Friday, March 19, 2010

Rodda Responds To Barton

Chris Rodda left this comment at American Creation, responding to David Barton's comment:

Mr. Barton (if you really are Mr. Barton) ...

You say in your comment:

"I also want to address the portion of this video clip where Glenn Beck and I very briefly mention the 1807 Thomas Jefferson letter. I did not have the time in that segment to go into detail but if I did, I certainly would have put it in context."

Well, I would certainly like to see you put that "letter" in context, too. That is, if you want to make an attempt to put in in some other context than the following.

First, let's start with the fact that the document isn't even a letter. It's part of a ships' papers.

These documents, which every ship leaving the United States had to carry, were a fill-in-the-blanks form with columns translated into several languages, and were printed in quantity. Each new president signed a big stack of these forms, leaving all the other information blank, and then the blank signed forms were sent to the officials at all the ports, where they were filled out as needed. So, Jefferson did not personally write the date "in the year of our lord Christ." He just signed a bunch of blank ships' papers that someone had dated that way.

Mr. Barton claims in his description of this form on his website that "this is the explicitly Christian language that President Thomas Jefferson chose to use in official public presidential documents," and on the Glenn Beck show that "Jefferson added in the year of our lord Christ." This is completely untrue. (I'm being nice and not using the word "lie.")

Jefferson absolutely did not choose the language on this form. It's exactly the same language as the ships' papers form signed by Adams, the president right before him, and Madison, the president right after him. (I have images of the same form as it was printed during the Adams and Madison administrations if anyone doubts this.) The only difference is that the printer changed the name of the president, which appears at the top of the form, to whoever the current president was. Obviously, anyone who knows anything about Jefferson would know that he wouldn't have wasted taxpayer money by demanding that the forms be reprinted because of the way the date was written.

I know it's hard to see the document in the video, but if you look at the image of it on the WallBuilders website -- -- you can see it's the same document that Beck is holding in the video.

And, if it really is Mr. Barton who made the above comment, I'm still waiting for you to reveal the other alleged Jefferson document dated "in the year of our lord Christ" that you have long claimed to possess -- the one you've described as "his presidential act of October 18, 1804, from an original document in our possession."


Kristo Miettinen said...

I don't see this as much of a big deal either way, but what Rodda says here seems to overreach considerably.

Let us take for granted that these forms were signed in bulk, as Rodda describes (it seems quite credible). Exactly how large would a print run of forms be? I find it hard to believe that more than a year's supply would be printed at a time, given, on the one hand, the vulnerability of paper in storage to everything from flames to rodents (and the shortages of paper that were still an issue for years after the war), and on the other hand the ease of set-up and tear-down of a printing run by the 18th century (a matter of minutes). TJ would have had many opportunities to get the language adjusted prior to a new print run during his 8 years in office. We have reason to believe that he was satisfied with the forms as they were.

What TJ's going along with his predecessor and successor suggests to me is that, as I have elsewhere claimed, TJ was just another radical American Christian, or in comparative terms, that he may have been on one flank of his peer group, but he was still in the group, not an outlier.

As for "anyone who knows anything about Jefferson would know that he wouldn't have wasted taxpayer money by demanding that the forms be reprinted because of the way the date was written", that sounds more like Adams, not like Jefferson. Relative to his peers, TJ was both a lavish spender and detail-conscious, and in particular very conscious of how he presented himself to posterity. If any of the early presidents were to make an issue of wording, and take the time (and expense) to get it right, it would be TJ ahead of any of the others.

Tom Van Dyke said...

A not-bad defense, Kristo, but I liked your Aitken one a lot better.

TJ would have been prudent enough not to start a culture war by ordering "year of our Lord Jesus Christ" dropped from future printings of the form. No good could come of it. His infidelity was already under heavy suspicion.

And I'm fully willing to argue that Channing-type unitarians were recognizably Christian

in that they believed Jesus was "more than a man," some sort of "Christ," but TJ is a step way too far. "Christ" used in any meaningful way is completely absent from his canon.