Author of numerous best-selling book, his latest: The Jefferson Lies (2012)
Founder, Wall Builders, a national pro-family organization that presents America’s forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on moral, religious and constitutional heritage
3 Adult Children
David Barton: The Jefferson Lies
The 700 Club
THE MAN AND THE MYTHS
David says when he speaks at universities and law schools across the nation, he likes to display a photo of the famous signing of the Declaration. “I often comment that it is unfortunate that the Founding Fathers were a collective group of racists, bigots and slaveholders,” says David. “Almost always, I receive nods of sad affirmation from the students.” When David asks the students to pount out which signers owned slaves, they usually point to Thomas Jefferson. They know he owned slaves yet don’t know that he was antislavery and introduced or passed antislavery legislation. David says Jefferson indisputably shaped America for the better and exerted a positive influence on other nations. So why can Americans only list the negatives about Jefferson and so few positives? David says the answer is found in 20th century practices that now dominate the study of American history, including the telling of only one side of the story and spinning it negatively.
In Jefferson’s defense, David addresses some of the biggest myths about Jefferson’s reputation:
- Lie: He fathered a child/children by his young slave girl, Sally Hemings.
Truth: In 1998, the journal Science released the results of a DNA inquiry as to whether Jefferson fathered any children through his slave Sally Hemings. Eight weeks after the blockbuster DNA story was issued, it was quietly retracted, without fanfare. The news exonerating Jefferson did not make the same splash in the headlines. The announcement came at the beginning of President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings for lying under oath to a grand jury about his sexual activities with a young intern in the Oval Office. They argued Thomas Jefferson had engaged in sexual tysts so therefore President Clinton should not face questions about his sexual misbehavior.
- Lie: Jefferson wrote his own Bible and edited out the things he didn’t agree with.
Truth: Jefferson was an active member of the Virginia Bible Society, an organization that distributed the full, unedited text of the Bible. In 1798, Jefferson personally financed the printing of one of America’s groundbreaking editions of the Bible. He also owned many complete Bibles. Jefferson compiled two religious works, one in 1804 and the second in 1820. Neither was a Bible. His first work was prepared for the use of Indians and was about Jesus drawn solely from the four Gospels called The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, being Extracted from the Account of His Life and Docrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was an abridgement of the major doctrines and was an opportunity to promote Christianity. Over many years, Jefferson repeatedly demonstrated his interest in bringing Christianity to the Indians. He signed a treaty and a federal act for propagating the Gospel among Indians. His second work was titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Its sole purpose was to collect and present the major moral teachings of Jesus in one short collection.
- Lie: Jefferson advocated a secular public square through the separation of church and state.
Truth: Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson expressing concern over the proposed government protections for their free exercise. They were trying to protect their free exercise of religion and that the government should not interfere with any public religious expression unless that practice caused someone to genuinely work ill will to his neighbor. Jefferson believed that the federal government had NO authority to interfere with, limit, regulate or prohibit public religious expressions, a position he repeated on many occasions. In a reply letter to them on January 1, 1802, Jefferson assured them that they had nothing to fear: the government would not meddle with their religious expressions. In 1947 in Emerson v Board of Education, the Supreme Court announced it would reverse this historic meaning and ruled that a school in Illinois had made the mistake of allowing voluntary religious activities by students, a practice that had characterized American education for the previous three centuries.
David reminds us that Jefferson was a remarkable man. When we don’t tell the whole truth, we are blinded by bias. In the case of Jefferson, one of the easiest ways to check his story is to read some of the earlier biographies about him. The general public is no longer knowledgeable enough about history to recognize these claims as false. “He had some faults, probably much fewer than many other leaders, but he had numerous virtues worth of study and emulation,” says David.
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