capitalism) are almost non-existent on most faculties and, as a result, research results are skewed to the left. So, I’ll take Barton, with all his warts, over most mainline academic research.

    Having said that, Jefferson was a poor choice for Barton to use to illustrate the importance of Christianity. On the other hand, Jefferson has been used by many to sell books and to attach to their own 21st century cause. I like to call him the “velcro” Founder. I have seen him credited with writing the Northwest Ordinance, even though he had been in France for 2 or 3 years at that point. Barton also uses Joseph Story a lot. Story was a Unitarian. He would be much better advised to tell the public about John Marshall, who is one of the top figures in the American legal system. Legal historians would probably “rate” him over Story. Or he could dwell on Blackstone and the common law. Or he could tell us about Simon Greenleaf.

  • David

    Dr. Throckmorton, have you or Michael Coulter thought about holding a press conference, and inviting the press & other news outlets, or hosting a round-table discussion with other Phd’s on Jefferson. Dr. Gregg Frazer would be a good one to invite. Since, David Barton will not debate, it seem this discussion will just continue to go on.

  • Jon Rowe

    John Marshall was a unitarian as well until the very end of his life.

  • Thomas Hagedorn

    Re: John Marshall

    Gee, maybe we have another David Barton controversy here. I’ll be researching Marshall soon, in connection with my work on a new manuscript. My understanding (third hand through an admirer of Barton) is that he was a VP of the American Bible Society and an officer of the American Sunday School Union. These were two organizations that were part of what some historians have called the Benevolent Society, which sought to spread Christianity throughout the country, especially the West in the 1820s and 1830s. These were evangelical organizations, which I would have thought would be incompatible with unitarianism. I’ll be interested in what I come up with. I hope there are some reliable biographies that will address his faith. He was a giant in the formation of the American legal system.

  • Krista Vessell

    If Warren Throckmorton is responsible for someone making an unfounded, opinionated remark like, “Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans!”, then I’m afraid Barton is responsible for his followers telling people, “I believe you have no Constitutional right to exempt Nature’s God, the Creator, or Divine Providence from your life or anyone else’s in America. You are free and have the right to leave America (until the world gets saved).” Unfortunately, Barton actually is responsible, because he openly advocates the conservative Christian “warriors” taking back America from the heathen “liberal elitists,” “secularists” and “atheists.” Just read his Christian manifesto. “An Historical Perspective on a Muslim Being Sworn into Congress on the Koran.”

    Now there is no evidence of the idea that Jefferson “hated” African-Americans. He may not have believed in racial equality and expressed his belief in the inferiority of blacks, but he also believed it was the duty of the superior race to care for the inferior, as a father cares for his children. Not even CLOSE to “hatred.”

    Barton, in his Wallbuilders article, “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson & Slavery in Virginia,” actually did try to downplay Jefferson’s racist sentiments. Barton included a transcript of the Edward Coles letter…with all the racist phrases CENSORED OUT! The man who advocates taking quotes directly from the source CENSORED Jefferson. He also used descriptive phrases like this when describing Jefferson’s racist attitudes:

    “As a final note on Jefferson’s personal views and actions, Jefferson had occasionally offered the view that blacks were an inferior race to whites.”

    “Notwithstanding such opinions, Jefferson was willing to be proved wrong.”

    “When considering Jefferson’s views on the capacity of blacks (views apparently not stridently held), Jefferson’s actions to end slavery must be seen as even more remarkable. His efforts to achieve full freedom for a race he perhaps considered inferior indicate not only the sincerity of his belief that all men were indeed created equal but also his abiding conviction-expressed at the age of 77, only five years before his death-that ‘Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.'”

    …”OCCASIONALLY offered the view” (no, he offered it many times during his life, whether asked his opinion on it or giving it freely)

    …”Jefferson was WILLING to be proved wrong” (he was proved wrong but did not accept the proof or rebukes offered to him)

    …”views APPARENTLY not stridently held” (these views absolutely WERE stridently held, for his entire life)

    …”PERHAPS considered inferior” (DEFINITELY considered inferior).

    …”His efforts to achieve full freedom for a race he perhaps considered inferior indicate not only the sincerity of his belief that all men were indeed created equal…” (Advocating freedom for an “inferior” race is not the same as believing the two races were truly equal. “Separate and equal” is still not “equal.”)

    Inclusion of these statements in Barton’s description of Jefferson’s racist sentiments demeans the conviction with which Jefferson held these sentiments. Having read several of Jefferson’s letters, UNEDITED, this was not an occasional sentiment and there is NO evidence that, despite being sent rebuttals and anecdotes proving the racial equality of blacks and whites, that he ever did change his mind on those sentiments. He made it clear over and over again that he believed blacks were inferior. Not only that, he also firmly believed in deportation of freed slaves; something which Barton completely ignored in this article. You can’t ignore that fact when addressing the question of why Jefferson didn’t free his slaves, because all through his life he advocated abolition of slavery AND deportation of freed slaves. Without a way to execute the deportation aspect, he did not advocate emancipation alone. He definitely made it clear that without being able to deport them, simply setting them free was dangerous for the country.

  • Jon Rowe


    I don’t want to pull a David Barton, but I think this depends on what the meaning of the term “evangelical” (and “unitarian”) is. Barton said, briefly, on Jon Stewart’s show that unitarians were “evangelical.” Does that term mean what it means to most ears today: orthodox, Trinitarian, “born again,” Gospel spreaders? Or does it mean, merely, someone who believes in spreading the faith? In that sense, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are “evangelical,” because they believe in spreading their faith. Perhaps Marshall was “evangelical” in this sense. I’ll have to look up, more, the background of those societies. Not all unitarians were as rationalistic as Jefferson was. Some of them were quite “biblical.” It’s my understanding that both Marshall and Story professed a similar kind of unitarianism that was more biblical than Jefferson’s.

    Anyway here is some evidence I have uncovered. It’s also important because Marshall was an Anglican who disregarded communion. And she testifies about the connection between denying communion and unitarianism.

    I’m not going to correct my post; but were I to rewrite it today I would say unitarians rejected the Trinity and Incarnation. SOME like Priestley rejected the Atonement. The ones who, like Mayhew, believed in the Atonement, posited an unorthodox understanding of such.

  • Jon Rowe

    The “she” I referred to was John Marshall’s daughter. The disregarding communion and disbelieving orthodox doctrine is notable because of the controversy of Washington, his orthodoxy, and his disregard for communion.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Peace on you as well, “Dave.” I withdraw the remark about you being drunk in response to your typos.

    I admit I have no experience with the type of Protestant fundamentalists you describe.

    I have noticed that something happens to folks that go this route. Their perspective distorts everything they see. Respectful dialog becomes elusive to them. Slander and painting people with a broad brush is the norm for them.Everyone who disagrees with them is regarded as an enemy.

    Unfortunately, I have—in my own studies of religion and the Founding— stumbled across those who are the fundamentalists’ enemies [usually ex-fundies]. I seldom can tell the difference. The ex-fundies are everything you accuse the fundies of.

    I have no dog in the fight. But I’m a strong supporter of religious liberty, even when I find the religion absurd. [Literal creationism being a prime example, which I don’t mind saying I find absurd.]

    But there is very very much underlying these debates that the fundies and Barton lose by their inarticulateness. William Jennings Bryan, in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, wasn’t defending creationism and the Bible as much as defending the dignity of man created in God’s image against eugenics and scientism that makes man no more than the sum of his atoms and synapses.

    If you follow me here.

    Respectfully submitted.

  • George

    I read somewhere in commentary here recently that GJR has expanded information that can be downloaded to an already purchased (kindle) ebook original release version. But I can’t seem to find it now. Anybody able to point me in the right direction to do this, or tell me I’m nuts and just imagined that.


  • Warren

    Depends on when you got the Kindle version. If it was withing the last month, Amazon might not have a link up yet to update. If before that, there should be a way to update on the Amazon website under manage my Kindle.

  • Krista Vessell

    Sorry this is a little off topic, but did anybody catch this on Rick Green’s “Hitler” article? In an attempt to prove that the “elitist professors” are employing the tactics of Hitler in their “negative innuendo propaganda,” he cites one of Hitler’s quotes (but also edited it): “All propaganda has to … accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.”

    Now the entire quote reads: “All propaganda has to BE POPULAR AND HAS TO accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.” By inclusion of the word “and,” the context of the statement is contingent on both popularity AND simplicity to be true. He just omitted the first contingency entirely, and it wasn’t on accident. He had to edit the quote or else he wouldn’t have been able to make the claim that, “The elitist professors like Kidd, Throckmorton, Coulter, & Jenkinson write boring books that very few people read and they give boring lectures that are only attended by students forced to do so in order to get a grade.” But according to the full quote, propaganda has to be popular AND simplistic. So are these “elitist” professors writing popular stuff, or aren’t they?

    “When these guys see Barton telling history in a way that is BOTH accurate and fun and they see millions of people are captivated and want to learn more, (Hm…sounds like Barton’s got the formula down!) then perhaps it could be just a little jealousy could be causing them to lash out at Barton with innuendoes backed by no actual merit. (Kind of like what Rick is doing right in that statement?)”

    Another funny observation; he states:

    ‘These elitist professors and reporters attacking David Barton know that most people will not actually go read the supporting material behind David’s books…certainly not the bloggers and reporters who have so quickly jumped on the attack wagon. They are exactly the “least intelligent” Hitler was able to fool, Alinksy taught radicals to fool, and now even Christian “leaders” are joining.’

    Well apparently Rick assumed nobody would actually check his edited quote of Hitler’s to see what Hitler REALLY said, either!

  • Michael Rollins

    Anytime I post on a Beck-Barton page or site and use the names Roger Williams and John Leland, my post are deleted and I am banned. They will leave ad hominem and criticism of their facts, but urgently remove post about early Baptist and their mission of faith known as Individual Liberty of Conscience. I believe they fear this type of discussion and it need to be brought to them. The early secularist need to be heard.

  • Krista Vessell

    Mike, mind if I include your comment on my Facebook page? I, too, was banned from Wallbuilders for doing nothing but posting citations, quotes and sources that contradicted Barton’s claims. I’ve met several other people who experienced the same thing and am trying to compile testimonies so people can understand just how widespread this attitude is. If you want to look me up, my page is called “David Barton is a Liar.” Thanks.