David Barton is an evangelical Christian minister who styles himself a historian. Glenn Beck is a fan, once calling him “the Library of Congress in shoes.”
Barton’s latest (and best selling) book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, is an attempt to prove that Jefferson was more conventionally religious than historians portray. (He was kinda almost like a modern day evangelical, apparently.) The problem is, he wasn’t. He was a Unitarian who denied the divinity of Jesus and believed much of the Bible was “the fabric of very inferior minds.” (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814) He did very much admire the teachings of Jesus, and that’s why he literally cut and pasted his teachings into a much truncated personal Bible. Barton’s claim that Jefferson put together this little text to convert Indians is laughable; Jefferson included the Greek, Latin, French, and English versions of his selections side-by-side so he could read and compare the text in all four languages–are we to believe that Jefferson thought the Indians were too dull to comprehend an unabridged version of the Bible but then would require them to read the shortened version in French, Greek, and Latin?
Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, two conservative professors from Grove City College in Pennsylvania have published a 250-page book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President, which is entirely devoted to debunking Barton’s error-ridden and misleading work. Largely due to their laudable effort, Barton’s publisher has ceased the publication and distribution of the book. (A private publisher’s decision to cease supporting a work that they have determined does not meet their standards is not censorship, as this site claims.)
A good supplement to Throckmorton and Coulter’s corrective is Greg Forster’s blog post that critiques Barton’s writings on John Locke. You can also go to Barton’s own site, Wallbuilders, where he and his researchers explain their methodology for attributing quotes to the founders; there, Barton and his team concede that many of quotes he had reproduced in earlier works are “unconfirmed,” but they nonetheless insist that the quotes “are nevertheless completely consistent not only with the character of these men but also with the character of their era.” As interpreted by them, of course. What a standard.
Barton’s work should make a fine edition to the average Romney voter’s bookshelf, right alongside Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln and the piano performance major Joshua Charles’s “translation” of some of the Federalist Papers into “modern” English.