Getting Jefferson Right – A Review

In The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (2012), reviewed here yesterday, pseudo-historian David Barton employs numerous sins against the rules of logic (straw men and false dilemma’s abound), not to mention honesty, in an attempt to “reclaim” Thomas Jefferson as a Evangelical Christian, a Jefferson more useful to Barton’s culture warrior goals than is the Jefferson of history.

It seems only fair then that I review a book that serves as an important corrective to Barton’s biases. In Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, conservative Christian scholars Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter set the record straight, issuing a much-needed correction to Barton’s best-selling book. Sadly, it is unlikely to get the attention Barton’s book has received.

This is a point-by-point take-down of Barton’s claims (with the glaring omission of Barton’s claims about Jefferson and  Sally Hemmings) and it is brilliantly done, appealing to those same texts Barton uses and showing how Barton cherry-picks Jefferson’s words, fails to understand his meanings, or takes them out of context – even inventing “facts” out of whole cloth without substantiated them textually. They show how Barton invents terms (including especially “Academic Collectivism”) and misinterprets others, like post-structuralism (Barton even omits the hyphen). Barton’s technique is tendentious in the extreme, constructing arguments and terms to attack and destroy.

Throckmorton and Coulter do not cherry-pick Jefferson’s words in order to force history to conform to ideology but carefully examine his words, showing the reader where Barton has led them astray. Simply set this book alongside Barton’s; you can go from Barton’s carefully numbered lies to Throckmorton’s and Coulter’s analysis and almost watch the winds clear away the clouds of deceit.

There is no way of course Throckmorton and Coulter can counter every single one of the lies Barton tells but they do a very good job regardless, beginning with a discussion about how history should be done before examining the all-important issue of Jefferson’s views on church and state and the grounds for disestablishment.

One might accuse Barton of simply not understanding the issues under discussion but the number of times he is caught in an outright lie (for example, with regards the famous Jefferson Bible) make it difficult to accept that Barton is not willfully engaging in a corruption of history for his own ends.

The authors here explain facets of 18th century history that Barton does not, for example, why documents Jefferson signed contained the words “In the Year of Our Lord Christ” (they were there according to treaty, pre-printed, not hand-written, on the document to be signed); and they show how Barton tells only half the story when he claims Jefferson wanted a Biblical story on the National Seal: Jefferson wanted the biblical story on one side and a Pagan story on the other – the Pagan Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa. Barton doesn’t want his Evangelical fanboys and girls to know about inconvenient facts like this.

They also show how Barton outright lies about Jefferson founding the Virginia Bible Society (Barton doesn’t even attempt to prove it – he just asserts it is so) and refute Barton’s claim that Jefferson “financed” the first hot pressed Bible (he subscribed to it, like hundreds of others).  Obviously, owning a Bible doesn’t make you a Christian and Jefferson owned more than one – he also owned a Qur’an, though Barton won’t publicize this.

Another of Barton’s lies claims Jefferson established the University of Virginia as a transdenominational school and Throckmorton and Coulter demolish this as they do his others: the August 4, 1818 Rockfish Gap Report of the University Board of Visitors “about religion in the plan for the University” exposes Barton for the liar he is, as does a November 2, 1822 letter of Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper (important parts of which Barton omits to make his argument). An August 5, 1821 letter from Jefferson’s “point man” in the Virginia Legislature illustrates the hostility of the religious community for the university. In the words of Throckmorton and Coulter, “If there was some contemporaneous sense of the University as being “transdenominational” important religious leaders in Virginia didn’t feel it.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is absolutely essential to read this book if you intend to read Barton’s. Significantly, the authors are not atheists: they are both professors at conservative Christian colleges who assert that Christian ethics and belief inform their scholarship. They are both, in the end, honest scholars willing to examine the facts on the ground and render the necessary judgment: and therefore in the end, they are everything Barton is not and their book is everything Barton’s will never be: actual history. If there is such a thing as “academic collectivism” we apparently need more of it.

As a final note, I read this book in its Kindle format and it does suffer from the all-too typical Kindle formatting issues and it is not always clear when blockquotes end and begin. There were also initial issues with images not appearing but that has been corrected. You do not have to own a Kindle to read a Kindle book: you can download the Kindle app and read it on your computer or on your iPad. I can only conclude by offering kudos to Mssrs. Throckmorton and Coulter for a job well done.

11 Replies to “Getting Jefferson Right – A Review”

  1. It is becoming more and more apparent that the radical fundamentalist christian nation groups are positioning more and more their brand of cult propaganda into the mainstream of America. Their “7 Mountains” mandate is a battle plan, not a sacred “belief”; this “reclaiming” of history is obviously more attempts to spread their “code” and wage war on academics.

    They have been mucking up the scientific community for the last few decades, enlisting finding apologist to support their “reclaiming” both financially and politically. They have been “training” (in most cases brainwashing from birth) their off-spring to become “scholarly” on all levels to as way to steeple-jack our schools; they create their own “universities” with minimum standards as a way to puff up their ranks…on and on…this is a stealth war for the minds of any and all who they can trick…

    The core of the problem is, if more actual academics (and in this case historians) do not rise and expose these bible barbarians every single time they publish rubbish, then they become complicate. If they do not step up and “fight” these lies, but, laugh at them thinking it’s beneath their dignity, humor them, then these academics can look forward to a future where they will be treated as a prior academics a few generations ago, in the 30’s and 40’s…in Germany and then across Europe. They can look forward to history repeating itself.

  2. Imagine in private schools across the US kids are being taught this garbage. I do not think that my tax money should go to charter schools that teach the Barton BS

  3. In reading Orwell’s 1984, I found it very interesting the way news articles were “corrected” to reflect what was happening. If there was a prediction about crop growth, and it was off, then the government would correct the “prediction” by correcting the figures of the past article to prove they were the “all seeing and all knowing” government they were suppose to be. It was a frightening look at our future, and it seems as though Barton has taken his policy ideas straight our of 1984.
    For grins and giggles, I did some research on the statement Jefferson made that has become famous, “building a wall between Church and State…”. According to Barton, this means the wall is one way, with the state representing the Church.
    I found this idea a total manipulation of the facts; seems as though Jefferson was sending a very loud message to the Federalists in the New England states that he strongly believed in keeping religion OUT of government, and this letter was that very loud shot back at them. (The Federalists had accused Jefferson of being an atheist, and were strong supporters of a state sponsored religion, something Jefferson, and most of the founding fathers were TOTALLY AGAINST!)
    Barton says he is an historian, what he really is a student of propaganda, and a good one at that.
    As stated by SinghX above, Barton is the tip of the spear of this stealth attack on the very foundations of our country and science. As of today, they seem to be winning the war, by inserting “Creationism” in our schools and attacking health issues as an attack on religious freedom. Dangerous, and ill advised to ignore.
    As Herf has pointed out, unless the works of Barton are exposed for the lies and manipulations they really are the right wing will continue to win the war. “Getting Jefferson right…” needs to be as popular as Barton’s book. How we, as a free nation, do this is the real question. Unless this is done, this stealth war will continue with its small but devastating victories, until their “truths” win out and the real “truths” are drowned out as lies and fabrications. Like I have said before…Be afraid, be very afraid! (I borrowed that from Aliens, to give them the credit for the statement)

  4. I just visited the Digg thread and there is actually somebody arguing that Jefferson left the Jesus narrative intact, miracles and all – didn’t even both to read the Jefferson Bible before claiming it is something it is not – these are the people Barton is preaching to and they are hearing exactly what they want to hear – an affirmation of their warped and reality-free worldview

  5. Getting Jefferson right. – Well Jefferson basically wrote the Constitution but the job of interpreting the Constitution falls to the Supreme Court which has been packed by dopes who don’t know the difference between a citizen and a corporation.. Idiots who game the voting system by letting unlimited corporate money follow the path into the highly consolidated corporate media and buy ads to influence the vote.. Half, only half as many Americans get their info on the issues, their news from the internet as from TV..
    No wonder Journalism, which Jefferson held so high is not a high concern of the Supreme Court – the corporates want an uniformed voter. No wonder the Internet is under repeated attack with it having been taken out of the realm of communications with protection of freedom of speech, then having the wireless handed over to corporations for regulation, then most recently with CISPA after ACTA, SOPA and PIPA or whatever they are called.. The Powers-that-be they want the internet neutered not kept free. They don’t want net neutrality and fear monger every chance they get.. The corporates don’t stand for America, for the USA they stand for profit and consolidation and greed. But it’s way worse than that because the Earth is overheating and soon won’t be able to be rescued by even the strongest of efforts.. The sky is loaded with heat trapping gasses and it is starting to cause the self release of vast, truly vast amounts of vulnerable carbon. Methane deposits primarily in the Arctic to start with.

    This is an emergency, a full blown emergency not a time to whistle to a coward’s tune.. Folks

  6. James Madison is considered the main author of the Constitution. Jefferson was serving in France as the Ambassador during the Constitutional Convention.

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