I’m pleased that WallBuilders president David Barton chose to respond to his critics (see “David Barton is wrong”) in the following detailed comments. I’m also glad that he plans to rewrite passages in his book The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson that (as he says) could use better wording and argumentation. (Read WORLD’s complete coverage of the Barton controversy from last summer and fall.)
I hope readers will spend time with both the Warren Throckmorton/Michael Coulter critique and the Barton response: Christians who write history need to follow the example set by Luke, who began his Gospel by noting that he had “followed all things closely for some time” and was therefore in position “to write an orderly account.” The most popular American history book at colleges, Howard Zinn’s leftist A People’s History of the United States, is full of inaccuracies, and many secularists don’t seem to mind because they need fables to increase their faith. But, as the Apostle Paul wrote, Christians rely on truth.
Last week we saw that the differences about American history between Barton and Throckmorton extend beyond the issue of Jefferson and his legacy. Barton, on Glenn Beck’s internet television show on Jan. 15, offered a history of the Second Amendment and four centuries of gun control debates. He examined colonial laws, statements from the Founders, and court decisions.
As part of his presentation, Barton discussed presidential shootings, including that of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Reagan, while recovering in bed, said he opposed gun control. Ten years later Reagan declared support for the Brady Bill’s gun control legislation. Barton on Beck’s show emphasized that Reagan, like previous presidents, did not use the crisis of the shooting to call for increased regulation of guns. Throckmorton on his blog quoted Reagan’s statement of support for the bill.
This latest disagreement shows once again that history has consequences and we should invest in its study. After reading both sides of the Jefferson debate, we invite WORLD subscribers to leave a thoughtful comment at the end of one or both of the articles: Who has the best argument? (No personal attacks, please.) —Marvin Olasky
Background and prologue
In 2011, Thomas Nelson contracted with me to pen The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. Released on April 10, 2012, it promptly became a New York Times bestseller. Prior to its release, Grove City College psychology professor Warren Throckmorton obtained a pre-publication copy for review, and joined by Grove City humanities and political science professor Michael Coulter, the two penned a rebuttal to my work, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, released just three weeks after my book.[i]
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I welcome appraisal of my work. Indeed, whenever I receive word of a possible inaccuracy in any work, I investigate the claim and, if it is accurate, I make the necessary corrections in subsequent printings. This has been my established practice for 25 years.
Throckmorton’s work is relentlessly negative and, as I show in this article, many of his charges are simply wrong. However, he does point out a few passages in The Jefferson Lies that might have been more carefully worded or better argued. When I revise the book for its second edition, I will make changes to address these concerns. I do not address every issue he raised in his book, for as will be seen in this article, so many simply do not have merit. But I do address several of his larger criticisms that may seem to observers as having the most substance.
I am no stranger to criticism, but The Jefferson Lies ignited a small media firestorm that eventually led Thomas Nelson to pull the book. Why? One possibility suggested by some observers was the entrance of conservative critics who echoed Throckmorton’s claims. For instance, the editor of a conservative national news magazine observed:
Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies.[ii]
It is true that some conservative Christians have criticized The Jefferson Lies, although it may no longer be accurate to describe Throckmorton as a conservative. But who are these conservative Christians and, more importantly, are they in a good position to criticize the book?
In August 2012, several media outlets reported that Jay Richards, a philosopher and theologian with the Discovery Institute who was also a public endorser of Throckmorton’s book, had asked “10 conservative Christian professors to assess my work.” It was reported that their responses were “negative.” However, some of the 10 listed by him had flatly refused to participate in his quest but yet were still listed as providing “negative” responses against me. And in direct conversations I had with Richards after he coordinated these attacks, he openly confessed to me that he knew very little about history. Only four of the 10 scholars contacted by Richards actually provided any critiques of my work: Glenn Moots, Glenn Sunshine, Greg Forester, and Gregg Frazer. Of these four, only Frazer specializes in religion and the American founding, but his critique did not even address The Jefferson Lies, and it is not clear that he even bothered to read it. Instead, he watched and criticized a 20-year-old video titled America’s Godly Heritage.[iii]
I am not a journalist, but it seems to me that if media outlets are going to rely on expert criticism that the experts should specialize in the relevant subjects and should take the time to read the work in question. By way of analogy, imagine the case of a journalist who came to Time magazine with a story about how even liberal professors object to President Obama’s Iran policy. As evidence, he offers four examples, three of whom are experts on Latin America and the fourth who gives no evidence of being aware of Obama’s current policies. Would Time run such a story?
On Aug. 9, apparently in response to the noise raised by these criticisms, Thomas Nelson Publishers suddenly and unexpected announced that it was pulling The Jefferson Lies. When a reporter asked its reason for dropping the book:
Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”[iv]
While this was the company’s public position, interestingly:
- When I submitted the manuscript to Thomas Nelson, its editors had fact-checked the text, as is customary publishing procedure. As an example of this standard practice, Glenn Beck, who has penned numerous New York Times No. 1 bestsellers, reports that his publisher assigns up to 18 different editors to scrub and verify every fact and detail in his book before they will release it. Thomas Nelson had likewise approved the text before they released it.
- Following the editors’ final reviews, I shipped Thomas Nelson a large carton filled with hard-copy documentation that verified each quote, footnote, and major fact in the book, including even those the editors had not asked about.
- My finished manuscript was 110,000 words long, but Thomas Nelson’s editors cut it to 63,000 words, in the process cutting much of the content and documentation that addressed issues subsequently raised by critics.
- Throckmorton called into question only a small percentage of the independent facts set forth in The Jefferson Lies, but Thomas Nelson never contacted me seeking verification of any specific fact called into question. As I explained in a press release following Thomas Nelson’s announcement:
As is the case with all of our published items, we go above and beyond with original source documentation so that people can be thoroughly confident when they see the truth of history for themselves. We find it regrettable that Thomas Nelson never contacted us with even one specific area of concern before curtly notifying us they had dropped the work. Had they done so, we would have been happy to provide them with the thorough and extensive historical documentation for any question or issue they raised; they never asked.[v]
- I had specifically forewarned Thomas Nelson about key critics (including Throckmorton), their particular tactics, their loud clamor, and the small followings they had; and significantly, at the time Thomas Nelson pulled the book, it acknowledged that sales were still high, apparently unaffected by the critics’ criticisms.
- After Thomas Nelson dropped the book, The Jefferson Lies was subsequently reviewed and then picked up by Simon & Schuster.
Clearly, Thomas Nelson’s public statements about the reason for pulling the book are incongruous with the above facts, so was there perhaps some other reason behind their announcement? Quite possibly, for only two weeks prior to suddenly dropping The Jefferson Lies, Thomas Nelson had been taken over in an acquisition by Rupert Murdoch and HarperCollins Publishers.[vi]
Thanks to Throckmorton and other critics, The Jefferson Lies will reach a far larger audience through Simon & Schuster than it would have with the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson.
Thomas Jefferson and negotiated treaties
Many of Throckmorton’s criticisms of my work overemphasize the significance of certain limited claims or are simply a matter of semantics. Consider, for instance, Throckmorton’s complaint about a reference I made to Jefferson’s role in the 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe:
Another key claim related to spreading the Gospel to Indians in The Jefferson Lies is Barton’s assertion that Jefferson negotiated and signed “a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that directly funded Christian missionaries, and provided federal funding to help erect a church building in which they might worship.”[vii]
Notice that Throckmorton describes the reference to Jefferson and the Kaskaskia treaty as a “key claim” in The Jefferson Lies.[viii] But this brief reference was only one piece of evidence presented in a chapter arguing that Jefferson did not support an absolute separation between church and state. In fact, the treaty was just one item from a list of more than a dozen similar ones; so even if the reference to this treaty were completely removed, the overall point made in the chapter remains unaltered.
In fact, I make only one brief reference to this treaty in Chapter 5, and of my book’s 6,417 lines, only 16 concern this treaty. In other words, it is hardly a “key claim.” Many of Throckmorton’s criticisms are of this nature. He regularly insists on ignoring the major point under discussion and instead seeks to focus attention on a minor corollary point he wrongly labels a “key claim.”
Even though my reference to this treaty is not key to my argument, do Throckmorton’s criticisms have merit? Hardly. For instance, on his blog he complains that “the treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians was negotiated by William Henry Harrison, with a date of August 13, 1803.”[ix] But it is common practice to refer to presidents as negotiating treaties even though representatives do the actual negotiating. Consider, for instance, the following line from an editorial written by five former secretaries of state (who presumably know something about negotiating treaties):
That is why Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush negotiated the SALT I, START I and START II agreements. It is why President George W. Bush negotiated the Moscow Treaty.[x] (emphasis added)
Technically, in none of these cases did the presidents themselves actually “negotiate” the treaty, but rather designated someone else for that purpose. Similarly, history reports that President John Tyler “negotiated” the annexation of Texas;[xi] James K. Polk, the addition of the Oregon Territory;[xii] Jimmy Carter, the Panama Canal Treaties;[xiii] Bill Clinton, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;[xiv] Barack Obama, the New START Treaty;[xv] etc.
Concerning the Kaskaskia treaty, William Henry Harrison was Jefferson’s superintendent of Indian Affairs, serving simultaneously as governor of the Indiana Territory.[xvi] Having excellent relations with tribes in the area, he officially represented Jefferson on Indian issues. Jefferson directly communicated with him about the overall policies and objectives to be obtained in the discussions,[xvii] and Harrison also communicated on the general subject with Jefferson’s secretary of state, James Madison, and his secretary of war, Henry Dearborn.[xviii]
Once Jefferson was satisfied with the result of Harrison’s negotiations, he approved the treaty. The printed Kaskaskia Treaty of 1803 thus bears the signatures of Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, and James Madison, secretary of state.[xix]
Throckmorton’s complaint about Jefferson “negotiating” the treaty helps show that his critique of my work is not a “dispassionate” historical analysis but rather part of a relentlessly negative attempt to discredit me.
Jefferson and emancipation
Chapter 4 of The Jefferson Lies addresses Jefferson’s efforts to restrict and even end slavery, documenting his numerous efforts at both the state and the national levels. It is striking that Throckmorton again completely ignores my major argument and instead makes a mountain out of a molehill. The molehill in question involves my claim that state law prohibited Jefferson from freeing his slaves. In making this point I was offering a conclusion based on my analysis of numerous laws. My discussion of a 1782 statute governing emancipation may need some clarification, but my main point remains accurate.
Significantly, in 1814, Jefferson indicated why he did not free his slaves when he affirmed to Edward Coles that “the laws do not permit us to turn them loose. …” [xx] Notice Jefferson’s use of the word “laws”—that is, there were “laws” (plural), not just a “law” (singular)—governing slavery in Virginia. But the lynchpin of Throckmorton’s attack against me and his strong assertion that Jefferson could have freed his slaves is one clause in a 1782 law, ignoring not only other relevant laws but also the scores of court cases interpreting and applying those laws.
For example, other laws addressing slavery were passed during the legislative sessions of October 1776, May 1777, October 1778, May 1779, October 1779, May 1780, October 1780, May 1782, October 1783, October 1784, October 1785, October 1786, December 1787, November 1788, December 1788, November 1789, December 1789, December 1790, November 1792, as well as in 1794, 1797, 1803, etc.[xxi]
Particularly relevant in Jefferson’s case was a law that required the economic bonding of certain emancipated slaves, which Jefferson, who suffered severe economic difficulties throughout his life, was unable to do. As well, Virginia law stipulated that “all slaves so emancipated shall be liable to be taken … to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them.”[xxii] Emancipated slaves could thus be seized by creditors to pay off any debt owed by the owner. Dumas Malone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, calculated Jefferson’s debt at $107,273.63 at his death[xxiii] (or nearly $2.5 million in today’s money). He concluded that for Jefferson to emancipate his slaves “in view of his indebtedness may have been illegal” under Virginia law.[xxiv] Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.
The emancipation process was convoluted and restrictive, and the simplicity that Throckmorton attempts to portray as a result of the single 1782 law simply did not exist. In fact, Robert Carter clearly demonstrates the overall complexity of the Virginia emancipation process. Carter, whose financial condition was quite different from that of Jefferson and who had as many as 500 slaves, emancipated them all in 1791. But due to the difficulties of his executor process and the intricacies of Virginia slave laws, 60 years later in 1852 (and long after Carter’s death), his heirs were still working to free his slaves as per his original directive.[xxv]
As another example, Virginian Edward Coles (private secretary to President James Madison), wrote Thomas Jefferson and told him:
[I] have not only been principled against slavery but have had feelings so repugnant to it as to decide me not to hold them; which decision has forced me to leave my native state, and with it all my relations and friends.[xxvi]
Coles acknowledged that he had to leave Virginia to free his slaves.
Virginian William Armistead similarly wanted to free his slave, James (the hero of the Battle of Yorktown, credited with being America’s first double agent), but it took a special legislative act and the intervention of Virginia’s adopted favorite son, Marquis de Lafayette, in order to achieve William’s desire to free James.[xxvii] Why didn’t William just emancipate him, as Throckmorton asserts was possible under the 1782 law? Because Throckmorton did not account for the many other state laws that were also part of the Virginia slave code.
I am perfectly happy to refine my discussion of why Jefferson could not free his slaves. Throckmorton makes two other minor points about my treatment of Jefferson and race which I will address with a word or two in the next edition of The Jefferson Lies. But I would emphasize again that Throckmorton’s fixation on criticizing me leads him to miss the point of the chapter. In it, I demonstrate that the characterization of Jefferson as a racist advocate of slavery is highly misleading if not simply false.
Jefferson, Congress, missionaries, Indians, and Christianity
In Chapter 5 of The Jefferson Lies I argue that Jefferson did not support the sort of strict separation between church and state favored today by secularist groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), People for the American Way (PAW), and other similar groups. In order to demonstrate this point, I listed dozens of official measures supported by Jefferson that involved the national government supporting and even funding religious endeavors. In responding to this, Throckmorton once again ignores the obvious and selectively attacks one of my many examples. Even if he were correct in his characterization of my claim (and he is not), I could remove this example my main point would remain valid.
Throckmorton strongly objects to my claim that Jefferson signed “federal acts setting aside government lands so that missionaries might be assisted in ‘propagating the Gospel’ among the Indians (1802, and again in 1803 and 1804).”[xxviii] Although the name of the group to which Congress entrusted the federal land was “The Society of United Brethren [i.e. the Moravians] for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen,” Throckmorton forcefully asserts these three laws signed by Jefferson had nothing to do with propagating the gospel but were only part of congressional restitution for an atrocity committed against the Delaware Indians in 1782.
Moravian missionaries began working with the Delaware Indians around 1740, and by the early 1780s a sizeable percentage (albeit a definite minority) of the Delaware tribe had become Christian. Unfortunately, as reported by Moravian Bishop John Holmes, in 1782 a group of local “fanatics” arose and “demanded the total extirpation of all the Indians, lest God’s vengeance should fall upon the Christians for not destroying the Indians, as the Israelites were commanded to do in the case of the Canaanites.”[xxix] This group approached the Christian Delaware, presenting themselves as friends sent to protect and move them to a place of safety. Although other local whites warned the Delaware about this group, those warnings were disregarded and the Delaware instead “cheerfully delivered their guns, hatchets, and other weapons” to their apparent Christian protectors.[xxx] Then, according to Bishop Holmes:
Having by these hypocritical arts completely succeeded in deceiving the unsuspecting Indians, they at once threw off the mask and displayed all the hideous deformity of their real character. … Some proposed burning them alive; others scalping them. The latter mode was finally fixed upon. … When the day of execution (March 8th) arrived, the murderers fixed upon two houses, one for the men, the other for the women and children, to which they gave the name of Slaughter-Houses. The carnage immediately commenced, and these poor innocent people, men, women, and children, being bound with ropes, two and two together, were led into the houses, and there scalped and murdered. By this act of most wanton barbarity, ninety-six persons finished their earthly existence, among whom were five valuable assistants in the mission, and thirty-four children.[xxxi]
About one-third of the Christian Delaware were murdered in this incident, but fortunately the butchers’ plans to slaughter the rest of them failed.[xxxii] Much of the remnant moved north into Canada for safety.
What happened to the cold-blooded murderers? According to Bishop Holmes, “Divine justice overtook them, for being attacked by a party of English and Indian warriors, the greater part of them were cut to pieces.”[xxxiii]
The War for Independence ended in September 1783, when an agreement was reached and a treaty signed ceding British-held lands in America to the United States. In November 1783, the Confederation Congress began setting aside from that newly acquired territory the parts previously occupied by the Christian Delaware, inviting them back to those lands. In May 1785, Congress officially approved the measure, reauthorizing it in 1787, 1788, and several times thereafter. According to Throckmorton:
The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the acts of 1787 and 1788 were efforts to make right the damage done to the Christian Indians by the Pennsylvania militia in 1782. Congress provided land in the trust of the United Brethren society organized for this purpose in September of 1787.[xxxiv]
Throckmorton further asserts that Congress officially viewed “The Society of United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen” only as a corporate real estate management company, explaining:
The Brethren [i.e., Moravians] had already promoted Christianity to the Indians. Now they were empowered to act as trustees for this land … [and] federal action referred to this entity as an entity and not as a description of an activity.[xxxv]
He therefore concludes:
So the claim made by … Barton about federal funds authorizing evangelism and/or the “propagation of the Gospel to the heathen” is simply false. While some might dismiss this as a minor point, we find the claim tendentious and troubling.[xxxvi]
According to Throckmorton:
If there had not been an atrocity and subsequent displacement of the Christian Indians, there would have been no need for federal legislation in this case.[xxxvii]
So, in these (and other) quotes, Throckmorton makes clear his view that:
- Congress helped the Christian Delaware only because of a specific atrocity; and
- Congress in general and Jefferson in particular had no interest in and were not involved with missionary or evangelistic work among native peoples, including the Delaware.
But Throckmorton’s claims in these two areas represent the opposite of what actually occurred. I will present some of the abundant evidence on this subject chronologically so that the 1785 Ordinance regarding the Delaware can be seen in its overall historical context of similar congressional and governmental acts.
In November 1775, Congress (of which Jefferson was a member) provided monies “out of the continental treasury” to the Rev. Samuel Kirkland for the specific purpose of “the propagation of the Gospel among the Indians.”[xxxviii] Also related to the Rev. Kirkland, in January 1777 Congress gave more money for his missionary work among native peoples,[xxxix] and in October 1779 appropriated additional funds to expand his missionary work into other tribes.[xl] Then in December 1784, Congress announced:
Congress are highly pleased with the readiness expressed by the Indians to receive a missionary among them; and being desirous to embrace every opportunity of diffusing the benign precepts of Christianity among those nations … [and] hereby authorized to cause a church to be built in place of that which was destroyed during the war, and to engage Mr. Samuel Kirkland as a missionary among the Indians.[xli]
All of these congressional measures relate to funding the Rev. Kirkland as a missionary among native tribes. Returning to a chronological examination of other congressional acts, in December 1775 a Delaware chief appeared before the Continental Congress. John Hancock, president of Congress, told him:
We are pleased that the Delaware intend to embrace Christianity. We [Congress] will send you, according to your desire, a minister and a schoolmaster to instruct you in the principles of religion and other parts of useful knowledge.[xlii]
Notice here that: (1) Congress is providing gospel ministers and missionaries to the Delaware tribe on their lands; (2) Jefferson was part of this Congress; and (3) Congress provided these services seven years before any atrocity had been committed.
In February 1776, as tensions were increasing between America and Great Britain, Congress identified specific means to solidify its relationship with potential Indian allies, explaining:
[A] friendly commerce between the people of the United Colonies and the Indians, and the propagation of the Gospel and the cultivation of the civil arts among the latter, may produce many and inestimable advantages to both.[xliii] (emphasis added)
Congress therefore directed:
That the commissioners for Indian affairs in the northern department be desired to inquire of Mr. Jacob Fowler, of the Montauke tribe of Indians, on Long Island, and Mr. Joseph Johnson, of the Mohegan, upon what terms they will reside among the six Nations of Indians and instruct them in the Christian religion.[xliv]
Congress provided funding for missionaries; and significantly, Jefferson was again part of this Congress and this policy; and there is absolutely no evidence in the congressional records or in any of his own correspondence, that of other delegates in Congress, or his own autobiography that he opposed any of these acts. Congressional funding for missionaries was regularly passed by subsequent Congresses, including in 1776, 1777, 1779, three times in 1785, and so forth.[xlv]
In April 1776, Congress ordered the Commissioners for Indian Affairs to employ “a minister of the Gospel to reside among the Delaware Indians and instruct them in the Christian religion.”[xlvi] For the second time: (1) Congress directly funded missionaries to the Delaware on their lands; (2) Jefferson was part of this Congress; and (3) this act was unrelated to any atrocity.
In May 1779, George Washington gave a speech to the Delaware Indian chiefs (yes, once again, the Delaware), telling them:
You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.[xlvii]
According to Washington, Congress would assist the Delaware in learning “the religion of Jesus Christ.”
In December 1779, Washington met with the Rev. Hyacinthe de la Motte, whom Washington identified as “employed by order of Congress as missionary to the Indian tribes in the Eastern department.”[xlviii]
In May 1785, Congress, having already established its practice of supplying Christian missionaries to the Delaware, approved the land trust for the use of the Christian Delaware and the Moravian missionaries.[xlix] And just seven days later, it directed “[t]hat the Board of Treasury advance to Jacob Fowler the sum of one hundred dollars to encourage him to instruct the Indians.”[l] This is the same Fowler funded by Congress in 1776 to do missionary work among the Mohawk and Oneida Indians.[li]
In 1788, John Hancock, then serving as governor of Massachusetts, issued an official proclamation to assist “The Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and others in North America” by urging “the good people of this Commonwealth to contribute” for the “purpose of propagating the knowledge of the Gospel among the Indians and others in America.”[lii]
In 1795, President George Washington signed a treaty with the Oneida, Tuscarora, and Stockbridge Indians, providing that:
The United States will pay one thousand dollars to be applied in building a convenient church at Oneida, in the place of the one which was there burnt by the enemy in the late war.[liii]
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, providing them “annually for seven years, one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest” and “the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.”[liv] And as already noted, he also signed the 1802, 1803, and 1804 land acts for “The Society of United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.”[lv]
In 1819, President James Monroe approved a treaty with the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomy Indians delivering several sections of federal land in Michigan “to the rector of the Catholic church of St. Anne of Detroit, for the use of the said church,” stipulating that those federal lands could be “retained or sold” by the Catholic Church, doing whichever would best aid Christian education to the native children of those tribes.[lvi]
In 1825, President John Quincy Adams approved a treaty with the Osage Indians that set aside federal lands “to include the Harmony Missionary establishment,” specifying that those lands were to be disposed of “for the benefit of said Missions … so long as said Missions shall be usefully employed in teaching, civilizing, and improving the said Indians.”[lvii]
Such treaties and acts continued to be negotiated and regularly passed over subsequent decades and on into the 20th century. Those numerous additional examples need not be presented here, for the pattern of Congress in this area is already fully established.
Perhaps the best summation of the national governmental policy over this time was delivered by President Grover Cleveland when he avowed:
No matter what I may do, no matter what you may do, no matter what Congress may do, no matter what may be done for the education of the Indian, after all, the solution of the Indian question rests in the Gospel of Christ.[lviii]
Notice, too, how often Congress connected providing federal lands for native tribes with the explicit purpose of carrying out Christian missionary work on those lands—something Throckmorton denies occurred, especially with the Delaware. Nevertheless, this official conjoining of federal lands for native tribes and missionary activity was regularly repeated in the 1800s and 1900s.
In fact, in May 1904, President Teddy Roosevelt, like so many presidents had done for a century before him, addressed the issue of federal lands, this time in the Sioux reservation. He specifically recognized the federal lands there that were “reserved for use of the American Missionary Society for mission purposes,” and “for the Roman Catholic Church for use for mission purposes,”[lix] as well as “for the St. John’s Mission School.”[lx] Two years later in February 1906, he similarly identified federal lands among the Utes specifically set aside for the “Protestant Episcopal Church for missionary and cemetery purposes,” stipulating that if that church were ever to leave those designated Ute lands that the lands were to be retained for religious use.[lxi]
Clearly, Throckmorton’s claim that Congress in general and Jefferson in particular had no interest in and were not involved with missionary or evangelistic work among native peoples, including the Delaware, is demonstrably wrong. But what about his claim that Congress helped the Christian Delaware only because of a specific atrocity?
When Congress originally designated those lands for them in 1785, there was no reference in the legislative actions to any atrocity. Some individual delegates acknowledged the deplorable massacre in their private correspondence,[lxii] which is understandable; for since they were addressing the Delaware, it is natural that there should have been a recollection of what had happened to them. But none of the official congressional records even mention the tragedy. In fact, the modern editors of published works from the federal archives that contain those particular records, and who apparently entertained the same supposition as Throckmorton, candidly confessed that “the silence of the journals on this matter is … puzzling.”[lxiii] But the silence is puzzling only if one insists on seeking a purely secular motivation for the congressional actions, ignoring Congress’ lengthy record of sponsoring explicit missionary activity among native tribes, including the Delaware.
So the records are clear that from 1776 to Jefferson’s death in 1826 (and then into the 20th century), the national government directly funded Christian missionaries and churches for native peoples. As well, the designation of federal lands for the use of native peoples was repeatedly joined with explicitly Christian missionary endeavors on those lands. Jefferson was a member of legislative bodies that passed these bills, he signed them as president, and there is no public or private record that he ever opposed such legislation.
Yet despite the depth and clarity of the historical evidence, Throckmorton amazingly asserts:
In other words, the federal government never provided money to missionaries to evangelize the Indians. Instead, the government attempted to right a wrong by protecting land claims by missionaries on behalf of their native converts.[lxiv]
Throckmorton is wrong in this historical analysis, but he inadvertently explained why he was wrong when preceding this statement he confessed that there was “nothing in any of the actions we have reviewed that provided federal money to propagate the Gospel”[lxv] (emphasis added). Throckmorton’s problem is thus obvious: He simply did not review enough congressional acts to ascertain the clear, self-evident, and readily visible pattern of repeated missionary activity by Congress and the federal government.
But having missed the mark on his primary claim about Congress, missionaries, and land trusts, Throckmorton thereafter makes four subsequent erroneous claims dependent on and derived from his original error.
First, in reference to the three acts signed by Jefferson for the Moravian “Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen,” Throckmorton asserts that the name of the Society was irrelevant to congressional intentions, explaining:
While this resolution, taken out of the historical context, seems to depict congressional support for “civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity,” it does not have that effect. The 1787 congressional action points back to the 1785 Land Ordinance … [and] federal action referred to this entity as an entity and not as a description of an activity.[lxvi]
But in 1788 when Congress re-extended the 1787 act, a significant phrase was deleted (shown in strike-though) and a replacement inserted (indicated by bold), thus causing that law to state that Congress …
… ordered the property of the said towns and reserved lands to be vested in the Moravian Brethren at Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, or the Society of the said brethren for
Propagating the Gospel among the Heathencivilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity (or as they are called The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen) in trust and for the uses expressed in the said Ordinance.[lxvii]
Notice that Congress specifically replaced the name of the entity with a description of its Christian activity, thus explicitly referring to the activity of the Moravian missionaries rather than the entity of their corporate organization. This change therefore made abundantly clear that the land trust was given for the unambiguous missionary purpose of “promoting Christianity.”
But how could Throckmorton have really believed otherwise? Considering that the official name of the newly formed “entity” was “The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen,” did he genuinely expect it to do something other than what its name indicated? He might as well have argued that when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed, it did not exist to advance colored people, or that Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded to address immigration and healthcare issues. Most citizens immediately know why certain groups were established when they see names such as Christians United for Israel, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Council on American-Islamic Relations—or “The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.”
In his second dependent error, Throckmorton claimed that Congress would not have undertaken missionary work among the Delaware because that tribe was already evangelized:
The Brethren [i.e., Moravians] had already promoted Christianity to the Indians. Now they were empowered to act as trustees for this land.[lxviii] (emphasis added)
In sum, the Delaware Indian converts had been evangelized before any actions were taken towards them by the national government.[lxix] (emphasis added)
Notice his use of past tense verbs. Apparently, he believes that the Moravians had achieved a 100 percent conversion rate among the Delaware, thus leaving no more evangelistic work to be done. Yet such was definitely not the case. It therefore is not surprisingly that the records of the United Brethren are unequivocal that evangelism was definitely occurring before, during, and after the land trust was given, and that those congressional land trusts were specifically used for explicit missionary and Christianization efforts with the Delaware.[lxx]
In Throckmorton’s third related error, he claims:
Eventually, the Society ceded the land back to the federal government because the converts did not return in sufficient numbers to make the mission viable. In fact, the largest settlement of about 60 Christian Indians was in the Schoenbrun location (renamed Goshen). [lxxi]
Yet the number living at the mission was definitely larger than what Throckmorton claims.[lxxii] Nevertheless, there were intervals when the native population in particular settlement areas on the land trust was relatively small. Why? In part because groups of Christian Delaware were sent out to start new churches and do mission work in neighboring native areas. As the missionaries reported:
At the beginning of the year 1801, the number of inhabitants amounted to seventy-one persons. … Their number, however, was considerably diminished the following year, as several families removed to the river Wabash to commence a mission among the Cherokees.[lxxiii]
About a year after the mission to the Cherokees had been begun, a formal message was sent by the Chiefs and great Council of the Delawares … requesting that some teachers might be sent to them. Considering this as a new door opened for the diffusion of the Gospel, the Christian Indians at Goshen in return sent a solemn message to those on the Wabash, informing them that several families of their believing countrymen, with some missionaries, would come and instruct them in the Word of God.[lxxiv]
Clearly, the settlements in the federal land trust served not only as centers of activity to convert Delaware but also to equip Christian converts to do missionary work among their own brethren and other native peoples. As Bishop Holmes affirmed, their “missionaries did not relax in the zealous prosecution of their calling,”[lxxv] including on the congressional land trust, which from time to time caused the actual numbers of Delaware living on the trust to be reduced.
In his fourth supplementary error, Throckmorton claimed that by Jefferson signing the 1802, 1803, and 1804 measures for the Moravians that …
Jefferson did not authorize the propagation of the Gospel; he simply maintained existing policy.[lxxvi]
A review of the three bills which Jefferson signed reveals nothing new in them about Indians or religion.[lxxvii]
Throckmorton is generally correct in these statements—but not for the reason he thinks. Jefferson did indeed “maintain existing policy,” which, as has already been demonstrated, consistently authorized the propagation of the gospel on federal lands. And Throckmorton is also spot on in his claim that by Jefferson signing those three bills, it “reveals nothing new in them about Indians or religion,” for Jefferson was simply continuing the practice of Congresses of which he had been a part of providing missionaries to native peoples, including through congressional land grants.
If Jefferson had objected to these practices, he certainly did not have to sign any of the three acts into law; or he could have required any provisions offensive to him to be altered before signing such acts. It would have been easy enough to craft legislation to compensate the Delaware for a past atrocity without involving the Moravians. But Jefferson made no objections and requested no changes; he signed the bills to continue existing policy, which definitely included missionary and evangelistic work.
So not only was Throckmorton’s primary claim about Congress, missionaries, native peoples, and government-designated lands wrong, so, too, were his four subsequent dependent claims. But persisting in his flawed analysis of this subject, he identifies a related statement in The Jefferson Lies to which he also objects:
Another key claim related to spreading the Gospel to Indians in The Jefferson Lies is Barton’s assertion that Jefferson negotiated and signed “a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that directly funded Christian missionaries, and provided federal funding to help erect a church building in which they might worship.”[lxxviii]
The relevant portion of that 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskia states:
And whereas the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic church, to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years, one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.[lxxix]
Despite this clear language, Throckmorton amazingly claims that this treaty did nothing to fund Christian missionaries:
The United States gave money toward a church building and provided a stipend for a priest to continue work already begun, which included both religious and nonreligious duties. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic converts. It is inaccurate to say the federal government sent missionaries to the Kaskaskia Indians; the federal government provided limited financial support for a limited time for the support of a priest already working with this group.[lxxx]
Here again Throckmorton views evangelism as a static, already-completed activity. And even though the treaty explicitly provided federal funding for a Catholic “priest to perform the duties of his office,” Throckmorton holds that this priest was not a missionary and that my characterization is therefore wrong. But Catholic authorities disagree, specifically affirming that the Catholic priests who worked with the Kaskaskia definitely were missionaries;[lxxxi] and Jefferson signed a treaty that funded the priest in his missionary and other duties. Throckmorton is simply parsing words in an attempt to make a distinction where there is no difference. Even if he were correct, however, the example of the Kaskaskia tribe still supports my main point that Jefferson did not embrace the sort of strict separation between church and state advocated by organizations such as the ACLU, AU, FFRF, and others. What would those groups say about legislation that funded a Catholic priest, even if the priest was prohibited from doing missionary work?
Incidentally, the willingness of President Jefferson to accommodate the religious desires of the Kaskaskias in this 1803 treaty by funding not only a priest but also “the erection of a church” is to be highly commended, especially considering the fact that the Kaskasakias were a tribe of “only fifteen or sixteen warriors.”[lxxxii] Yet despite its almost inconsequential size, Jefferson nevertheless approved significant amounts of money to secure the Christian practice of a tribe with very few members.
Throckmorton may not personally like what Congress and Thomas Jefferson did in regard to missionaries among native peoples; he may even vehemently disagree with their actions; but there is no excuse for being so disingenuous as to assert that neither Congress nor Jefferson directly facilitated missionary work among native peoples.
Perhaps Throckmorton’s refusal to acknowledge so many self-evident and even irrefutable facts on this topic is because he holds a negative view of Christian missionary work among native peoples. After all, he specifically complains that …
the federal government pushed Christianity on Native American tribes until early in the 20th century. Native children were removed from their families in elementary school and sent away to board schools, sometimes run by church groups. They were forbidden to speak their language or follow their native customs. Some recall harsh punishments if the rules were violated. Christian Native Americans agree that the treatment was demeaning and offensive.[lxxxiii]
Throckmorton sees Christian missionary work among native peoples as atrocity-filled—something that broke up families, coerced faith and western culture, and harshly punished those who committed even minor violations of the missionaries’ inflexible pharisaical beliefs. Yet the Moravians clearly state that their missionaries had long before learned that “nothing is effected with Indians by force or constraint,”[lxxxiv] and rather than requiring native peoples to conform to English beliefs and practices, Moravians acknowledged that their missionaries “lived and dressed in the Indian manner, so that in travelling they were often taken for Indians.”[lxxxv]
A further indication of Throckmorton’s generally negative view of Christian Anglo/Indian relations is his claim that it was threats from the white man that kept the Christian Delaware from returning to the lands reserved for them by Congress.[lxxxvi] But the Moravians who lived and worked with those Delaware avow otherwise, succinctly reporting:
The Congress of the United States had ordered that the district belonging to the three congregations on the Muskingum should be restored to them … and the people were desirous to return; but the [unChristian] Delaware and other pagan Indians positively declared that they would not suffer [allow] it.[lxxxvii]
[T]he Congress of the United States, after the conclusion of the war with Great Britain, had given express orders that the territory on the Muskingum formerly inhabited by the Christian Indians should be reserved for them. … Various impediments, however, as yet prevented their return. The savages were still determined to carry on the war against the United States, and a great part of the Delawares and Shawanose declared their intention to oppose the return of the Christian Indians.[lxxxviii]
[A] tract of land was procured and a settlement was commenced. … Here parts of the scattered congregation gradually collected, and the village and adjoining fields began to be admired, when the hostility of the surrounding Indians compelled them to abandon it in 1786.[lxxxix]
But the hostility of their pagan neighbors would not allow the [Delaware] pilgrims to rest in their present location. They left it in 1787. …[xc]
The greatest impediment to the return of the Christian Delaware was not Anglo but rather Indian opposition. That opposition was very real; and on multiple occasions, known Indian converts were targeted, hurt, or killed by their unconverted brethren.[xci]
I am not arguing that the national government’s policy toward native people has always been perfect. To the contrary, some policies and actions have been undeniably atrocious. But the policies under consideration here were aimed at spreading the gospel, and in many instances they were successful. Even if one believes as a matter of principle that the government should not engage in such activities, Christians still should rejoice at these successes.
In summary, Throckmorton’s analysis of the relations between Congress, missionaries, and native peoples is typical of today’s separationist view under which it is inconceivable that there could have ever been a time wherein the federal government would have acted differently on religion than the secularist manner in which it does today. Throckmorton thus measures historical actions by his modern beliefs and experience on the subject—an academic malpractice defined in The Jefferson Lies as “Modernism,” which interprets historical events and persons as if they occurred and lived today rather than in the past, thus resulting in a misrepresentation of historical beliefs and events.[xcii]
Jefferson wanted a greater separation between church and state than many Founders, but even he did not advocate the complete and utter separation favored by contemporary organizations such as the ACLU. Given the many jurists, academics, and popular authors who claim that he did, it is a shame that Throckmorton misses this larger argument and instead strains at gnats.
Jefferson and a Bible for the use of Indians
Although later in life Thomas Jefferson did not believe that the full Bible was the inspired, infallible word of God, that does not mean that he thought it unimportant. In Chapter 3 of The Jefferson Lies, I discuss the two separate and distinct abridgements of the Bible made by the sage of Monticello. The first was clearly intended for use by Native Americans, the second was for his own personal study. Surprisingly, Throckmorton strongly objects to the commonly accepted view that Jefferson intended the 1804 Bible to be used by Native Americans. He writes that:
Jefferson may have had a fleeting interest in using his 1804 work with Indians, but we doubt it. The evidence is overwhelming that he did not share it with anyone and had no abiding interest in sharing it with Indians or missionaries.[xciii]
This claim is particularly odd given the title that Jefferson himself penned and placed on that 1804 work:
The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Unembarrassed [Uncomplicated] with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.[xciv] (emphasis added)
Jefferson’s title certainly indicates that he had an interest in sharing this work with native peoples, yet notice Throckmorton’s response to this seemingly obvious fact:
[T]he reference to Indians on the title page of the 1804 version is puzzling and seems to support claims that Jefferson’s work was designed for some kind of outreach to native people. Although is it possible that Jefferson entertained this purpose for a brief time, we doubt this. …[xcv]
Throckmorton finds it inconceivable that Jefferson would actually mean what he said about his own work; and since Jefferson’s words do not agree with the conclusion Throckmorton has already reached about Jefferson’s beliefs, he simply dismisses contradictory evidence—such as the title of the work itself.
Notice an additional reason he gives for disbelieving Jefferson:
Another reason to think that Jefferson did not really intend his work to be shared directly with native people is that he initially hoped to do the job using Greek, Latin, and French in addition to English but time constraints kept him to a more modest effort in 1804. As indicated by his own words and his purchases of Bibles in the four languages, Jefferson has planned this multilingual effort by as early as 1805. Surely, he did not intend the Indians to master Greek, Latin, French and English in order to comprehend the moral teachings of Jesus.[xcvi]
Throckmorton has confused Jefferson’s two distinctly separate works (the first from 1804, and the second from 1820), apparently concluding that they are really just two different phases of the same work.[xcvii] This is a truly astounding claim considering that:
- Jefferson personally assigned a distinctly different title to each of the two works;
- Jefferson indicated a separate purpose for each work: the first for the use of native peoples, the second for his own use;
- Jefferson’s first work was in English only; the second was in four languages: English, French, Latin, and Greek; and
- Bible verses Jefferson placed in each work were distinctly different from verses in the other.
In fact, concerning this latter point, the 1804 work includes 717 Bible verses[xcviii] and the 1820 work 1,090 verses.[xcix] While 574 verses appear in both works,[c] 516 verses (or 47 percent) of those found in the 1820 work are not found in the 1804 one,[ci] and 143 verses (or 13 percent) of those in the 1804 work do not appear in the 1820 one.[cii] It seems quite clear that the two works were distinctly different. In fact, since Jefferson had specifically announced that his 1804 abridgment was “for the Use of Indians” at “the Level of their Comprehension,” it would certainly not include the French, Latin, or Greek passages that he placed in his second work more than a decade later.
Throckmorton objects to other claims about Jefferson’s 1804 abridgement. For instance, he writes:
[B]arton [says] Jefferson knew the Indians in Virginia and hoped to get them to read the Bible. Specifically, Barton claims that Jefferson said that he grew up with Indians in Virginia.[ciii]
Throckmorton gives no reason for doubting my claim, which would seem to be well supported by Jefferson’s 1812 letter to John Adams wherein he recalled:
So much in answer to your inquiries concerning Indians, a people with whom in the early part of my life I was very familiar and acquired impressions of attachment and commiseration for them which have never been obliterated. Before the Revolution, they were in the habit of coming often and in great numbers to the seat of government, where I was very much with them. I knew much the great Outassetè the warrior and orator of the Cherokees; he was always the guest of my father on his journeys to and from Williamsburg.[civ]
This letter, along with other evidence discussed in The Jefferson Lies, indicates that Jefferson had an intimate knowledge of, and concern for, native people.
Throckmorton identifies yet another item with which he takes issue:
Barton said Jefferson gave his book of extracted verses from the Gospels to an unnamed missionary and asked the missionary to get the book printed for the Indians.[cv]
Why does Throckmorton object to this statement? He explains that a “reason to believe Jefferson had no abiding intent to share his work with the Indians is that he never did so.” He continues:
If this claim [by Barton] is true, then why wasn’t the book ever shared with Indians or missionaries to Indians? There is no evidence that Jefferson showed his 1804 moral extractions to anyone.[cvi]
Yet there is evidence. Henry Stephens Randall was the only biographer approved by the Jefferson family, and he was given full access to the family papers, family members, and family remembrances. His resulting 1858 three-volume set is still considered the most authoritative work written on Jefferson. In it, Randall reports:
This [i.e., the 1804 work] is sometimes mentioned as Mr. Jefferson’s “Collection for the Indians,” it being understood that he conferred with friends on the expediency of having it published in the different Indian dialects as the most appropriate book for the Indians to be instructed to read in.[cvii] (emphasis added)
The proof of Jefferson’s intent to distribute his 1804 work among native peoples is not only the title he himself placed on the work but also the testimony of his own family members and friends.
Let me close this section by pointing to one of the most strained arguments in Throckmorton’s book. He suggests that the “Indians” mentioned in the title of the 1804 abridgement might actually refer to Jefferson’s “political opponents.”[cviii] Really? Thomas Jefferson abridged the Bible for the use of John Adams, John Marshall, and other Federalists? This paragraph alone should raise red flags for anyone who thinks that Throckmorton is engaged in dispassionate historical analysis.
Jefferson and miracles
Jefferson is commonly characterized as a deist who rejected the idea that God intervenes in the affairs of men and nations. But scholars and popular writers who assert this should at least consider evidence that may not support their position. For instance, in his first inaugural address Jefferson implored “that Infinite Power Which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for Your peace and prosperity.” [cix] It is possible that these words are merely rhetorical flourish, but any writer who wants to argue that Jefferson is a deist should at least acknowledge and discuss such passages, which Throckmorton does not do.
An important contribution of The Jefferson Lies is to help dispel the common misconception that Jefferson did not include miracles in his 1804 abridgement of the Bible. I am not the first person to make this argument, and I openly acknowledge the work of earlier scholars who made a similar point. I understand that arguments can be made for and against the inclusion of miracles in Jefferson’s abridged Bible, and I discuss each position. But in the final analysis, I believe that I make a compelling case that Jefferson included miracles in his Bible, including the raising of Jarius’ daughter (Matthew 9:1), the healing of the bleeding woman (Matthew 9: 18-26), and the healing of two blind men (Matthew 9: 27-34),[cx] as well as including many other passages referring to the spiritual and supernatural.
But rather than engage in a serious debate about these questions, Throckmorton simply announces that I am wrong because “Dickinson Adams’ definitive work demonstrates that these texts were not included in either of Jefferson’s abridgments”[cxi] (emphasis added). He then goes on to assert that:
For these claims [on the inclusion of the miraculous], Barton cites Charles Sanford’s book, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, in a footnote. For some reason, Sanford erroneously included these four texts in his summary of Jefferson’s abridgments. However, these miraculous healings and events were not included by Jefferson.[cxii]
Why does Throckmorton consider Dickinson Adams’ reconstruction of Jefferson’s work “definitive” but Charles Sanford’s “erroneous”? Or more precisely, why would one of the reconstructions include Jefferson’s passages on the miraculous but not the other?
When Jefferson compiled that work, he wrote out the list of verses he planned to include and then began to cut them from the Bible in order to assemble them in a simple abridgment of the Gospels for the use of native peoples. But as his work progressed, Jefferson ended up snipping 16 additional Bible passages for inclusion that he had not listed in his handwritten draft. So in 1983 when Dickinson Adams reconstructed Jefferson’s work, he included all the passages Jefferson listed but struggled over what to do with the additional 16 Jefferson had clipped. Should he include them or not? Adams finally decided to use only 11-and-a-half of those passages, excluding the four-and-a-half that included (in Adams’ words):
M[atthew] 8:9-10 (the cure of the centurion’s servant); M[atthew] 9:33-34 (the casting out of a demon); M[atthew] 10:3-4 (the call of the Apostles); M[atthew] 11:2-9 (Jesus and John the Baptist); and a duplicate of M[atthew] 11:9.[cxiii]
Why did Adams decide to exclude these passages that Jefferson himself had clipped for inclusion? He admitted that he did so “because of their miraculous or supernatural content,”[cxiv] explaining that in his view, “The remaining four and a half clippings, however, consist of verses Jefferson is unlikely to have used and are thus excluded from the reconstructed text.”[cxv] Strikingly, even though Jefferson had personally selected and clipped passages containing the miraculous, Dickinson Adams decided not to use them because they did not comport with his own personal opinion about Jefferson’s beliefs on the subject.
Dr. Mark Beliles, who in 1993 did the most recent reconstruction of Jefferson’s 1804 work, gives an excellent overview of the difference in the three modern reconstructions, concisely explaining:
Unfortunately, there is no surviving copy of Jefferson’s first compilation of 1804. What has survived is a copy of the front page, an initial table of Scripture texts that he planned to use, and most importantly, the two New Testaments from which Jefferson clipped out the verses for his work. Dickinson Adams made a valuable reconstruction of Jefferson’s work in 1983 using two New Testaments identical to those that Jefferson used. This reconstruction showed there were sixteen passages that Jefferson clipped from the two New Testaments but did not include in the beginning table of texts. In his edition, Adams included eleven and one half of these passages. Some were not included based on his own assumptions about Jefferson’s beliefs, including two significant texts referring to the miracles of Christ. Others were left out because they were difficult to fit into the flow of the text. My edition partially rectifies this by including one text—Matthew 11:2-9, under my own heading: “Miracles Authenticate Christ’s Claims.” (Charles Sanford in his The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, goes further and claims that all of Matthew 9:18-34 was in Jefferson’s first compilation. This would have included the resurrection of Jarius’ daughter, the healing of the bleeding woman, and the healing of two blind men, in addition to the casting out of a demon.)[cxvi]
Thus the basis for Throckmorton’s pronouncement that I (along with Sanford and Beliles) was wrong about Jefferson having included miracles was not Jefferson’s own actions from 1804 but rather a modern scholar’s personal opinion from 1983. Dickinson Adams’ position is not patently unreasonable, but neither are his words the definitive and final word on this subject.
Jefferson and the Virginia Bible Society
Scholars often portray Jefferson as a man who had little use for the Holy Scriptures. In The Jefferson Lies, I show that Jefferson read the Bible, regularly referenced it, and that he promoted its use. As well, I note that he “was an active member of the Virginia Bible Society. This was an organization that distributed the full, unedited text of the Bible, including with all its supernatural references.”[cxvii]
Not surprisingly, Throckmorton objects to anything that affiliates Jefferson with the Bible. He is particularly critical of my claim that he was a member of this organization:
Even though the claim that Jefferson had anything to do with the founding of the Virginia Bible Society is false, it is worth noting that Jefferson’s actions in support of the Bible could be viewed as contradicting his clear contempt for the dross and the dunghill that he believed much of the Bible was. Just two years prior to denouncing the concept of taking Bibles to other nations, Jefferson donated $50 to the fledgling Bible Society of Virginia and one of the society’s leaders portrayed him as a member.[cxviii]
By way of background, America’s first Bible Society was formed in Philadelphia in 1808, and over the next eight years, 121 additional Bible Societies were established across the country.[cxix] The Virginia Bible Society was formed in 1813. The purpose of each was the same: to provide a Bible without cost to anyone who could not afford or did not have a Bible, including prisoners, the sick or elderly, or the poor.
In November 1813, Samuel Greenhow, the treasurer of the Virginia Bible Society, contacted Jefferson concerning the new organization. (Greenhow was also Jefferson’s agent at the Mutual Assurance Society, a Virginia fire insurance company founded in 1794.) Greenhow approached Jefferson with great deference:
Sir, I [am] very unwilling to be considered as impertinent [presumptuous and rude] and have therefore hesitated before I determined that I might without impertinence enclose to you a copy of the address and constitution of an association in Virginia for the distribution of Bibles gratuitously [without charge] to those who are not able to purchase them. … This association has no tendency to produce any legal preference of sects [denominations]—that it exists made up of persons of all the different religious sects known among us is perhaps (under God) the result of that perfect toleration secured to us in all matters relative to religion. … If, as I imagine is certain, the system of morals inculcated in the New Testament is the most perfect in existence—if the most correct principles of civil liberty are presented in that Book …—then without inquiring whether you or I receive this book as a work of inspiration, I shall hope for your patronage of the Association. We should be much pleased to number you among the members of the Society; but if you should prefer it, we will thankfully receive any donation that you may be pleased to aid us with.[cxx]
Jefferson read the constitution of the new society, and then responded to Greenhow:
I presume the views of the Society are confined to our own country, for which the religion of other countries my own forbids intermeddling. I had not supposed there was a family in this state not possessing a Bible, and wishing without having the means to procure one. When in earlier life I was intimate with every class, I think I never was in a house where that was the case. However, circumstances may have changed, and the Society, I presume, have evidence of the fact. I therefore enclose you cheerfully an order on Messrs. Gibson & Jefferson for fifty dollars for the purposes of the Society, sincerely agreeing with you that there never was a more pure and sublime system of morality delivered to man than is to be found in the four evangelists. Accept the assurance of my esteem and respect.[cxxi]
Notice that Jefferson says he gives his gift “cheerfully” and that it is “for the purposes of the Society.” What was the purpose of the society? The answer was succinctly set forth in the document Jefferson had just read:
The object of the Society is the distribution of Bibles and Testaments to the poor of our country, and to the Heathen.[cxxii]
Jefferson said that he had given his contribution to support this purpose—a fact also recognized by Greenhow, who acknowledged:
I am also gratified that my application [solicitation for a donation] has been successful as to its object, because that success assures me that you approve our association. …[cxxiii]
Throckmorton ignores this, however, explaining instead that:
Jefferson’s donation was apparently a one-time contribution. There is no evidence in Jefferson’s writings that he accepted Greenhow’s invitation to join the organization.[cxxiv]
But the document that Greenhow sent and which Jefferson read proves exactly the opposite.
Why did Jefferson give the specific amount of $50 to the society? Why not $25, or $40, or some other greater or lesser amount? The answer is found in the rules of the society that Jefferson had just examined:
Persons of every religious creed or denomination may become Members of this Society upon paying five dollars subscription money, and binding themselves to pay four dollars annually so long as they choose to continue in the Society. The payment, however, of fifty dollars in advance, shall without any further contribution constitute a person member for life.[cxxv] (emphasis added)
Jefferson gave $50; and according to the document he had just read, that specific one-time amount “without any further contribution” made him a “member for life” of the Virginia Bible Society. Throckmorton incorrectly interpreted this as an insignificant “one-time contribution,” but it was “one-time” because it was such a large amount that the society asked nothing more from such major donors.
By the way, this membership policy was not something unusual or even unique to Virginia; it was common across the nation. For example:
Each person who becomes a member of the Society shall pay five dollars at the time of subscribing the constitution, and two dollars every year afterwards. Persons who subscribe fifty dollars or more shall be members during life without any further contribution.[cxxvi] Bible Society of Philadelphia
For the Bible Society of Massachusetts, the annual membership was $2, and lifetime was $50;[cxxvii] with the New Jersey Bible Society, it was $3 initially, $1 annually, and $25 for a life membership;[cxxviii] in New Hampshire, it was $2 or $3 annually, or $40 for life;[cxxix] in Vermont, $2 annually, or $20 for life;[cxxx] etc. Apparently, not only was the commonly designated yearly donation level around $2, but Virginia had one of the highest giving standards for lifetime memberships, yet Jefferson “cheerfully” contributed that amount.
John Holt Rice, an officer of the society, based on the rules of the Virginia Society, accurately reported that Jefferson was a member.[cxxxi] Yet Throckmorton considers this claim to be false, suggesting that it might be nothing more than what he described as “puffery” on the part of Rice.[cxxxii]
Throckmorton may not like the rules of the Virginia Bible Society; he may not like the fact that Jefferson read those rules and contributed accordingly; he may not like what Rice said about Jefferson; but none of that changes the historical facts. Throckmorton is simply wrong on this point.
Even though Throckmorton convinced himself that Jefferson was not a member of the Virginia Bible Society, he was still apparently troubled that Jefferson made a donation to the body. This leads him to speculate that:
There might be a plausible explanation for Jefferson’s action to donate to a local society while holding such a dim view of the Bible and the aims of the American Bible Society. Jefferson did business with Samuel Greenhow and it is reasonable to suspect that he wanted to maintain cordial relationships with his neighbors and business partners. Jefferson’s donation could be understood as an act of civility.[cxxxiii]
This suggestion makes little sense. Greenhow was Jefferson’s fire insurance agent—that is, he worked on Jefferson’s behalf. As such, it was incumbent on Greenhow to maintain good relations with Jefferson, not vice versa (which is one reason Greenhow had approached Jefferson so deferentially). Yet even if it had been otherwise, Jefferson could have easily demonstrated “civility” to Greenhow with a much smaller contribution; after all, it was Greenhow himself who had told Jefferson that “we will thankfully receive any donation that you may be pleased to aid us with.”
Throckmorton’s speculation that Jefferson gave $50 simply to demonstrate “civility” provides a good reason to examine Jefferson’s giving habits. According to his own financial records, he made some 565 charitable gifts to individuals, organizations, or societies. Of those, 93 percent were small gifts (e.g., $2, $5, $10, etc.). He made only 38 contributions of $50 or greater (about $1,250 in current value), with just under half of them (14) made to Christian churches, ministers, or ministries.[cxxxiv] Jefferson clearly was very generous to this category of recipients.
That Jefferson gave to Christian organizations and joined the Virginia Bible Society does not make him an evangelical Christian. But these facts are part of the historical record. They must be considered—not explained away or ignored—by anyone who wants to have an accurate understanding of Jefferson.
Jefferson and Bible subscriptions
In The Jefferson Lies, I discuss Jefferson’s role in helping to “finance the printing of one of America’s groundbreaking editions of the Bible”—the John Thompson Bible. The Bible was particularly interesting as it was the “largest Bible ever published in America to that time, [and] it was also America’s first hot-pressed Bible.”[cxxxv]
Throckmorton characterized the 23 items he addressed from The Jefferson Lies as being “key claims,”[cxxxvi] and this is one of them. Yet I cover the entire topic in fewer than seven of 6,417 lines in the book. In fact, the mention of this Bible was just one item from a list of nearly a dozen similar ones; so even if the reference to this Bible were completely removed, the overall point made in the chapter remains unaltered. But Throckmorton again attempts to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Throckmorton strenuously objects to my statement about the Thompson Bible and then launches into a lengthy exegesis about how Jefferson did not help “finance” or “fund” the Bible but rather only paid a subscription for it.[cxxxvii] He concludes that this was “hardly a way to provide ‘financial backing’ for a project,”[cxxxviii] explaining:
Buying a Bible by subscription was common then and was a way to provide the printer with some idea of how many copies to print. An analogy today might be to think of a magazine subscription as a purchase of a year’s volume of issues. You are committing to pay one price but might pay in payments instead. Another analogy would be pre-ordering a book. Selling by subscription allowed journeymen printers to manage a large project but the result was that the subscribers got what they paid for. The subscribers were not investors in the project. The investors in the project were printers, John Thompson and Abraham Small. The Bible would have been printed whether or not Jefferson and the other Founders subscribed.[cxxxix]
As historical documents show, however, Throckmorton is wrong with these assertions, and by them he demonstrates his unfamiliarity with the historic printing business in the Founding Era.
For example, if Throckmorton is correct about what a subscription means (i.e., “to think of a magazine subscription”), then how does he explain these entries from Jefferson’s ledger book?
I have subscribed to the building of an Episcopalian church ($200), a Presbyterian ($60), a Baptist ($25). …[cxl]
Subscribed towards building an Episcopal church in Washington, $100. …[cxli]
Subscribed to church (Episcopal) near Navy Yard ($50).[cxlii]
Subscribed $50 towards Methodist church in Georgetown.[cxliii]
Jefferson made similar economic efforts to assist other churches as well.[cxliv]
How does Throckmorton translate the analogy of a magazine subscription (a payment to purchase something already published) into providing advance funding and capital for the construction of a church? He can’t; his modernistic analogy is problematic, for a subscription at the time of Jefferson is not even remotely related to what it has become today.
Founding Father Noah Webster noted that a subscriber was one who pledged or promised to contribute a certain sum to an undertaking.[cxlv] This was true whether it was for printing a book, building a church, or constructing other edifices.
In the case of printing books in the Founding Era, subscribers gave to the publishers a pre-publication promise of money—i.e., a small IOU—to thus guarantee the funds necessary for the printer to remain solvent in the production of that work. In fact, because early publishers diligently worked to avoid debt, numerous proposed books were never published simply due to an insufficient number of subscribers, or pre-funders.[cxlvi] And contrary to Throckmorton’s claim, at that time subscribers were the investors, not the printers.
A modern example of this Founding Era practice in seen at www.kickstarter.com. This website lists countless contemporary projects, allowing investors to choose and invest in them (i.e., to subscribe them) at any amount, even down to a single dollar. Known as “crowd funding,"[cxlvii] it bypasses traditional modern means of investment.[cxlviii] The success rate in funding these proposed projects is under 50 percent,[cxlix] and if the project if not finished, pledged money remains uncollected.[cl]
This is exactly what occurred in the Founding Era. In fact, there were works to which Jefferson subscribed that were never printed due to insufficient subscribers or other problems.[cli] This is also why Jefferson paid the money for the Bible after it was printed, even though he had promised the money before (a fact which Throckmorton misunderstands due to his unfamiliarity with printing practices of the era.)
Throckmorton, in a further effort to make Jefferson’s subscription to John Thompson’s Bible seem irrelevant and meaningless, asserts:
It is not surprising that Jefferson would order one of these Bibles. Jefferson had an intellectual and personal interest in the Bible, as he did with many religious and philosophical books.[clii]
This suggestion is also problematic. Jefferson had more than 6,000 books in his personal library;[cliii] but he subscribed to only 22 books,[cliv] of which two were Bibles (and he offered to subscribe a third).[clv] Jefferson, as did most citizens, simply purchased books after they were printed; so why not do the same with the Thompson Bible if he were only seeking to add it to his library, as Throckmorton posits? One possibility is that Jefferson found the John Thompson Bible so important and of such unique interest to him that it was one of the few books to which he subscribed.
Although Jefferson did not subscribe to many books, he did subscribe the John Thompson Bible. He also subscribed Thomas Scott’s Bible.[clvi] Scott, along with John Newton—the writer of the hymn "Amazing Grace," were evangelical English ministers who helped establish the Church Missionary Society, an organization to perform mission work across the world.
As well, Jefferson offered to subscribe Charles Thomson’s Bible—the first American translation of the Greek Septuagint into English. The Septuagint, of course, was a third century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the use of Jews who no longer spoke Hebrew. Thomson translated both the Old and New Testaments from Greek into English.[clvii] Jefferson’s offer came too late, however, for sufficient funds had already been secured. But Thomson nevertheless sent Jefferson a copy after it was published. Receiving it shortly before he retired from the presidency, he told Thomson:
I thank you, my dear and ancient friend, for the two volumes of your translation which you have been so kind as to send me. … I shall use it with great satisfaction on my return home. I propose there, among my first employments, to give to the Septuagint an attentive perusal, and shall feel the aid you have now given me.[clviii]
Notice Jefferson’s declared intent to dig into the Greek Bible for himself and compare it with the translation made by Thomson. This Bible was clearly not just another book he obtained simply to add to his ever-growing library.
Let me reiterate that what I wrote was not addressing whether or not Jefferson believed the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Indeed, I openly and repeatedly acknowledge in Chapter 7 of The Jefferson Lies that in his latter years Jefferson definitely did not believe this. Nevertheless, the Holy Scriptures were still very important to him. Students of the era who hope to understand how the Founders used and viewed the Bible must take into account all of the facts. In The Jefferson Lies I attempted to shine a light on Jefferson’s approach to the Bible. In The Founders’ Bible I discuss how many other Founders were influenced by the Holy Scriptures. I encourage anyone interested in these questions to read both texts with open minds and let the evidence speak for itself.
Incidentally, as an aside to this specific review of Throckmorton’s critique, one of the complaints raised in the media by some critics was that I claimed that Jefferson to be an orthodox Christian. This accusation helps support my earlier suggestion that many critics of The Jefferson Lies have not read the book. Perhaps they were only reacting to a characterization of my argument made by Throckmorton or Richards. But let me be clear here. In dealing with Jefferson’s faith, I document that he went through several phases in his spiritual life. His early writings, including those during the Great Awakening, were generally orthodox (see, for example, his 1776 “Notes on Religion”), but he later came to reject numerous tenets of orthodox Christianity. In fact, I dedicate some 16 pages to Jefferson and his quotations from latter years demonstrating his rejection of basic doctrines of Christian orthodoxy.[clix] Yet this important distinction did not appear in the media articles.
Jefferson was an incredibly complex person. Early in life he apparently was a typical Anglican gentleman, but later in life embraced unorthodox beliefs. But throughout all phases of his life he maintained an open respect and admiration for Jesus Christ and Christian values and morality, and he regularly promoted Christianity in ways that make today’s secularists and separationists uncomfortable.
It is certainly proper for Warren Throckmorton to offer a robust critique of The Jefferson Lies, but I wish he had engaged the substance of my arguments. Instead, he repeatedly focuses on narrow facts that he asserts are “key” to my premise. In virtually all cases, he does not refute even the narrow fact itself but rather offers a different interpretation of it. In a very few cases, he shines a light on sections of the book that will be revised for clarity in the next edition, and for this, I am thankful, for he has helped improve the volume, which will be released by Simon & Schuster this year.
I have not attempted to respond to each and every criticism Throckmorton levels at The Jefferson Lies. Instead, I have addressed a sample of his criticisms. While Throckmorton and I have our differences, I am grateful to him for reading the book before criticizing it. It is clear that most of the scholars and pundits who criticized the book did not do the same. I would strongly encourage members of the media who rely on expert opinions to (1) make sure these “experts” are specialists in religion and the American Founding, and (2) insist that they read my work before criticizing it.