Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Since the blog is on a holiday kick, I thought that this might be an appropriate way to continue the theme. After all, I don't want to be the one that breaks with tradition!

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 -- October 14, 1789 to be exact -- has been lauded by Christian nation sympathizers for decades as proof positive that America's first Commander-in-Chief was a devout believer in Jesus Christ. And while I am in 100% agreement with their assertion that Washington was a devout man of faith and prayer, I also recognize that the historical record -- as it applies to Washington's religion -- is far from concrete in labeling him a devout Christian.

Let us look at the Thanksgiving document itself for additional evidence on Washington's faith. First off, most anti-Christian nation advocates routinely point out the fact that the actual author of the proclamation was not President Washington, but William Jackson, the President's personal secretary. And while it is true that Washington did not himself pen the proclamation, it is reasonable to assume that he read and gave consent to the document's contents, thus the actual authorship of the piece has little to no relevance. What is relevant, however, is the wordage that was chosen to pay homage to God. Does Washington actually invoke the blessings of the Christian God as so many Christian nation apologists insist? Below is a copy of Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington
As noted in bold above, Washington's proclamation contains five specific references to deity. Contrary to what many anti-Christian nation advocates claim, the document is clearly religious in its content and purpose. However, does it support the Christian nation crowd's assertion that Washington was a devout Christian? I would argue that it does not. With that said, it is more than clear from this document and others that Washington was a man of faith. What TYPE of faith is the real question we must endeavor to answer.

As I have pointed out in a previous post, the language used by Washington when speaking of deity can be seen as a good barometer of the General's personal religious creed. In his book, Sacred Fire author Peter Lillback successfully illustrates the fact that Washington was indeed a man of prayer and faith. However, his work falls short of conclusively proving that Washington was a devout Christian. In Appendix 3 of his book, Lillback lists all of Washington's public papers that mention God. As Lillback states at the beginning of his appendix:


One of the elements of the Christian faith that was suspect, and eventually abandoned by Deists, was the practice of prayer. This was logical since there was little purpose in speaking to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contact and communication with his creation.

Given this understanding, Washington's lifetime practice of prayer, illustrated by these more than one hundred written prayers, is an undeniable refutation of his alleged Deism...The sheer magnitude of the umber of prayers, coupled with the expansive topics included in his prayers, give substantial credence to the universal testimony of Washington's contemporaries of his practice of corporate and private prayer.

This underscores how misplaced contemporary scholars have been in claiming that Washington was a man of lukewarm religious faith.
(761).
With this in mind, I decided that it would be worthwhile to dissect the various "written prayers" that Peter Lillback sites in his book. After all, the language that Washington used in these prayers should be a valuable tool in determining Washington's actual beliefs.

Here are the actual phrases that Washington used in his "written prayers" to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used:

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Salvation" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0


And the same can be said of Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation. Instead of using words like "Messiah," "Savior," "Jesus Christ," etc., Washington chooses neutral phrases like, "Great Lord and Ruler of Nations," "Almighty God," and "great and glorious Being." As is evidenced from Lillback's work, Washington made it a habit to avoid using the language of a typical devout Christian of his day, which would logically seem to suggest that Washington was not the orthodox Christian so many wish him to be.

45 comments:

Kristo Miettinen said...

Brad,

when you say "George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 -- October 14, 1789 to be exact -- has been lauded by Christian nation sympathizers for decades as proof positive that America's first Commander-in-Chief was a devout believer in Jesus Christ", who are you accusing?

I just looked up Barton's treatment of that proclamation in "The Myth of Separation", found it on pages 114-5. Barton, for one, does not seem guilty as charged. And if he is not, given his stature of boogeyman, then who is?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think Barton is one of the folks who argues for a "Christian" Founding in the sense Brad and I criticize. Yet, he's probably done enough research on the issue that he knows figures like John Adams denied orthodox doctrines or Washington gives little evidence in believing in them. So he gives lawyerlike sophistic answers.

To the Christian tradition in which Barton is derived you must believe in things like Jesus' Divinity, the Atonement and praying in Jesus' name to be a "real Christian" and therein lies Barton's dilemma.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon, this is off-topic for Brad's post, but Barton makes his case for what sense of Christianity he is talking about when he speaks of a "orthodox" in chapter 2 of MoS. It is not what you rail against, and is in fact basically my position, with an additional wrinkle that I never considered.

But my question to Brad stands: is he arguing against a significant adversary, against a trivial adversary, or against an imaginary adversary?

bpabbott said...

As part of the article entitled Celebrating Thanksgiving in America, Barton writes;

-----------------------------------
That congressional resolution was delivered to President George Washington, who heartily concurred with the request and issued the first federal Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring in part:

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. . . . Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 . . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection. 16"
-----------------------------------

I think that qualifies Barton as the "boogeyman" charged.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

If Barton's definition of Christianity is the same as yours, he's not doing a good enough job of demonstrating this to his followers; they are the very kind of folks who are most likely to claim "Mormonism" isn't "Christianity."

Ben,

I think that comes right from the Thanksgiving Proclamation that GW gave; it shows that Washington believed in an active personal God; but it is utterly devoid of explicitly Christian sentiments. A traditional Christian Thanksgiving proclamation would end "In Jesus' Name." That Washington and the the Presidents who followed him didn't do their God talk "in Jesus name" aptly demonstrates why America was not founded to be a "Christian" nation in a public-political sense.

bpabbott said...

Jon,

As usual, I'm completely with you.

I didn't offer the quote as evidence of GW's opinion.. Rather I offered it as evidence of Barton's.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, I can see how you'd have a problem with a small bit of Barton's phrasing, as in Washington "heartily concurred" with Sherman's sentiment.

However, we must return to my pal Hunter Baker's recent reminder that religion was in large part left to the states. We miss the greater reality of the Founding by focusing only on the federal government.

Barton writes:

"...most official Thanksgiving observances occurred at the state level. In fact, by 1815, the various state governments had issued at least 1,400 official prayer proclamations, almost half for times of thanksgiving and prayer and the other half for times of fasting and prayer."

Now, he's been wrong before, but this would be a key fact, and 1,400 is a lot of proclamations.

The other quotes aren't bad either, although I'm sure there's some excuse for Jefferson's:

[Congress] recommended [a day of] . . . thanksgiving and praise [so] that “the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and join . . . their supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to forgive [our sins] and . . . to enlarge [His] kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” 24 Continental Congress, 1777 – written by SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION SAMUEL ADAMS AND RICHARD HENRY LEE

[I] appoint . . . a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God . . . to [ask] Him that He would . . . pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would . . . spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; . . . and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue. 25 GOVERNOR THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1779

[I] appoint . . . a day of public thanksgiving and praise . . . to render to God the tribute of praise for His unmerited goodness towards us . . . [by giving to] us . . . the Holy Scriptures which are able to enlighten and make us wise to eternal salvation. And [to] present our supplications...that He would forgive our manifold sins and . . . cause the benign religion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be known, understood, and practiced among all the inhabitants of the earth. 26 GOVERNOR JOHN HANCOCK, 1790

Does Barton get it all more right than wrong? This is the only legitimate question for a seeker of truth. The rest is nitpicking, i'nt it?

Kristo Miettinen said...

Ben,

No. Not guilty, at least not on your evidence.

The charge is interpreting the passage as "proof positive that America's first Commander-in-Chief was a devout believer in Jesus Christ".

Barton doesn't come within 10 feet of such a claim, at least not in your passage. All Barton says is that Washington delivered a proclamation, and then he quotes the proclamation. No claim that this was "proof positive" of being a "devout believer in Jesus Christ".

Jon,

You would never permit me to judge you by the comments of the lesser lights out there who identify with your position and mention you in particular. Why do you judger Barton by such a standard?

Brad Hart said...

Kristo:

To be honest, I am not accusing anyone. I am simply pointing out that a number of people (and I wasn't really thinking of Barton) believe that this proclamation affirms Washington's Christian faith. I think that more people than you realize believe this to be true.

Abbott and TVD:

Thanks for the quotes. Very appropriate to the discussion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Why do you judger Barton by such a standard?

He eggs them on.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Brad,

If you're not accusing anyone in particular, then try (in your mind's eye) dropping that intro from your post and see how the rest of it reads. I think you'll see what I see, that without the structural support of rebutting someone in particular, your post doesn't make any complete point.

Thanksgiving proclamations are an interesting topic, and there are many of them to integrate into an understanding of what they meant to the founders, but that analysis can't be made from one example only (nor are you trying to make that analysis yet).

Attacking unidentified adversaries doesn't edify anyone.

Jon,

Can you substantiate your new accusation against Barton? Can you provide a link to the "worst of Barton", if you will, so that I can glimpse the evil that you have already seen?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

Yes. Here is what Chris Rodda (Barton's biggest critic) reports re the continuing scandal of Barton's "unconfirmed quotations."

It's pretty clear that Barton doesn't want anyone to stop using those quotes on his "Unconfirmed Quotations" list, a list he compiled only after being called on a few of his bogus quotes. The evidence? Six of the quotes from Barton's list appear in the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) textbook. And, guess who's on the Advisory Board for this curriculum -- DAVID freakin' BARTON!!!!

I wrote about this last spring in my series on the NCBCPS:

http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/3/31/121621/990


You can check out my post at talk2action where I discuss Robert Jeffress one of the figures whom Barton eggs on.

Jeffress would never say Mormons are Christian and if he knew what the key FFs really believed (their denial of the Trinity, eternal damnation, elevating works over faith, and acceptance of a broad path towards salvation) he *would not* term it "Christianity."

http://www.talk2action.org/story/2008/9/10/125741/323

Brad Hart said...

Kristo:

I can see where you and others might think I was attacking in my intro. However, my intention was to present a dichotomy between the pro and anti Christian nation crowds and then to present Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation in that light.

As for all the David Barton stuff, I never brought him up in the post but I can see where both sides (pro and anti Christin nation) have included him in this discussion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As for Barton, let's simply stipulate his errors and point them out by all means. But it's obvious his critics like Ms. Rodda are looking solely for errors in order to discredit Barton.

Were we aware of the quotes from Sam Adams and Governors Jefferson and Hancock that I pulled off the Wallbuilders' website [thx for the link, Ben]?

No, I don't think we are aware of them, and they're very important and relevant. We wouldn't be aware of them except for folks like Barton.

And here's the rub, and the game we play in this country these days. Find an inaccuracy, no matter how minor, and the entire testimony is, to use Ms. Rodda's favorite word, a lie.

This works in an adversarial situation like TV courtroom dramas, but is no way to go about investigating the truth.

bpabbott said...

Tom asked: "Does Barton get it all more right than wrong? This is the only legitimate question for a seeker of truth. The rest is nitpicking, i'nt it?"

Tom, very nice response. Thanks.

The issue with Barton is that he cannot be trusted as a historian. He certainly doesn't fancy himself as such.

Barton ignores (or attacks) the evidence which does not fit his ideology and embraces that which does ... prior to checking its validity.

Granted that a rather wide brush I'm using to paint him, but that is the way I see him.

bpabbott said...

Kristo asked: "Can you substantiate your new accusation against Barton? Can you provide a link to the "worst of Barton", if you will, so that I can glimpse the evil that you have already seen?"

There many. You can start with a google of "David Barton's lies"

The first link is Sects, Lies and Videotape, by Rob Boston.

Of course, there are the many invented quotations. There is a list here. Note the "questionable" quotes are those for which there is *no* historical record. We may as well claim that GW understood the theory of relativity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm sorry, Ben, but your wide brush approach to investigating the truth is unhelpful. If you don't trust Barton as an historian, that's fine. He made many scholarly errors using secondary sources in his early years, mistakes which are recycled here in an attempt to discredit him.

But it's just as big a mistake to discard everything he cites as false. Double-check his work. [We should do that anyway, even for the most respected of scholars.] He has cleaned up his act and has attempted to make amends by gathering a library of thousands of primary sources from the Founding. He was easy pickins at one point, but the fallback to throwing hand grenades [using the word "lies"] just doesn't cut it any longer.

Look, I don't like being in the position of defending him, but the fact is he comes up with stuff that's verifiable and is often ignored [or is unknown!] by the more secular-minded, who are often guilty of the very same charge of intellectual dishonesty that you throw at Barton.

Me, I prefer to listen to everyone, do my own fact-checking, and make up my own mind. Is that not a reasonable approach? Keep in mind that you circulate Rob Boston's attack on Barton uncritically without double-checking his work either.

Who is Rob Boston? Like Barton, he's an advocate, employed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Like Barton, he has only an undergraduate degree, and in an area other than history. Now, I'm sure he's right about most things in his attack [although it's outdated]. Should I pore over his work like Chris Rodda does with Barton, ignoring the truths and seeking only error in order to discredit him?

Life's too short. There are better ways to pursue truth.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Gentlemen,

Your examples strengthen me in my suspicion that there's not much there w/r Barton's "lies".

I started reading Rodda's stuff, looking for an actual lie by Barton, but it was just a chain of chasing links through Rodda's own opinions where the lie was always another link away. Apparently Rodda thinks Barton is "lying" when he points out that the NW ordinance indicated that schools should encourage religion, morality and knowledge. But when I look at Barton's own words (MoS, p. 38) I see no lie.

As for the Boston piece, again, lots of fluff, but where is Barton's lie? Is it the piece about the "one-directional wall"? But Barton's own words (MoS p. 42) are in terms of an extended analysis, not a naked assertion. You may claim to be unimpressed by Barton's analysis, but he is incorrect at worst, not lying.

If this is all that you have, then I suggest that you immediately cease and desist slandering Barton. If you insist that he is lying, then quote Barton. No words of his critics will prove his lies, only his own words can reveal him to be a liar.

Brad Hart said...

Everyone:

Even though the majority of the comments on this post have had little to do with its actual content, I must admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed your perspectives.

First, let me add to Kristo's comments above on David Barton. While I am not a supporter of Barton’s work (as many of you know I have severely criticized him at times here at American Creation) I also think it is silly to call him a liar. Both Kristo and Tom are right to point out how secular "assassins" have sifted through Barton's material, salivating at even the smallest historical infraction in his work. Now, I am not saying that we shouldn't be critical of his work (or anyone else's for that matter). This is how history is done. People present their argument and then attempt to defend it against the onslaught of the historical community. If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. However, I do think there is a difference between constructive criticism and outright hostility. For example, Chris Rodda's attack on Barton, while it often turns up some of Barton's historical faux pas, seems quite hostile in my opinion. Even her book's title, LIARS for Jesus, reveals her true intentions.

Now, in fairness to Rodda and the other Barton "bashers," let us keep two things in mind: First, Barton has brought a lot of the "heat" upon himself. Second, the Christian Nation crowd is not innocent of committing the same attacks upon the works of secularists. Gary Nash, one of my favorite historians, has regularly been attacked by the Christian Nation crowd for his "anti-American," "revisionist" agenda. The door most certainly swings both ways, and both sides are guilty of making dramatic accusations against the other.

With that said, I think it is also important for us to recognize that the majority of people in each camp are not as extreme as the "ringleaders." I think most Christian Nation advocates, along with most secularists, tend to avoid the far extremes...or at least I hope so. I guess this is the primary reason that I enjoy hearing the passionate arguments of both sides. It makes for an enjoyable dialogue.

In conclusion, I guess I want to advocate for both sides. I sincerely believe that those who regularly leave comments on this blog are not attempting to DISTORT history to fit a particular agenda. It’s just hard to come to a perfect consensus when so many “experts” come together to discuss this all-important and interesting era of history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The reason I meself harp on this a bit has nothing to do with Barton per se. It's about our modern epistemological crisis. One would think that on the internet, with the truth [or at least the evidence] often just a click away, you'd think we could discuss the actual topic.

I posted three relevant quotes and an assertion that there were 1,400 Thanksgiving proclamations by the states through 1815, admittedly from Barton's website.

Do we discuss them? No. They are the actual topic.

Instead, as Kristo notes---and I see this technique often on the internet---the source is called a liar by some link or another [go look behind that curtain!], but the actual counterargument is never made. The irony is that Barton's original error of relying on secondary sources is repeated by those who attack him.

Further, by making Barton the topic, we remain at arm's length from the actual search for truth. By condemning David Barton, we can safely ignore those three quotes and what they might mean.

Now, it so happens that I poked through Rodda's fisking of Barton on the Northwest Ordinance and it wasn't bad, especially her examples of Barton's segues between this fact and that fact that could leave a misleading impression of the solidity of Barton's argument on the ordinance. I ignored her uncivilized rants and ad homs and gave her a more fair and charitable reading than she gives Barton.

I found other of her chapters nitpicking and irrelevant. And so, I will read Rodda cautiously, and thanks to her efforts, continue to read Barton cautiously, just like I do the newspaper: ignoring the essay parts and concentrating on the facts and quotes, which I'll double-check at their primary sources to make sure they're not being used out of context.

Yes, there are a lot of lies out there, and charitably, we might say that the author is even lying unintentionally to his or herself, seeing only what they want to see. If I may draw a larger circle around our recent discussions, this is why Aquinas and certain Protestant reformers as well distrust the individual's ability to discern truth. I believe Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, expresses similar reservations. If you can't lie to yourself, who can you lie to?

And so, regarding Rodda and specifically Barton, think of them as compasses, not maps. Or as Paul of Tarsus, who was educated in the ways of the ancient Greek philosophers put it, test all things; hold fast what is good.

Our Founding Truth said...

He made many scholarly errors using secondary sources in his early years, mistakes which are recycled here in an attempt to discredit him.>

Hey Tom, Barton deserves minimal heat for that. Trusting scholars and historians for quotes is a forgiving mistake, anyone could be guilty of that. His mistake was not in verification.

Thanks for the Jefferson quote. Even Jefferson believed we were a Christian nation governed by the Christian religion:

No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.
Thomas Jefferson in 1803-Hutson (see n. 8) at p. 96, quoting from a handwritten history in possession of the Library of Congress, “Washington Parish, Washington City,” by Rev. Ethan Allen.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT:

That's another "unconfirmed" Jefferson quotation. Hutson admit it comes from a secondary source.

Our Founding Truth said...

That's another "unconfirmed" Jefferson quotation. Hutson admit it comes from a secondary source.>

It is purely logical if Jefferson claimed to be a Christian,(which he did) no doubt he would claim the Christian Religion the best religion and that our nation cannot be governed without it.

Our Founding Truth said...

[I] appoint . . . a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God . . . to [ask] Him that He would . . . pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would . . . spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; . . . and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue. 25 GOVERNOR THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1779>

Hey Tom,

This is a very interesting quote. Since it is common knowledge The Gospel of Jesus Christ is "That God came to earth in the form of sinless man to die on a cross for the sins of the World" would it be a stretch to conclude at this time (forming the nation, writing the DOI) Jefferson was a believer in Biblical Christianity, and only later did he change his views?

Let's see the entire proclamation.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Hey Tom, Barton deserves minimal heat for that. Trusting scholars and historians for quotes is a forgiving mistake, anyone could be guilty of that. His mistake was not in verification.


OFT, to quote the great Richard M. Nixon, let me say this about that. On a personal level, I quite agree: David Barton was a rank amateur at history when he discovered a lot of Christian-leaning stuff that the 20th century's secular narrative of the nation's founding had missed, or worse, intentionally ignored.

It created quite an earthquake. Unfortunately, a significant chunk of it was untrue, having been created by "scholars" in the 1800s.

Let's emphasize that: a significant chunk was untrue, and unfortunately for the truth, is still being put in circulation by people with an absolutist Christian Nation agenda. Criticism of such things on this blog and elsewhere is legitimate, although in my view way out of proportion.

On the other hand, a significant chunk of what Barton found was true, and he's also added a lot more true stuff to his evidence since his initial errors.

In Barton's defense as a person, it's never been proven or even seriously alleged that David Barton himself fabricated a single one of those bogus quotes. That would indeed make him a liar.

However, I must note that David Barton "spins" is in my opinion undeniable. I think his critics, including Chris Rodda, make an effective case on that, after you peel back the sludge of their own spin.

But as with all earthquake-makers---and we may include folks like Martin Luther in that---it is in their truth and not their errors that their value may be found. [And I say this about Luther as a putative Catholic.]

You cite the very well-respected scholar James H. Hutson here. Jonathan Rowe replies here, with what I think is a valid reservation, that this is a second-hand report of Jefferson's words. Not to say it's inaccurate, but primary sources are where it's at and anything else is suspect.

[OFT: I let one of your previous comments, on Federalist #63, slide. The subject was the desirability of a slowly-moving senate, as opposed to merely a house of representatives that could and would sway with the prevailing sentiments of the day.

Publius' condemnation of Sparta, Rome and Carthage was in that their senators were senators for life, and such an oligarchy would lose contact with the needs of the people. Publius here [most likely Madison, but perhaps Hamilton] does not argue that popularly-elected government is the only legitimate form of rule, only that in a practical sense, oligarchy necessarily leads to tyranny.

You have much to offer in the area of the Founding and religion, but as Chris Rodda's [et al.] attacks on David Barton prove---and their popularity with many strict secularists proves---facts, evidence and arguments anywhere in the neighborhood of a Christian nation thesis [and I meself am only in the neighborhood] are obliged and required to be flawless. We see what happens when they're not.]

That the high-school teacher David Barton didn't come out of the box with a scholar-proof body of evidence has hurt his thesis. He's learned from his mistakes, so should we. Jonathan Rowe [who got me invited to this blog] & I have built a lasting friendship on our respect for the facts and each other's intellectual honesty; even as our conclusions and theses continue to diverge, we seldom if ever disagree on the underlying facts. On such a basis---and only on that basis---is principled discussion not only possible, but fruitful.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This is a very interesting quote. Since it is common knowledge The Gospel of Jesus Christ is "That God came to earth in the form of sinless man to die on a cross for the sins of the World" would it be a stretch to conclude at this time (forming the nation, writing the DOI) Jefferson was a believer in Biblical Christianity, and only later did he change his views?

Well, it's not common "knowledge" that Jesus was Incarnated and died for mankind's sins, although it was a common belief.

No, based on his earlier writings, I don't find any evidence that Jefferson was ever in the neighborhood of such Christian orthodoxy, not never ever.

You actually play into and feed the "top-down" refutation of America being founded on [Judeo-] Christian principles by taking a stab at Jefferson being theologically orthodox. That he was mute on the subject in the face of the common belief [and I believe that was the case] is far more persuasive as to where it all fits in.

Danger, Will Robinson. If you overstate the case, it makes it easy to reject.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I've also read in Jefferson's writings that he claims to have been a (practically) lifelong disbeliever in the Trinity (I say "practically" because who knows what he believed as a child?). I'll try to marshal the primary source on this letter. It's the letter where he refused to become a Godfather when asked and states it was because of his disagreement with the Trinity. [But Jefferson still had to assent to these creeds when becoming a vestryman.] It should be noted that GW was both a vestryman AND a Godfather in the Anglican Church. However, the Trinity clearly irritated Jefferson in a way that it did not Washington. I'm inclined to believe GW was agnostic on the Trinity and related orthodox doctrines, whereas Jefferson absolutely and utterly rejected it as a "metaphysical insanity."

Brad Hart said...

OFT writes:

"It is purely logical if Jefferson claimed to be a Christian,(which he did) no doubt he would claim the Christian Religion the best religion and that our nation cannot be governed without it."

I fail to see how we can make that connection. Even today -- as in the days of the founding -- a number of Christians did not believe in mixing Christianity with government. Jefferson was one of the principal supporters of such a belief. In his Notes on the State of Virginia Jefferson makes it abundantly clear that religion mixed in government would only lead to the further tyrrany of Europe's past:

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.”

And then there is Jefferson's letter to J. Adams in which he writes:

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

This doesn't sound like a man who wanted religion -- particularly the Christianity of Old Europe -- influencing the government of the infant American republic.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "But it's just as big a mistake to discard everything he cites as false. Double-check his work."

Agreed. I don't think it appropriate to discredit claims because they are made by Barton. However, I do think it is fair that Barton be discredited.

His record of distorting history to fit his ideological view is well documented.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I was writing my above posts while Jonathan and Brad were composing theirs.

As usual, and based on my own studies, I embrace Jonathan's representation of the facts.

As you can see by Brad's comment, OFT, an overstatement of the facts brings a legitimate refutation. When Brad writes, "Even today -- as in the days of the founding, a number of Christians did not believe in mixing Christianity with government."

If we view "Christianity" as all that quarrelling about the Throne of St. Peter [papism], transsubstantiation, infant baptism, or even Jesus' nature as man or God, a rejection of "Christianity" by the Founders is certainly a rejection of quarrelling. Hey, we got a nation to Found here!

Now, if you want to play into the 2008 rejection of "mixing Christianity with government" as not just a rejection of Christian theology but a rejection of Christian principles as well, well, rock on. But that's not how Paul approached the men of Athens. He started with the good and worked forward from there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

However, I do think it is fair that Barton be discredited. His record of distorting history to fit his ideological view is well documented.

If such is your will. Ignore his arguments; do not ignore his evidence until you've determined its truth for yourself. Anything else is ad hominem and unfit for discussion in an honest forum like this.

bpabbott said...

OFT: "It is purely logical if Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, (which he did) no doubt he would claim the Christian Religion the best religion and that our nation cannot be governed without it."

There is no evidence he said such.

I don't think it logical either. I'll explain.

There are many quotes by Jefferson regarding the Christian *religion* which brings your "logical" conclusion into question (I'm using the term "Christian Religion" to be that of Jefferson's day ... which is quite different than the religion of Jesus).

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity."
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

"I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote "Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?")

"To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820

You'll notice Jefferson's critique is directed toward the the Christianity in the sense it is a religious organization of those who came after Jesus. The critique is not directed at Jesus or his personal religion.

Regarding your observation that Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, Jefferson did make such a claim in a sentimental sense. Meaning he did not claim to be a member of the religion of his contemporaries, but a member of that which Jesus ascribed himself to.

"I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."
-- Letter To Dr. Benjamin Rush. Washington, April 21, 1803.

You can read the entire letter here

In his letters Jefferson uses the word "Christianity" to mean two different things. As in the letter to Benjamin Rush, he refers to the religion of Jesus. In the prior quotes I offered, he refers to the corrupted religion of those who followed.

The duality of Jefferson's opinion on Christianity is also quite clear in his letter to Joseph Priestley.

"Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, -- the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, -- endeavored"
-- letter to Dr. Joseph Priestley, March 1801.

Here Jefferson refers to the religion of Jesus as "most sublime & benevolent", and to that which it had become as the "most perverted system that ever shone on man".

Thus the claim that Jefferson would logically way "the Christian Religion the best religion and that our nation cannot be governed without it" makes not sense given his opinion of how the faith of Jesus had been corrupted/perverted. If the claim were that the religions sentiments of Jesus (for lack of a better description) are important, desirable, or even essential to governing free men, I would agree.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with all the above, Ben, and can think of no conflicts from my own readings of Jefferson's canon.


"To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is."
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820


Ah, I was looking for this quote. Jefferson-as-Mormon, cosmologically speaking, God as a corporeal being, unless I misunderstand him and them. As for his contention that "immaterialism" is heresy, Jefferson-as-theologian was a secret thing, and to my mind for good reason. Not to step on any theological toes hereabouts, but politically, not exactly Washington's Great Architect of the Universe: the Masons would have been scandalized by such a view. Even Tom Paine the deist would have puked. We didn't even get to the orthodox Christians yet.

Raven said...

Well...well...well. I see that everyone has enjoyed a back-and-forth banter over this completely pointless issue. I must say that Tom Van Dyke, the resident wannabe genius has taken his hypocrisy to new and uncharted heights. While everyone else strummed along in their comments pretending to know what the hell they were talking about, Mr. Van Dyke decided he was far superior to the rest. I especially loved your pathetic shot at the "pointlessness" of Meriwether Lewis in the above post, Tom. Very classy!

My guess it that when you are a game show wannabe celebrity, things go to your head. One tends to think he is smarter than he really is, and as a result, decides to take stupid shots at everyone else. Let me ask you Tom, have you EVER agreed with ANYONE on this blog? Or is it your specific assignment to be the permanent Devil's advocate? You certainly have me fooled. Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe you really are smarter than everyone else here…your comments certainly indicate that YOU believe this is so. Or maybe your Mom didn't love you enough when you were a little prick...who knows.

Oh, and I know this probably won't stay on the blog for long (Lindsey and Brad have a tendency to delete my stuff before anyone else can digest it), but for those that read it, you know you agree with me. You can't tell me you don't get sick from the pompous assness exhibited by our resident "Joker Gone Wild."

Happy Thanksgiving and I will see you all next time somebody decides to act stupid. By the way, good to see you again, Our Founding Truth. How is your "book" coming along? I'm sure we will see it soon at Barnes and Noble...as toilet paper for the customers to wipe their ASS!!!

Raven said...

A typical discussion on the David Barton issue (what the contributors REALLY mean to say):

Jon Rowe: "David Barton is a complete dumbass. Instead, you should all believe me. Hey, I'm a lawyer and I read books!!!"

Brad Hart: "Oh come now everyone. Let's just all get along. Why can't you be a moderate like me? I just hate pissing anyone off, so I won't tell you that I truly do hate Barton. But hey, I'm a Mormon so I have to love everyone."

Kristo: "I'm the new guy but I like using big words in my posts. It either makes people think I am smart or they ignore me entirely. Either way I win!"

Brian Tubbs: I'm obligated to like Barton since I am a pastor. But deep down I know he is a retard! Secretly I hope to take Barton's job as the resident American Evangelical history nut-job!"

Shanna Riley: "Who am I? Do I even post here?"

Lindsey Shuman: "As goddess of this blog I transcend all such discussions. This blog has basically become my boy friend."

And our dear Tom Van Dyke: "I love looking like a jackass...er...genius here at American Creation. I can pull out any quote from a founder right out of my rectum and use it to DESTROY EVERYONE!!! Even though I almost always take stuff out of context. I am the Darth Vader of founding father history. Even those Ph.D's don't have anything on me...hey, I won a game show!!!"

Our Founding Truth: "I don't know what the hell I am talking about, so I will just say the same thing I always do...if you don't believe EXACTLY as I do you WILL go to hell. That means YOU JON ROWE!!! How dare you question the superiority of my brain and my blog!!!"

bpabbott said...

Tom,

That quote by Jefferson which begins as "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings." was one I only recently came across. It certainly does give a rather specific view of Jefferson's theology.

The apparent rejection of the supernatural would disqualify him as a theist it most minds today (or any other) ... and yet no one can deny his religiosity.

I'll have to study the entire letter to develop a better understanding for Jefferson's intent.

Our Founding Truth said...

You actually play into and feed the "top-down" refutation of America being founded on [Judeo-] Christian principles by taking a stab at Jefferson being theologically orthodox.>

Don't get me wrong, I concur that Jefferson was not orthodox, this being the first time I've seen that quote. Being the first time I've seen that quote, it reads something Samuel Adams would write, mentioning the Gospel, and The Holy Spirit(The Third Person of the Trinity)

Brad Hart said...

OK, Raven. Thanks for the "roast" of the blog. Being the "moderate Mormon-loving" person that you think I am, I will refrain from any further comments on your recent outburst.

Our Founding Truth said...

In his Notes on the State of Virginia Jefferson makes it abundantly clear that religion mixed in government would only lead to the further tyrrany of Europe's past:

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.”>

Hey Brad,

I've always concurred with Jefferson that religion is left to the states. In the above quote, Jefferson is refering to the merger of church and state as in Great Britain and the Church of England. In that example has Christianity been on trial, of which I protest that it was Christianity in the first place.

Noah Webster believed our Christianity was not the same as the corrupted version in Europe.

bpabbott said...

I pulled out my copy of "The Adams-Jefferson Letters" and quickly read the letter in question ... I also snipped a longer quote from Google books.

[...] But enough of criticism: let me turn to your puzzling letter of May the 12th, on matter, spirit, motion, etc. Its crowd of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it and laid it down, again and again : and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne. 'I feel, therefore, I exist.' I feel — bodies which are not myself: there are other existences then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter, and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organization of matter, formed for that purpose by its Creator, as well as that attraction is an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking, shall shew how he could endow the sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the track of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and by that will put matter into motion, then the Materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences, is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say, they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the Stewarts. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialium, or masked atheism, crept in, I do not exactly know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us, indeed, that 'God is a spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the antient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter, light and thin, indeed, an etherial gas; but still, matter. Origen says, [...]
-- Jefferson to Adams, Aug 15, 1720

It appears that Jefferson's view is that soul, angels, and even God are material and (I assume) may be known (studied) by material means. That seems to imply that what qualifies as religious doctrine falls under the discipline of science, or is deserves to be categorized as superstition.

I'll have to spend some time developing a better understanding for Jefferson's understanding of "material". He might turn out to have quite a bit in common with the likes of Richard Dawkins ;-)

Our Founding Truth said...

Meaning he did not claim to be a member of the religion of his contemporaries, but a member of that which Jesus ascribed himself to.

"I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."
-- Letter To Dr. Benjamin Rush. Washington, April 21, 1803.

You can read the entire letter here

In his letters Jefferson uses the word "Christianity" to mean two different things. As in the letter to Benjamin Rush, he refers to the religion of Jesus.

I am on firm ground in saying Jesus' doctrines Jefferson states includes that He was God(Curios), as JQ Adams explains:

My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ and I cannot cavil or quibble away [evade or object to]. . . . the whole tenor of His conduct by which He sometimes positively asserted and at others countenances [permits] His disciples in asserting that He was God.
John Adams and John Quincy Adams, The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams, Adrienne Koch and William Peden, editors (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), p. 292, John Quincy Adams to John Adams, January 3, 1817.

We know now Jefferson did not believe in that doctrine, so why did he say it?

Back to my original point. If Jefferson called himself a Christian, he obviously believed it was the best religion, and because that secondary quote is consistent with his other quotes on the matter, it is safe to say he believed our nation could not be governed without it.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Hey Raven,

"I'm the new guy but I like using big words in my posts. It either makes people think I am smart or they ignore me entirely. Either way I win!"

You're onto me! You obviously have not ignored me, so... [:-) I win!

You remind me of that old Peter Gabriel song, "big time". The part about the big words...

Jonathan Rowe said...

I appreciated the roast too! It made me laugh.

bpabbott said...

OFT: "I am on firm ground in saying Jesus' doctrines Jefferson states includes that He was God"

Jefferson is quite clear on that point.

"I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other."
(emphasis is mine).

Jefferson is clear that Jesus was human (not divine) and that Jesus never claimed otherwise.

OFT: "If Jefferson called himself a Christian, he obviously believed it was the best religion"

Jeffersion believed that the Christian religion was corrupted and perverted by many followers of Jesus.

Jefferson also viewed the example of how Jesus lived life as worthy of his devotion.

Pinky said...

.
I think I have to hold Thomas Jefferson in higher esteem than anyoine I know who claims any position regarding Jesus, who he was and what he did.
.