Janet Mefferd: David Barton Has Too Much Baggage On Historian Credentials To Run For Senate

Janet Mefferd is a conservative radio talk show host who believes Texas Senator John Cornyn needs an opponent in the upcoming GOP primary. However, despite the buzz building to draft David Barton, she doesn’t think he is the guy for the job. On her Facebook page, Mefferd declared:

I heartily agree that Texas Sen. John Cornyn needs to be primaried, but not by David Barton. He has way too much baggage on his “historian” credentials.

She then links to MSNBC’s article on the subject (which in turn links to a review of Getting Jefferson Right).

One of her readers then takes her to task for referring to MSNBC, as if left leaning folks are Barton’s only critics. Mefferd could have (and could still) link to Gregg Frazier’s World magazine piece on Barton’s view of Jefferson’s religion.




  • Stogumber

    Thanks for the information about Frazer. His book is important because it isn’t simply negative but proposes a positive theory about the key founding father’s religion: “theistic rationalism”.

    That was the precursor of the theistic historicism of the 19th century – what Karl Popper called “the deification” of historical (innerworldly) success or, to put it bluntly, the cult of power as god-given. A religion much worse than either orthodox Christianism or orthodox deism.

    Eventually, Frazer in a way confirms that average Americans were “a Christian nation”: All these founding fathers had to bring their expressions into line and fake orthodoxy when they spoke to the American public.

    And here’s my question: Do we perhaps owe the best parts of the constitution to this American public, too? Did the founding fathers really rely on philosophical ideas from Locke etc.? Or did they bring their own political ideas into line, accommodating to the demands of the independence-loving American farmers, artisans, shopkeepers etc. in the same way like they had to bring their religious ideas into line?

    • Tom Van Dyke

      The answer to your latter questions is yes. We debate Dr. Frazer’s thesis often at my home blog, American Creation, and Eric Nelson’s work has come up as well. Use the search function.

      In short, Jefferson was a genuine deist. Unfortunately, other Founders are dragged under his umbrella, creating the current “the major Founders were all deists” trope that’s the mirror image of the “David Bartonism” that’s so roundly condemned by his opponents.

      It’s undisputed that John Locke was a major influence on everybody. The question is whether he was understood as a modern-type secularist or as part of the tradition of natural law Christian thought. I’m comfortable arguing the latter, using Founders such as Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson in support.

      “I shall, henceforth, begin to make some allowance for that enmity, you have discovered to the natural rights of mankind. For, though ignorance of them in this enlightened age cannot be admitted, as a sufficient excuse for you; yet, it ought, in some measure, to extenuate your guilt. If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend, diligently, to these, you will not require any others.”

      —Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted

      “I am equally far from believing that Mr. Locke was a friend to infidelity. But yet it is unquestionable, that the writings of Mr. Locke have facilitated the progress, and have given strength to the effects of scepticism.

      The high reputation, which he deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of christianity, secured to him the esteem and confidence of those, who were its friends. The same high and deserved reputation inspired others of very different views and characters, with a design to avail themselves of its splendour, and, by that means, to diffuse a fascinating kind of lustre over their own tenets of a dark and sable hue. The consequence has been, that the writings of Mr. Locke, one of the most able, most sincere, and most amiable assertors of christianity and true philosophy, have been perverted to purposes, which he would have deprecated and prevented, had he discovered or foreseen them.”—James Wilson, signer of the Declaration, a Framer of the Constitution, and later Supreme Court justice

  • Stogumber

    A second problem with Frazer: He takes “reason” and “rationalism” too much at face value. As every psychologist knows, people tend to find certain ideas reasonable simply because they are used to them (and to the peculiar arguments in favour of them).
    Here we are again with Eric Nelson’s book about the “Hebrew Republic”. Early modern European Republicanism was openly grounded on the Old Testament. In the 18th century such open theological arguments had become taboo, but notwithstanding people repeated their conventional ideas, now believing that they were purely rational.
    I wonder why Nelson’s book hasn’t found more interest in this debate.