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Warren Throckmorton (left) and Michael Coulter
Grove City College
Warren Throckmorton (left) and Michael Coulter

David Barton is wrong

Religion | Two conservative college professors critique Barton’s claims about Thomas Jefferson

Lots of people indict the internet as a haven of superficiality, but with the following article and a response by David Barton we’re providing an opportunity to delve deeper: You can read the this thorough critique of Barton’s work about Thomas Jefferson, and then Barton’s defense (see “No, I’m not wrong”).

Why invest the time? Why should you care? Because Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and coiner of the “wall of separation” phrase, was and is enormously influential in his defining of America and the role of Christianity with it. What we think about the past (and future?) of “Christian America” depends heavily on what we think about Jefferson. Some evangelicals talk about “taking back America”—but did Christians ever have it?

David Barton, in essence, says yes. He has achieved enormous popularity among evangelicals for his writing about American history, and enormous scorn from the secular left. Last year a new set of critics emerged, with professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a conservative school, prominent among them. Their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, takes aim at many of Barton’s contentions.

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The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” and that was our goal in reporting on this controversy last summer and fall (read WORLD’s complete coverage): We now hope for more sharpening as we make these extensive points and counterpoints readily readable by all. As the great Puritan poet John Milton wrote concerning Truth, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” I hope you’ll take the time to understand this grappling, because the stakes are high. Please read this critique and then Barton’s response. —Marvin Olasky

Introduction: Christians, scholarship, and getting American history wrong

Our book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, is primarily about properly understanding some claims about Thomas Jefferson, but it does not attempt to consider all of the contested questions about Jefferson’s actions and beliefs as that would be a monumental task. This work is particularly aimed at understanding Jefferson in light of claims made about him by some religious conservatives, especially those by David Barton. Barton, named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals, is often called upon by prominent members of the Republican Party for information about the early history of the United States. We focus on his work because so many religious conservatives rely on him as a source and because he recently published a book of claims about Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson.

gettingjeffersonrightsmall.jpgWhy focus on claims made by those who offer arguments for the Christian commitments and practices of Jefferson? This question raises the general issue of Christians and scholarship. The authors of this book are both Christians who believe Christian ethics and Christian theology inform our scholarly pursuits. In that sense, we are speaking to audiences that are familiar to us. Thus, our aim is not to diminish the value of conservative religious traditions. Although we believe this book will be interesting to anyone who wants to get Jefferson right, we hope to make a contribution to our own communities.

George Marsden, a committed Christian and the author of important works of history such as Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003) and The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Non-Belief (Oxford University Press, 1994), has provided a short but excellent guide for Christians engaged in scholarship in his The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford University Press, 1997).

There is no need to restate all of the arguments of this thoughtful book, but some portions are relevant as we consider historical sources related to Jefferson. The duty of Christians as scholars is first to get the facts correct. As Marsden puts it, “Christians and non-Christians can readily share the basic standards of evidence and argument.”[1] In this sense, the Christian scholar can be compared to a detective who seeks evidence and builds knowledge. It seems rather elementary that a Christian or a non-Christian could be an equally good detective.

In the process of gathering evidence and making arguments, Marsden asserts that “Christians, just as other scholars, must employ the requisite degree of detachment in order to weigh evidence judiciously.”[2] He adds that Christian scholars “may be passionately motivated to do the best job of truth-seeking,” but “they must be duly dispassionate in order to think clearly and to present their results effectively, without tendentiousness.”[3] To be dispassionate and detached is difficult, but necessary. The ardent fan of a team or a political candidate is not the person best suited to make predictions about future contests. For the passionate and attached fan or partisan, his team or party always looks good and is always poised to win. Engaging in scholarship as a Christian is not about who is on our team. Activity in this domain should have at least two objectives. First, scholars labor to uncover the facts about a subject, whether they relate to a historical figure or an aspect of social science. Second, scholars follow the data where they lead. To achieve these objectives, Marsden counsels the Christian scholar to avoid tendentiousness. Tendentiousness might best be described as the kind of argumentation made by lawyers in support of a client where every fact is turned and twisted to be in support of the client. Scholars cannot look like lawyers finding any fact to support their case and excluding or distorting those facts which undermine the case.


The preceding portions of the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President are provided with the permission of Salem Grove Press, Warren Throckmorton, and Michael Coulter to WORLD News Group. No other reproduction is permitted. Permission to reprint must be obtained from Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D.



Portions of Chapters 1 and 2 from Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.

1 David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012), 47. Endnotes for this book hereafter referred to as The Jefferson Lies.

2 George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 47.

3 Ibid.

4 The Jefferson Lies, xvi.

5 Ibid. xx.

6 Jack Balkin, “Deconstruction.” http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/jbalkin/articles/deconessay.pdf Accessed May 1, 2012.

7 The Jefferson Lies, xxiii

8 Ibid. xxiii.

9 Raymond A. Smith, The American Anomaly: U.S. Politics and Government in Comparative Perspective (New York, NY: Routledge, 2011).

10 Harold Hongju Koh, “On American Exceptionalism,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 55, No. 5 (May 2003): 1482-1483; Michael Kamm (11-12) sees many critiques of American Exceptionalism emerges in the immediate post-Vietnam war era and cites Daniel Bell’s writings as particularly significant critique. See Daniel Bell, “The End of American Exceptionalism,” Public Interest (Fall 1975): 193-224.

11 Koh, “On American Exceptionalism,” 1484-1485.

12 The Jefferson Lies, xxiv.

13 See, for example, this entry on “Modernism” in the Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10415a.htm Accessed May 2, 2012. For an account of modernism as a movement to accommodate religious ideas with modernity, see Anthony Carroll, “Modernism: The Philosophical Foundations.” http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20090724_1.htm Accessed May 2, 2012.

14 The Jefferson Lies, xxv.

15 Ibid, xxvi.

16 See an image of the tombstone at http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-gravestone.

17 D. James Kennedy, with Jerry Newcombe, What if America were a Christian Nation Again? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2005), 44.

18 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, (Richmond: J. Randolph, 1782/1853), 283.

19 Ibid, 286.

20 John Locke, Political Writings, Ed. by David Wootton. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1993), 141-166.

21 Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, (Richmond: J. Randolph, 1782/1853), 285.

22 Read the resolution at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hres253ih/pdf/BILLS-112hres253ih.pdf.

23 Retrieved from http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/04/21/david-barton-on-thomas-jefferson-united-brethren-and-the-christian-indians.

24 George Loskiel, History of the mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America: in three parts. (London: John Stockdale, 1794).

25 Retrieved from http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=499&nm=Gnadenhutten-Massacre.

26 Photos used by permission of Jen Collins.

27 Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress (Washington: Library of Congress, 1904-37): Volume 18 March 1, 1781—August 31, 1781, Charles Thomson to William Moore, 448-449; retrieved March 20, 2012 from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html.

28 Francis Wharton, ed. The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence, Volume 5, Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Livingston, August 12, 1782, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1889), 657. retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=lldc&fileName=005/lldc005.db&recNum=656&itemLink=D?hlaw:9:./temp/~ammem_fGaE::%230050657&linkText=1.

29 Paul Smith, ed. Letters of delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 21, (Washington: Library of Congress), 497. Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?hlaw:3:./temp/~ammem_cN8q::.


31 The act would not officially be passed until 1796.

32 Kilbuck and Captain White Eyes were Delaware Indians who had been friendly to the United States and for that reason they were added to this resolution.

33 Loskiel, History of the mission, 227.

34 Ibid.

35 Charles Cullen, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 22:307.

36 Ibid., 274-288

37 Ibid., 307.

38 Ibid., 308.

39 Ibid., 309.

40 For the entire act, see http://wthrockmorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/unitedbrethrenact1796.jpg

 41 All references from Statutes at Large; Act of March 2, 1799, Stat. 3, Ch. 24, p. 724, retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=847. Act of February 4, 1800, Stat. 1, Ch. 13, p. 14, retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=002/llsl002.db&recNum=51. Act of April 26, 1802, Stat. 1, Ch, 30, p. 155, retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=002/llsl002.db&recNum=192. Act of March 3, 1803, Stat. 2, Ch. 30, p. 236, retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=002/llsl002.db&recNum=273 and Act of March 19, 1804, Stat. 1, Ch. 26, p. 271, retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=002/llsl002.db&recNum=308. This last act dropped the name of the Society but included a reference to it in the body of the statute.

42 American State Papers, Senate, 17th Congress, 2nd Session, Indians Affairs: Volume 2, No. 189, p. 372. This report is important because it details the entire saga of the Christian Indians from the Gnadenhutten Massacre to the release of the lands back to the federal government. The federal government did not provide funds for evangelism. In fact, the Brethren missionaries described the funds that they had spent while trustees of the land, without federal help. The report is here: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsp&fileName=008/llsp008.db&recNum=379

 43 Holly Littlefield, Children of the Indian Boarding Schools. (Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2001). See also http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865.

44 See http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/03/22/the-american-family-association-should-apologize-to-native-americans/

 45 Jefferson Lies, 135.

46 See http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol2/treaties/kas0067.htm#mn6.

47 Treaty with the Kaskaskia, 1803. Aug. 13, 1803. 7 Stat., 78., Proclamation, Dec. 23, 1803., retrieved from http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol2/treaties/kas0067.htm#mn6.

48 Ibid.

49 http://wthrockmorton.com/2012/08/06/david-bartons-capitol-tour-did-thomas-jefferson-spend-federal-funds-to-evangelize-the-kaskaskia-indians/- See the letters from Jefferson to Harrison and Dearborn in this post.

50 Here Barton means “Benjamin Rush.”

51 Teddy James, “Deism and the Declaration: Fact Checking Jefferson’s Theology,” AFA Journal, July, 2010.

52 Thomas Jefferson Founds a Bible Society, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3CXHb-WvJs.

53 The Jefferson Lies, 68.

54 William Asbury Christian, Richmond: Her Past and Present. (Richmond: L.H. Jenkins, 1912), 87.

55 Retrieved from http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/bible-society-virginia.

56 Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, ed. J. Jefferson Looney et al (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2010), 6:607-608.

57 History of the American Bible Society from its Organization to the Present Time. (William Strickland, 1849), 69.

58 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 1854, 2:308.

59 Maxwell, William, A Memoir of the Reverend John H. Rice. (Philadelphia, J. Whetham), 127.

60 Charles Force Deems, Ed., Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Vol 4, (New York: Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, 1878), 370.

61 The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Edited by Lester Cappon. (Chapel-Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 493-494

62 Ibid., 496

63 Ibid., 421

64 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd series, Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels, "The Philosophy of Jesus" and "The Life and Morals of Jesus." Dickinson W. Adams, Editor, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N J, (1983), 391-392. This source will hereafter be referred to as “Extracts”,.

65 Bob Unruh, Christianity Being Wiped from Tales of U.S. History, WorldNetDaily, 11/15/06, http://www.wnd.com/2006/11/38824/; Calvary Apostolic Church of Denver http://www.cacdenver.org/articles/show/148.

66 Ray Harker, God and Government: The Christian's Guide to Civic Responsibility and Political Ideology. (Harrisburg: Dog Ear Publishing, 2010), 54.

67 Retrieved from http://www.americanbible.org/about/history

 68 The Jefferson Lies, 74.

69 Extracts, 55

70 From the Thomas Jefferson Papers, Courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, at the University of Virginia. (See Appendix)

71 Extracts

72 The Jefferson Lies, 72.

73 Extracts, 127.

74 David Barton, American Heritage Series, DVD, Bridgestone Multimedia Group, June, 2009.

75The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Edited by Lester Cappon. (Chapel-Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959). 384.

76 Holy Bible, King James Version, retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+11%3A4-6&version=KJV

 77 The Jefferson Lies, 73, 233n

78 The Jefferson Lies, 73.

79 Patton, Judd, cited in David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, 73.

80 Extracts, 114.

81 Ibid., 109.

82 Ibid., 119.

83 Ibid.

84 Ibid., 397.

85 Mt. 10:28; Mt. 13:40-42; Mt. 13: 49-50; Mt. 19:29 (not in the 1820 version); Mt. 22:29-32; Mt.: 31-34, 41, 46; Lk. 14:14; Lk. 15:7, 10.

86 Extracts, 405.

87 The Jefferson Lies, 80. Mt. 5:29-30; Mt. 10:28; Mt. 13:37-41, 49-50; Mt. 18:8-9; Mt. 19:16-26; Mt. 23:33; Mt. 22:28-30; Mt. 25:31-34; Mt. 25:46; Lk. 10:25-28; Lk. 11:13; Lk.12:4-5; Lk. 14:14;Lk. 15:10; Lk. 16:23; Jn. 18:36-37

88 Taken from the Smithsonian Institute’s internet source for the Jefferson Bible, retrieved from http://americanhistory.si.edu/JeffersonBible/the-book/?view=transcription&page=39#dl.

89 Joseph Priestley, A History of the Corruptions of Christianity. (London: British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 1871), 63.

90 Extracts., pp. 391-392.

91 The Jefferson Lies, 70.

92 Ibid.

93 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 31:370.

94 Ibid., 412

95 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 30:81n.

96 Ibid., 81.

97 Ibid., 238.

98 Ibid., 243

99 William Linn, Serious Considerations on the Election of a President Addressed to the Citizens of the United States. 1800.

100 The Jefferson Lies, 70.

101 William Linn, Serious Considerations..., 10.

102 Oddly, Barton, later in The Jefferson Lies on page 146, cites Linn’s pamphlet attacking Jefferson without hint of irony that he earlier said Linn and Jefferson corresponded about Jefferson’s non-existent support for mission work among the Indians.

103 Extracts, 326-327.

104 Ibid., 327n, The full reference is William Bennet, The Excellence of Christian Morality; a Sermon Preached before the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, at Their Anniversary Meeting, Thursday, 6th June, 1799. (Edinburgh, J. Ritchie, 1800). This is the same sermon referred to by David Barton in The Jefferson Lies, but we can find no references to Indians or abridgements of the Gospels.

105 The Jefferson Lies, 71.

106 Ibid., 72.

107 Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI1JUIB6OlM

108 Ibid., 71

109 Extracts, 329-330.

110 Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, 7:281.

111 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 9:270.

112 Extracts., 28

113 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson; 8:341-348.

114 Extracts

115 Ibid., 318.

116 Ibid., 319-320.

117 Ibid., 321

118 Ibid., 330.

119 Ibid., 327-329.

120 Ibid., 331.

121 Ibid., 336.

122 Ibid., 335.

123 Ibid., 332-334.

124 Ibid., 339.

125 Ibid., 339-340.

126 Ibid., 340.

127 Ibid.

128 Ibid.

129 Ibid., 341.

130 Ibid., 341-342.

131 Edgar J. Goodspeed, “Thomas Jefferson and the Bible,” The Harvard Theological Review, 40(1) (Jan. 1947), 76.

132 Extracts, 351-353.

133 Arendzen, John. "Ebionites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 20 Apr. 2012 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05242c.htm.

134 The Adams-Jefferson Letters, 421

135 Extracts, 361-362.

136 Ibid., 363-364.

137 Ibid., 364-365.

138 Ibid., 369.

139 Ibid., 387-391.

140 Ibid., 391n

141 Ibid., 392.

142 Hannah French, Bookbinding in Early America, Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1986, 179-180.

143 Harry Rubenstein & Barbara Clark Smith, “History of the Jefferson Bible,” in Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English, Smithsonian Edition, (2011), 31-32.

144 To read the 1820 version and learn more about the restoration of Jefferson’s copy, see http://americanhistory.si.edu/jeffersonbible/.

145 Monumental, Produced by Kirk Cameron, 2012. Clip available at http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/monumental/congress-bible.

146 The Jefferson Lies, 68-69.

147 John Wright, Early Bibles of America. (New York: T. Whittaker, 1892), 122.

148 Gazette of the United States, April 25, 1796, cited in French, Hannah, Bookbinding in Early America, Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1986, 53.

149 Personal communication, Eric Frazier, Reference Librarian at the Library of Congress, March 6, 2012.

150 Edward S. Ellis, Thomas Jefferson: A Character Sketch. (University Association, 1898), 77.

151 Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 30, 644n. He paid $10 on Jan. 5, 1799, several months after the Bible was completed. He did not begin for the Bible until Thompson and Small were nearly finished printing it.


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