Recently I saw a tape of a speech by a FAUX News personality, named Mike Huckabee, suggesting that all Americans should be forced at gunpoint to listen to someone named David Barton. I could see nothing "American" in such an authoritarian approach which sounded more like indoctrination or propaganda than a more typical free exchange of ideas.
It did not take much effort to find that he fits into the long American tradition of "Liars for Jesus" Indeed Chris Rodda published a book about Barton in 2006 titled "Lliars for Jesus"
likewise, Rob Boston in his 1993 article Sects, Lies and Videotape tells what Richard J. Barnett, of the Church-State Council affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, found after ordering a tape after seeing a film on TV, "America's Godly Heritage" based on the Barton book "The Myth of Separation". Quote below the fold.
The man behind the tape turned out to be David Barton, a fundamentalist activist who makes a living attacking separation of church and state. The video Barnett received is a shorter version of Barton's one hour documentary "America' s Godly Heritage." Both tapes in turn are based on Barton's 1989 book The Myth of Separation.
Even though the book and videos are riddled with factual errors, half truths and distortions, they have become the weapons of choice for Religious Right activists in their ongoing war against separation of church and state. In recent months, Americans United members from around the country have discovered letters to the editor in their local newspapers repeating Barton's charges. The videos have aired on public access and religious stations from coast to coast, and crates of the books have been shipped to evangelical churches for distribution.
Mr. Barton seems to be the most relentlessly intellectually dishonest person I have ever run across. He seems to see himself as a Christian hammer who must see everything as a Christian nail. His books and films are loaded with misconstrued notions, blatant falsehoods, historical inaccuracies and highly selective editing. He tries to impose current day fully anti-intellectual eliminationist fundamentalism to the words of those from the highly tolerant era of of Enlightened religion during the Age of Reason that began even before the American Revolution. He makes a living telling fundamentalists that America was created by its divinely inspired founders as a country of, by and for evangelical Christians and biblical capitalism. He will claim that Jesus opposed progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes and minimum wage laws. Taxation and deficit spending amount to theft, at least during Democratic administrations. He ignores the facts that religion in general was more liberal during that age and that evangelicals made up a small fraction of the less than 1 in 5 of the population who were actually church members. See Don Boys for a factual history and John Leland a Baptist minister, a main ally of Madison and Jefferson in passing the Virginia Religious Freedom Act whose attitude towards politics, if adopted, would greatly improve the national discourse.
Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives, It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to [decide upon] candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected: for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.
While working on this diary and watching Barton on the Daily Show, last Thursday, I found a review of one of Barton's books that changed the direction of this diary. Barton is in the spotlight now but there are far worse actors in the authoritarian based fundamentalist and eliminationist groups. The following anonymous quote was found on a site called "America Betrayed", it should give you a good idea of what they are all about. I had intended to simply do a one shot demonstration of the types of manipulation Barton employs to turn our Enlightened Founding Fathers from The Age of Reason into fundamentalist Christians. I will do this comparing the Barton's version with the original source. I will state right now that so far I have not yet found an honest quote in anything he wrote. Those that are not manipulated are simple out of context. He stated on the show that he had never had to withdraw any quote however Barton in 1995 retracted 12 quotes, 9 had been used in his first book.
However there is a lot more to uncover than David Barton. If you know of any particularly awful group or site out there, please put their address in the comments. Now onto their plans for the US Constitution.
The problem with the book is that the thesis is flawed. The founders did in fact intend to separate their new government from the controlling influence of biblical law. David Barton is oblivious to this fact or where he sees it, actually lauds it.
In Chapter 8, “Rewriting Original Intent”, David Barton makes the definitive statement that “there is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Founders intended to build the “wall of separation” that was constitutionalized in Everson…” The actual words, “wall of separation” do not appear, but the wall is nonetheless set in place by Article VI, Section 3.
This paragraph very clearly disestablishes Christianity as the “coin of the realm” so to speak. When the Constitution says that “no religious test shall ever be required for any office…,” it makes it illegal to require a newly elected officeholder to swear allegiance to govern according to the Bible. It thus established the U.S. Constitution as a pluralistic and secular document, completely divorced from religious influence.
Near the beginning, David Barton alludes to Article VI, but praises its effect. He asserts that, “…it was therefore not within the federal government’s authority to examine the religious beliefs of any candidate” (p.34). He adds with approval that “The Founders believed that the investigation of the religious views of a candidate should not be conducted by the federal government, but rather by the voters in each state.”
That is the crux of the problem. A declaration of religious neutrality on the part of the Federal government. This would be like Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai and declaring that he wasn’t going to favor any particular religion, but would leave it to the tribes.
It is in fact the most critical function of the government to ensure that it’s officials are committed to Christ and the Christian religion. To neglect this duty is to commit cultural suicide. The law of God is the only source of justice, and God expects the government at every level to swear to it. David Barton fails to appreciate this most basic of biblical principles related to civil government.
David Barton and the founders are devoted to a milquetoast civil religion, not Biblical Christianity. In his own words, “I agree fully to what is beautifully and appropriately said in Updegraph v. The Commonwealth … --Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law: ‘not Christianity founded on any particular religious tenets’…(p.70)”
“The Christianity practiced in America was described by John Jay as “enlightened,” by John Quincy Adams as “civilized,” and by John Adams as “rational. (p.127). As long as Christianity remains a toothless, feel-good religion, devoid of doctrine, David Barton and the founding fathers are apparently happy with it.
And this leads to another fundamental flaw in the book. David Barton almost always discusses civil government in terms of what it must not do with regard to separation of church and state. He ignores the responsibility government has to govern pro-actively according to the Bible. As noted above, his application of Christianity is toothless when it comes to the civil magistrate.
The deconstruction of the Constitution by the Supreme Court is the inevitable result of the initial rejection of God and biblical law as the basis for the new government. By rejecting the absolute, the founders guaranteed that their posterity would end up awash in a sea of subjectivity.
In conclusion, Mr. Barton calls for a return to “original intent” of the founders to establish a limited federal government based on religious principles. But the fundamental flaw in his thesis makes this an untenable solution.
Our problem is not that we have departed from the original intent of the Constitution. Rather, our problem lies in the seeds of humanism and religious neutrality that have resided in the Constitution from the beginning.
It will do us no good to go back to the point where we went off the track and start over with "original intent." As long as the covenant-breaking features remain intact we will get nowhere. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Rather, we need to go back, repent of our national folly, and start down the road of national obedience to the law of God.
They surely have no interest in the intent of the Founding Fathers, which was clearly to have a secular society, but want to replace our current protection of individual rights with the coercive pressure of an official state religion. We can see their intent through the actions of the current crop of fanatics like Gov. Walker in Wisconsin or Gov. Snyder here in Michigan.
I am not opposed to religion courses with the sole purpose of studying the story of religious influence and growth in the country, and even history textbooks that include some discussion of religious groups if its relevant to a certain topic, like religious condemnations of slavery in the 19th-century, for instance.
But the Founders knew full well that at the time that the majority of the people in the country were and would be Christians. Heck, many who took part in the Constitutional Convention were Christians in some sense of the word. Heck Many of the most notable ones (Jefferson, i.e.), however, were deists, and one can’t deny that. Many were products of the Enlightenment and rationalism. But the Founders, even those who believed in Jesus, were far ahead of their time and had the foresight to realize that a free society must both protect people’s right to worship … and their right not to worship. They were all-too familiar with a near-theocracy in Great Britain, in which the Church of England was (and still is) the official national church. The Founders sought to create a place more free from whence their ancestors came.
Unfortunately, the evangelical crowd is seeking to reverse that, and that should make anyone with an appreciation for the Constitution and this diverse country pretty ashamed. So, to reiterate, this isn’t a Christian nation in the sense that many evangelicals wish it were, nor should it be. If it was, it would be a theocracy, and I don’t think folks who are fighting to reinsert Jesus and the creation story into textbooks fully understand the implications of seeing their goals carried out to their fullest ends. If they did, they would view modern day Iran, the former Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, the Crusades or the current wave of Islamic nutcases who want to establish a modern caliphate, and they would shutter.
Now back to David Barton. The first example of selective editing is an uncredited and edited quote on his web site. Note that he gives no indication that part was left out. Barton claims that Of the Hebrews, John Adams had declared:
I will insist that the Hebrew have done more to civilize men than any other nation. They preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty Sovereign of the Universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.
The original comes from a letter from John Adams to François Adriaan van der Kemp (16 February 1809) I will indicate the parts selected by Barton with parentheses.
(I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation.) If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to (preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.)
James Madison is quoted out of context by Barton
I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way.
The original comes from a letter to William Bradford, Jr. Sept.25, 1773 Barton part in parenthesis.
I cannot however suppress [this] much of my advice on that head that you would always keep the Ministry obliquely in View whatever your profession be. This will lead you to cultivate an acquaintance occasionally with the most sublime of all Sciences and will qualify you for a change of public character if you should hereafter desire it. (I have sometimes thought there could be no stronger testimony in favor of Religion or against temporal Enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, & I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way.) Such instances have seldom occurred, therefore they would be more striking and would be instead of a "Cloud of Witnesses."
In "Continuance of our Civil and Religious Liberties" by David Barton, James Madison as quoted by Barton.
No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. And to the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land. James Madison
This manufactured quote is actually from Madison's 1815 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Quoted in full here with Barton's part in parenthesis.
1815 Thanksgiving Proclamation
The senate and House of Representatives of the United States have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace.
(No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.) His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days. Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition.
During the interval, which succeeded, He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources, which have enabled them to assert their national rights, and to enhance their national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated by a peace and reconciliation with those who have been our enemies. (And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.)
It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assembles unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.
Given at the city of Washington on the 4th day of March, A.D. 1815, and of the Independence of the United States the thirty-ninth. JAMES MADISON
Barton quoted Patrick Henry in his 1988 book "The Myth of Separation". He now lists the quote as unconfirmed. However it first appeared in Barton's book and we know where he got it. Sometimes reported as being from a speech to the House of Burgesses in May 1765 long before the country was a nation. As originally quoted by Barton.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great
nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on
religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason
peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and
freedom of worship here.
This originated in a 1956 article in The Virginian that was about Patrick Henry not written by him. The article has a quote from Patrick Henry's will which is later used as an example in a following paragraph.
I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.”
Patrick Henry, Virginia,
There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by ‘religionists’ but by Christians–not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.
In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example.
Barton does not admit to this mistake suggesting in an article withdrawing 9 quotes from his first book.
As a final thought, there is a possibility that the unconfirmed quote came from Henry's uncle, the Reverend Patrick Henry. We find no record of the Reverend's letters or writings. Therefore, until more definitive documentation can be presented, please avoid the words in question.
However Steve Rendall has concluded
How this came to be attributed to Patrick Henry, despite the third-person mention of him as a noble founder and forefather, is not clear. My personal guess is that somebody along the line mistook the “above quotation” as referring to the sentence that immediately preceeded the phrase, rather than to the actual excerpt given at the beginning of the piece. That’s only a guess, however. Mendacity knows no rules. I think it’s entirely possible that somebody just liked the phrase, attributed it to Patrick Henry because the name was handy, and sent it on its merry way.
Rendall's term "mendacity" (falsehood, inveracity, perjury, truthlessness, untruthfulness lying, prevarication, falsification; see deception 1, lie 1.) suggests a good title for the biography of David Barton "Mendacity Man".
Bartonmakes several claims about the letters from the Danbury Baptist Association and President Jefferson. Barton's analysis of Danbury letters,
Consequently, now having a President who not only had championed the rights of Baptists in Virginia but who also had advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers, the Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson a letter of praise on October 7, 1801, telling him:
Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity . . . to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the United States. . . . [W]e have reason to believe that America's God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which He bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you. . . . And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator. 
However, in that same letter of congratulations, the Baptists also expressed to Jefferson their grave concern over the entire concept of the First Amendment, including of its guarantee for "the free exercise of religion":
Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. . . . [T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. 
In short, the inclusion of protection for the "free exercise of religion" in the constitution suggested to the Danbury Baptists that the right of religious expression was government-given (thus alienable) rather than God-given (hence inalienable), and that therefore the government might someday attempt to regulate religious expression. This was a possibility to which they strenuously objected-unless, as they had explained, someone's religious practice caused him to "work ill to his neighbor."
Barton later claims, Jefferson went on to add that the "wall" was meant to be "one directional," protecting the church from the state but not the other way around, and, also, that it was intended to keep "Christian principles in government."
Barton's false interpretation is now included in ROTC training material and in indoctrination materials for home schooling and charter schools. Much of Barton's material is included in an ongoing effort to include his false history in the Congressional Record. Fortunately we have the full text of both letters. See if you can find any truth in Barton's claims.
The Danbury Baptist Association wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 7, 1801.
Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your Election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyd in our collective capacity, since your Inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief Majestracy in the United States; And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompious than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, Sir to believe, that none are more sincere.
Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty -- That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals -- That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions - That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted on the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws and usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degradingacknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those, who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and Religion should reproach their fellow men -- should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law and good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.
Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States, is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the Laws of each State; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved President, which have had such genial affect already, like the radiant beams of the Sun, will shine and prevail through all these States and all the world till Hierarchy and Tyranny be destroyed from the Earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that America's God has raised you up to fill the chair of State out of that good will which he bears to the Millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have cald you to sustain and support you in your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.
Signed in behalf of the Association.
Ephram Robbins The Committee
Stephen S. Nelson
On January 1, 1802, in response to the letter from the Danbury Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which are so good to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all of his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessings of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.
Barton follows his ludicrous analysis of these letters with a series of highly inventive "quotes" of Jefferson in the same article.
Barton quotes the Kentucky Resolution which was adopted by the Kentucky Legislature on November 10, 1798, as a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by Congress. Jefferson wrote this but this fact was not known for years. This is the Barton quote and by now you should be highly suspicious of anything in a form like this.
[N]o power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution. Kentucky Resolution, 1798
'The link is to full Kentucky Resolution 1798 only section 3 is quoted here with Barton's selection in parentheses
3. Resolved, That it is true as a general principle, and is also expressly declared by one of the amendments to the Constitutions, that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, our prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”; and that (no power over the freedom of religion,) freedom of speech, or freedom of the press being (delegated to the United States by the Constitution,) nor prohibited by it to the States, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the States or the people: that thus was manifested their determination to retain to themselves the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom, and how far those abuses which cannot be separated from their use should be tolerated, rather than the use be destroyed. And thus also they guarded against all abridgment by the United States of the freedom of religious opinions and exercises, and retained to themselves the right of protecting the same, as this State, by a law passed on the general demand of its citizens, had already protected them from all human restraint or interference. And that in addition to this general principle and express declaration, another and more special provision has been made by one of the amendments to the Constitution, which expressly declares, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”: thereby guarding in the same sentence, and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press: insomuch, that whatever violated either, throws down the sanctuary which covers the others, arid that libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion, are withheld from the cognizance of federal tribunals. That, therefore, the act of Congress of the United States, passed on the 14th day of July, 1798, intituled “An Act in addition to the act intituled An Act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States,” which does abridge the freedom of the press, is not law, but is altogether void, and of no force.
Barton quotes from Jefferson's second inaugural address
In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. Second Inaugural Address, 1805
Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address actual quote.
(In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the power of the federal government.) I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies
Barton's quote of Jefferson's letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808
[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary.
Actual quote, no parentheses this time since there are no two words from his quote together in the actual quote.
No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the conscience of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose (Letters to the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut, Feb. 4, 1809).
Barton's version of a letter to Samuel Millar, 1808
I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises.
Actual quote, Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808
(I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions,) their doctrines, discipline, (or exercises.) This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the States the powers not delegated to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must then rest with the States.
Barton quotes a letter from Jefferson to Noah Webster claiming that the government was to be powerless to interfere with religious expressions since he had long witnessed the unhealthy tendency of government to encroach upon the free exercise of religion, which we know was not Jefferson's reality.
It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in the several States that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors . . . and which experience has nevertheless proved they [the government] will be constantly encroaching on if submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious [effective] against wrong and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion.
Letter to Noah Webster, December 4, 1790 ctual quote
(It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted Position in the several States, that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors:) that there are certain portions of right not necessary to enable them to carry on an effective government, (and which experience has nevertheless proved they will be constantly encroaching on, if submitted to them: that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious against wrong, and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion:) of the second, trial by jury, habeus corpus laws, free presses." - Letter to Noah Webster, December 4, 1790
Then Barton congers up a religious quote from Jefferson's letter to Benjamin Rush in which he denounces the New England Puritan/Federalist coalition which had been attacking him during the election of 1800. swearing eternal hostility to the tyranny of the irrational beliefs as used by the clergy for authoritarian control.
[T]he clause of the Constitution which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes and they believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly.
Thomas Jeffersonto Dr. Benjamin Rush Monticello, September 23, 1800 full letter
-- I have to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of Aug. 22, and to congratulate you on the healthiness of your city. Still Baltimore, Norfolk & Providence admonish us that we are not clear of our new scourge. When great evils happen, I am in the habit of looking out for what good may arise from them as consolations to us, and Providence has in fact so established the order of things, as that most evils are the means of producing some good. The yellow fever will discourage the growth of great cities in our nation, & I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue & freedom, would be my choice.
I agree with you entirely, in condemning the mania of giving names to objects of any kind after persons still living. Death alone can seal the title of any man to this honor, by putting it out of his power to forfeit it. There is one other mode of recording merit, which I have often thought might be introduced, so as to gratify the living by praising the dead. In giving, for instance, a commission of chief justice to Bushrod Washington, it should be in consideration of his integrity, and science in the laws, and of the services rendered to our country by his illustrious relation, &c. A commission to a descendant of Dr. Franklin, besides being in consideration of the proper qualifications of the person, should add that of the great services rendered by his illustrious ancestor, Bn Fr, by the advancement of science, by inventions useful to man, &c. I am not sure that we ought to change all our names. And during the regal government, sometimes, indeed, they were given through adulation; but often also as the reward of the merit of the times, sometimes for services rendered the colony. Perhaps, too, a name when given, should be deemed a sacred property.
I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten. On the contrary, it is because I have reflected on it, that I find much more time necessary for it than I can at present dispose of. I have a view of the subject which ought to displease neither the rational Christian nor Deists, and would reconcile many to a character they have too hastily rejected. I do not know that it would reconcile the genus irritabile vatum who are all in arms against me. Their hostility is on too interesting ground to be softened. The delusion into which the X. Y. Z. plot shewed it possible to push the people; the successful experiment made under the prevalence of that delusion on (the clause of the constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U. S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly;) for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me, forging conversations for me with Mazzei, Bishop Madison, &c., which are absolute falsehoods without a circumstance of truth to rest on; falsehoods, too, of which I acquit Mazzei & Bishop Madison, for they are men of truth.
But enough of this: it is more than I have before committed to paper on the subject of all the lies that has been preached and printed against me. I have not seen the work of Sonnoni which you mention, but I have seen another work on Africa, (Parke's,) which I fear will throw cold water on the hopes of the friends of freedom. You will hear an account of an attempt at insurrection in this state. I am looking with anxiety to see what will be it's effect on our state. We are truly to be pitied. I fear we have little chance to see you at the Federal city or in Virginia, and as little at Philadelphia. It would be a great treat to receive you here. But nothing but sickness could effect that; so I do not wish it. For I wish you health and happiness, and think of you with affection.
David Barton's article "The Dream of Dr. Benjamin Rush & God's Hand in Reconciling John Adams and Thomas Jefferson." was based on a Dec. 21, 1809 letter to Benjamin Rush. Notice that [Jefferson] is inserted in the Barton version when it is clear that only Adams and Rush could know who they were writing about in the full letter. Also Adams is clearly mocking the very beliefs that Barton claims for him. Here's Barton's version:
"My friend, there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, Who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishop on the heads of candidates for the ministry. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious -- there can be no legitimate government - but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it -- all without it is rebellion and perdition, or, in more orthodox words, damnation. . . Your prophecy, my dear friend, has not become history as yet. I have no resentment of animosity against the gentleman [Jefferson] and abhor the idea of blackening his character or transmitting him in odious colors to posterity. But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many correspondences. If I should receive a letter from him, however, I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it."
The full letter John Adams to Benjamin Rush December 21. 1809.
My Dear Sir, -- I thank you for the pleasing account of your Family in your favour of the 5th. As I take a lively interest in their Prosperity and Felicity, your relation of it gave me great Pleasure. We have Letters from our Colony navigating the Baltic, dated at Christiansand. They had been so far as prosperous, healthy and happy as such Travellers could expect to be.
Pope said of my Friend General Oglethorpe
Some driven by strong Benevolence of soul
Shall fly like Oglethorpe from Pole to Pole.
But what was a Trip to Georgia in Comparison with the Journeys and Voyages that J. Q. Adams has performed ? I do not believe that Admiral Nelson ever ran greater Risques at sea.
Tell Richard that I hope Mrs. Rush will soon present him with a son that will do him as much honour in proportion, as the first born of his Genius has already done him in the opinion of the world. W. S. S. our Guardian of the Athenaeum has obtained it and proclaimed it loudly every where the best Pamphlet that ever he read. Be sure you do not hint this to Mrs. Rush Senr. It would allarm her Delicacy.
I really do not know whether I do not envy your City of Philadelphia for its Reputation for Science, Arts and Letters and especially its Medical Professor. I know not either whether I do not envy you your Genius and Imagination. Why have not I some Fancy? some Invention? some Ingenuity? some discursive Faculty? Why has all my Life been consumed in searching for Facts and Principles and Proofs and Reasons to support them? Your Dreams and Fables have more Genius in them than all my Life. Your Fable of Dorcas would make a good Chapter or a good Appendix to The Tale of a Tub.
(But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a Baptism, not a Marriage not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishops on the heads of Candidates for the Ministry.) In the same manner as the holy Ghost is transmitted from Monarch to Monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a Dove and by that other Phyal which I have seen in the Tower of London. (There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All, without it is Rebellion and Perdition, or in more orthodox words Damnation.) Although this is all Artifice and Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft, Gentlemens Craft, Peoples Craft, Doctors Craft, Lawyers Craft, Merchants Craft, Tradesmens Craft, Labourers Craft and Devils Craft in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it.
Do you wonder that Voltaire and Paine have made Proselytes? Yet there was as much subtlety, Craft and Hypocrisy in Voltaire and Paine and more too than in Ignatius Loyola.
This Letter is so much in the tone of my Friend the Abby Raynal and the Grumblers of the last age, that I pray you to burn it. I cannot copy it.
(Your Prophecy my dear Friend has not become History as yet. I have no Resentment or Animosity against the Gentleman and abhor the Idea of blackening his Character or transmitting him in odious Colours to Posterity.)
(But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many Correspondences. If I should receive a Letter from him however I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it.)
The Auroras you sent me for which I thank you, are full of Momentous Matter.
I am Dear Sir with every friendly sentiment yours
Barton attempts to deny the obvious in this article about the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli Article 11. The original quote is so clear in its intent and since the treaty began in the Washington administration and was signed during Adams administration, it clearly states the views of the Founding Fathers and the total freedom of religion built into the Constitution. Watch Barton twist himself into knots as he tries to deal with this, I, personally, had to give up making any sense at all of it. The person who wrote article 11, Joel Barlow, regarded it as extending our freedom of religion to other countries.
ARTICLE 11. As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Barton claimed on the tape of the Daily Show that article 11 did not appear in the original treaty. This is only true of one existing Arabic language version, the English version passed by the Senate includes article 11. At the same link is John Adams Tripoli Treaty signing proclamation, which Barton never deals with in any of his articles.
"Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all others citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfil the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.
The New York Times Magazine reported that When the U.S. Senate invited a Hindu leader to open a 2007 session with a prayer, Barton objected, saying: “In Hindu [sic], you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods. And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration when they talked about Creator.” This is proven wrong by a story told in Jefferson's autobiography
The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.
An unsigned work of actual scholarship posted at Facing History and Ourselves, "Almighty God Hath Created the Mind Free": Religious Freedom in Colonial Virginia" tells how common men united with the Founding Fathers to assure religious freedom for all.
From a religious point of view, the eighteenth century saw a major transformation in the British colonies among Protestant believers. In the eyes of its supporters, the Anglican Church served its parishioners well, providing charity and spiritual guidance to the poor and respectable careers to many of the gentry. In many places, the traditional church gave settlers cohesion, purpose, and structure. Church attendance was high. Civic leaders and religious ministers came from the same class, reinforcing a social order that was widely accepted.
But Dissenting voices had long been part of the Anglican Church. Starting in the 1730s and1740s, the first great American evangelical revival swept the colonies. In open-air sermons attended by thousands, it introduced a new religious experience that emphasized complete devotion to God, the sinfulness of all, and an equal access to God’s grace—a call that had a special appeal for the lower classes.
In addition to their call for personal commitment, evangelical revivalists also attacked the Anglican and Congregationalist Churches for their rational approach to Scripture, their hierarchical institutions, and their vested interests in worldly affairs, which ignored the suffering and needs of the common people. Eventually, Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists—the denominations most affected by the Great Awakening—would become the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S.
The importance of these denominations to the struggle for religious freedoms is often overlooked by scholarship that focuses on the Founding Fathers, many of whom were Deists. New scholarship about this period in Virginian history balances the contributions of famed political leaders such as Jefferson and Madison with those of ordinary individuals, whose efforts helped secure their own liberties of faith.
Barton often claims that the Founding Fathers were like minded that they only intended to establish America as a Christian country with freedom for all Christians but with no established church. This is to ignore the rejection of the supernatural and irrational beliefs by those Founders influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and The Age of Reason. The rational mind was viewed by these Deists as the greatest work of Natures God, the God of Providence, the New Testament God of Love who loves each and every atom and creature of his creation equally. James Madison was typical of this view saying, “Philosophy is common sense with big words.” They used their reason while they had the chance during the time which was, in Jefferson's words "for fixing every essential right on a legal basis... while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united" I leave you with the fullest explanation by Jefferson of the whys and hows of full religious freedom found in his Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17-1784. Jefferson's deep understanding of human nature and history is shown in the last part beginning with, "But is the spirit of the people an infallible, a permanent reliance?" I also know that David Barton has never read this, for his head has not yet exploded.
The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the aera of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error however at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact, the vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in, and to make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves. But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the same. Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments? Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws. It is true, we are as yet secured against them by the spirit of the times. I doubt whether the people of this country would suffer an execution for heresy, or a three years imprisonment for not comprehending the mysteries of the Trinity. But is the spirit of the people an infallible, a permanent reliance? Is it government? Is this the kind of protection we receive in return for the rights we give up? Besides, the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.