David Barton Tells Listeners Virginia Law Kept Slave Owners from Emancipating Slaves; Admits it Happened in New Edition of The Jefferson Lies

Yesterday, David Barton said again that Virginia law did not allow slave owners to free their slaves. He usually tries to make that case in relationship to Thomas Jefferson, but yesterday on his Wallbuilders’ program, he said George Mason could not free his slaves because of Virginia law.

At about 37 seconds into this clip from the program, Barton says Mason didn’t free his slaves “because in Virginia it was illegal for guys like him to release their own slaves.” Listen:

I have debunked this repeatedly (here, here, here, here, here) but it is worth pointing out that Barton tries to have it both ways in the new edition of his book, The Jefferson Lies. He says Michael Coulter and I are wrong about Virginia law but then he indirectly acknowledges we are correct by citing the case of Virginia plantation owner Robert Carter who began a process of manumitting his 452 slaves in 1791. In the second edition of The Jefferson Lies, Barton invokes Robert Carter’s act to free his slaves.

Perhaps the case of Robert Carter best demonstrates the overall complexity of the Virginia emancipation process. Carter, whose wealth was considerable and who had as many as 500 slaves, emancipated them all in 1791. Yet, due to the difficulties of his executor process, and the intricacies of Virginia slave laws, sixty years later in 1852 (and long after Carter’s death), his heirs were still working to free his slaves as per his original directive. When it came to emancipation, Virginia law was definitely convoluted and restrictive.

Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 588-592). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

In the new edition, he attacks me for being wrong about Virginia slave laws, but in another place he acknowledges that Virginia law allowed manumission. When discussing Virginian plantation owner Robert Carter, Barton acknowledged that Carter started the process of emancipation for his slaves in 1791. Some slaves were freed immediately, minor slaves were freed gradually as they attained adult status. Yesterday, however, he said Virginia prohibited “guys like” Mason from freeing his slaves.

Simply put, Barton originally claimed Virginia law did not allow Jefferson to free his slaves. He has said before and said again yesterday that Virginia law did not allow “guys like” George Mason to free his slaves. Mason lived until 1791 which was nine years after Virginia’s 1782 law allowing private manumissions. It might have been a hardship for Mason to do so but Virginia law did not make it illegal.

We demonstrated in Getting Jefferson Right that not only did Virginia law allow it for a period of time, some slave owners who were contemporaries of Jefferson and Mason did indeed free some or all of their slaves.  Barton even refers to one of our illustrations of a slave owner, Robert Carter III, who used the 1782 law to free his slaves legally but he still can’t admit that he misled his readers and yesterday his listeners.