David Barton May or May Not Have a PhD and Promotes the First Edition of The Jefferson Lies

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Recently, David Barton appeared on Dove TV and was in rare form. He was on to promote The Jefferson Lies book, but I think he is confused about which edition he is supposed to describe. He told stories about material that was in the first edition but not the second. More on that below.

To cover it all, I have embedded the YouTube video and will provide the beginning and end times where he takes up a particular topic. Readers can choose what is of interest or watch the whole thing.

The host of the show is Perry Atkinson. Watch (or see the segment times below the video).


The first 1:06 is introduction followed by a question from the host about what the controversy is about The Jefferson Lies. Barton says the academics want Jefferson to be a secularist and since he portrays Jefferson as a religious supporter, the academics don’t like it. Barton says the academics who criticize the book are off-based. This goes until 2:o2.

Jefferson’s Quran

From 2:02 to 4:20, Barton answers a question from Atkinson about President Obama’s speech at the Baltimore mosque. Again Barton tells the audience that Jefferson bought a Quran in 1786 in order to understand his Islamic enemy. As I have pointed out, Jefferson actually purchased his copy of the Quran in 1765 while studying law under George Wythe in Williamsburg. It is worth pointing out that Jefferson wrote in his autobiography, long after his diplomatic mission and his conflict with the Barbery Pirates, that Virginia’s 1786 law on religious freedom meant to include protection for Muslims (Mehometans):

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

While we don’t know why Jefferson purchased a Quran in 1765, it didn’t relate to his mission to the Barbery Pirates since he was in Williamsburg at the time. Furthermore, Barton implies that Jefferson’s administration had something to do with the first American edition of the Quran in 1806 which is untrue. For a more accurate description of Jefferson’s dealings with the Tunisian ambassadors visit, see this Monticello article.

Jefferson and the Democrats

From 4:21 to 6:12,  Barton makes a case that the modern Democratic party is ashamed of Jefferson and is moving to purge mention of him from their events. Barton says his book counters the false portrayal of Jefferson, but he claims that Jefferson would disagree with the modern party on 15 points.

At 5:38, Barton claims Jefferson “was a civil rights guy” and wanted to free his slaves but was not allowed to do so because of Virginia law. I have covered that false portrayal in several posts. While it is true that Jefferson wanted to end the slave trade, he did not believe freed slaves and whites could live together and favored their removal to the West Indies.

Jefferson Memorial

From 6:12 to 8:08, Atkinson and Barton discuss the religious quotes in the Jefferson Memorial. Barton then quotes from Jefferson’ Notes on the State of Virginia:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: 

One reason I think it is so important to Barton to make Jefferson into an evangelical is to make quotes like this seem as though Jefferson means evangelical Christianity when he writes about God. Jefferson’s beliefs were influenced by Joseph Priestley, among others, who did not believe Jesus was God. Jefferson wasn’t a deist as most people think of that term (God created and left us to our own devices) but he was not orthodox either. He believed in reason as the way to understand God and discounted most of the Bible.

Sally Hemings

From 8:09 to 9:40, Barton dogmatically rejects the possibility that Jefferson fathered any of Sally Hemings children. Since this can’t be proven one way or the other, I don’t believe Barton’s dogmatism is warranted. However, I haven’t gotten into this issue because I believe the evidence is inconclusive. Many good scholars believe he fathered one or more of her children and some disagree. This account from Monticello is a good summary of what is known.

University of Virginia

From 9:41 to 11:40, Barton defends his claim that the University of Virginia had chaplains and was a non-denominational school. He even says Jefferson invited a Jewish presence as a part of the invitation to Christian denominations to start seminaries on the outskirts of the campus. It is true that Jefferson invited religious groups to start schools nearby. No such schools were ever built. It is not true that these schools would have been under the jurisdiction of UVA.

It is amazing to me that Barton brought up the chaplains at UVA story. He removed that story from his new edition and yet here he implies chaplains were at UVA when Jefferson was alive. Chaplains didn’t come along until long after Jefferson died. I wonder if Barton knows the chaplain story was removed from the new edition. Please see my articles on chaplains at UVA to get the right story (here and here). Jefferson certainly didn’t “make sure” students attended divine services every week as Barton claims.

Academics Are Wrong

From 11:40 to 12:39, Barton answers Atkinson’s question: How do academics respond to you when you come back with this stuff? Barton replies:

Usually they say, ‘You haven’t been trained in history, you don’t have a Ph.D., Well, that’s true. All I’ve got is the original documents. I’m sorry, I don’t have a Ph.D.; actually, I do have a Ph.D. but I’ve got the original documents as well. I just don’t consider myself an academic; I consider myself a lover of truth.

Wait, Barton has a PhD? First, he said he doesn’t have one, then he said he does. He has never claimed anything other than his BA from Oral Roberts and an honorary doctor of letters from Pensacola University. It appears that Barton told another whopper about himself (like this one).

At 12:17, Barton adds:

In the case of the academics who’ve attacked the book, they say Barton doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, what Jefferson, we all know Jefferson was an deist agnostic, and they appeal to popular prejudice rather than going to truth as the basis.

This is a blatant misrepresentation of his critics. Neither Michael Coulter nor I have never said Jefferson was a deist or an agnostic. Our book, Getting Jefferson Right, is the target of Barton’s criticism in the second edition of his book. He knows better than this.

Break and Commercial

From 12:40 to 13:21, Atkinson takes a break and promotes Wallbuilders.

Jefferson’s Abridgments of the Gospels

From 13:22 to 19:00, Barton defends his view of Jefferson’s abridgments of the Gospels. First, Atkinson asks Barton if Jefferson cut up the Bible. Barton gives the same misleading answers he usually does. He begins by pretending that he is the only one who knows Jefferson twice abridged the Gospels, once in 1804 and then again around 1820. He told Atkinson’s audience at 14:50 that no one has ever been able to answer the question about the existence of two extractions. Of course, that is not true since Coulter and I very deliberately addressed his claims in Getting Jefferson Right.

At 15:20, Barton obscures the real story of the Kaskaskia Indians by referring to the terms of the treaty as the provision of missionaries and funds to build the tribe a church. In fact, the Catholic priest was already there and most of the tribe had already converted to Catholicism when Jefferson signed that treaty. The remnant of the tribe needed a church since they were being relocated. Furthermore, Indian tribes were considered a sovereign nation (not citizens of America) within America which meant that the first amendment wasn’t relevant. For more on the Kaskaskia, see this article (and this one).

Then at 15:27, Barton doubles down hard on his story that William Bennet’s sermon was what motivated Jefferson to make his extraction. He puts words in Bennet’s mouth. Recently, one of Barton’s colleagues, Mark Beliles, confirmed to me that Bennet’s sermon doesn’t include any of the detail Barton claims. Anyone can read the sermon and see that Barton’ story just isn’t there. I challenge him to publish the portion of Bennet’s sermon that contains the story he told to Atkinson’s audience.

Then, Barton erroneously claims the 1804 version included miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead (see this article for a refutation of that claim). Barton also claims there’s a resurrection, implying that the Resurrection of Christ was included. Not so, there was no Easter morning in either of Jefferson’s extractions. In fairness, what Barton may have referred to was Jefferson’s belief in an afterlife and judgment where we all will be judged based on our works, not the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. However, I don’t think his statement was clear.

There is no dispute that Jefferson chose portions for his abridgments based on what he believed really came from Jesus. For instance, about his 1804 version, Jefferson told John Adams in 1813:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to them. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their Logos and Demi-urgos, Aeons and Daemons male and female, with a long train of Etc. Etc. Etc. or, shall I say at once, of Nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the Amphibologisms into which they have been led by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging, the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an 8 vo. of 46. pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered apostles, the Apostolic fathers, and the Christians of the 1st. century. (emphasis added)

Whatever other purposes Jefferson had for extracting verses from the Gospels, it is absolutely beyond dispute that he believed he could tell via his reason which verses depicted events and statements which were “evidently” those of Jesus and which ones were added later.

Jefferson and Slavery

From 19:01 to 21:00, Barton addresses Atkinson’s question about Jefferson: Was he a racist?

Barton reacts by quoting Frederick Douglas’ and John Quincy Adams’ approval of Jefferson. Barton makes the familiar claim that Jefferson wanted to free his slaves but couldn’t since Virginia law didn’t allow it. I have been over and over this with direct citations from Virginia law, especially the 1782 law on manumission which allowed owners to free their slaves (see articles here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Barton brought up Robert Carter the Virginia slave owner who freed all of his slaves beginning in 1792. Barton wrongly claims it took Carter 75 years to free his slaves. Not so. The descendants of Carter’s slaves were still being freed as late as 1852, but most of his slaves were dead 75 years later. It is a pity that Barton minimizes the incredible bravery and sacrifice displayed by Carter to free his slaves in order to prop up Jefferson’s reputation.

Near the end of this section, Barton said Jefferson didn’t want to own slaves. I believe that is probably true but it isn’t true that he tried to free them. In fact, he sent slave catchers after runaways slaves, and he bought and sold slaves throughout his adult life.

Furthermore, Barton told Atkinson that Jefferson was a “civil rights guy.” This is difficult to defend. Jefferson was in favor of emancipation but only if it led to slaves being relocated out of the country. A “civil rights guy” implies that Jefferson wanted slaves to have equal civil rights. In fact, he didn’t believe blacks and whites could live together. In his autobiography, Jefferson explained:

The bill on the subject of slaves was a mere digest of the existing laws respecting them, without any intimation of a plan for a future & general emancipation. It was thought better that this should be kept back, and attempted only by way of amendment whenever the bill should be brought on. The principles of the amendment however were agreed on, that is to say, the freedom of all born after a certain day, and deportation at a proper age. But it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day. Yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people 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.

I am not even scratching the surface of Jefferson’s beliefs about African slaves.


From 21:01 until the end, Atikinson and Barton conclude that Americans don’t know their history. After this broadcast, this audience is even more in the dark.

While I realize this is a lengthy post, I wanted to get down in one place a response to the typical claims Barton makes in his talks. I also was surprised by a couple of aspects of this appearance. For instance, Barton claims to have a PhD.

Oddly, Barton appears to be promoting his first edition in his media appearances. For instance, he improved the section on slavery in the new book (although not without problems), and he removed the story of UVA having chaplains in the 2016 edition. Yet on this program, he promoted the old stories.

I intend to send this post to DOVE TV. Readers, do you think they will give the facts equal time?

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