Barton: Garbage in, Garbage out

The Texas Tea Party provides another good example of how David Barton’s poor scholarship (if you can call it scholarship) isn’t just bad for public education – it also fosters falsehoods and distortions throughout our civic life.

One of the links on the Tea Party Web site asks: “What of our Christian Heritage?” Visitors then go to a page that lists a half-dozen quotes attributed to the Founders, each quote suggesting that America’s Founders wanted to create a Christian nation.

One problem, of course, is that the Tea Party is cherry-picking and taking out of context quotations favorable to their point of view. Even worse, however, is that some of the statements the Tea Partiers attribute to the Founders appear to be fraudulent. In fact, two are among a long list of quotes that Barton has used in the past (supporting his “Christian nation” argument) even though he admits that neither he nor real historians can point to evidence that the Founders ever said them.

From the Texas Tea Party Web site:

James Madison, the fourth president, known as “The Father of Our Constitution” made the following statement:

“We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Patrick Henry, that patriot and Founding Father of our country said:

“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.”

Both quotations are bogus, and both are on Barton’s list of false quotes that he once presented as true history. This is a classic case of how bad history gets accepted as fact in popular culture, especially when people are pushing a political agenda.

Barton’s defense, of course, would be that he has acknowledged his error in using those unsubstantiated quotes in his writings and speeches. He also suggests that, while Madison and Henry probably didn’t say these things, they could have because their other writings and statements included similar ideas, particularly in the case of Madison. But that’s simply an opinion not shared by respected scholars of American history. In any case, we continue to see the quotes pop up when some pressure group or another promotes the lie that the Founders wanted a nation with laws based on the Christian Bible (instead of a nation based on the principle of keeping government out of the religious affairs of the people).

And all of this shows why it was so reckless and irresponsible for State Board of Education members to appoint Barton — who has no formal training as a social scientist – as an “expert” historian to help decide what nearly 5 million Texas students learn in their public schools. When it comes to Barton’s “research,” the lesson is clear: garbage in, garbage out. Unfortunately, that kind of garbage gets recycled over and over again.

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14 Comments

  1. Charles
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    All the lies became truth, and all the truth became lies. It’s a sad commentary and most of them are completely unaware of what they are doing—like those Idaho baptists who got suckered into that trip to Haiti.

  2. David
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    The answer to the “why don’t… is that they aren’t interested in the truth. They can’t handle the truth. As has been written elsewhere, these people are on a DIABOLICAL Crusade to replace the truth. They can’t control the science classes, so they want to bring down the whole education system.
    ps: I hope people can hold down the fort for two weeks, because I’ll be out of town.

  3. Posted February 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t evangelical Christians go to the top three historians within their own ranks to find the truth on this issue? All one needs to do is read The Search for Christian America by Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden. These three men are regarded as three of the finest historians on American religious history. And all three of them are evangelical Christians. Noll is Professor of History at Wheaton College, Hatch is President-Elect and Professor of History at Wake Forest University and former Provost and Director of Graduate Studies in History at Notre Dame, and Marsden is Professor of History at Calvin College. They write,
    “The God of the founding fathers was a benevolent deity, not far removed from the God of the eighteenth-century Deists or nineteenth-century Unitarians…They were not, in any traditional sense, Christian. What historian Daniel Boorstin, now Librarian of Congress, once wrote about Jefferson and his friends applies to most of the founders: they had found in God what they most admired in men.”

  4. Posted February 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    While we can assume, de-facto, that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’ by virtue of having Christianity’s major holiday recognized as a national holiday, we should also remember that the United States was not founded in that manner.

    Earlier constructs, to be certain, were founded as Christian entitites (Massachusetts Bay Colony; etc.) – but not the United States.

    As Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation told me this week during an interview, “sixteen golden words have protected all Americans – ‘Congress shall make no law….’”

    I wish you well down there in Texas — from up here in Oregon, it appears that the inmates have pretty-well taken over the asylum.

    –W.D. Noble

  5. Charles
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    A deceased uncle of mine was born in 1909. All of his life, he maintained that southern college sports teams were consistently shafted by northern Catholic sportswriters. Because of this, he also maintained that Notre Dame was often No. 1 in the football ratings when most people thought another team really should have been No. 1 He claimed that the Catholic sportswriters and coaches all voted as a consistent and unbreakable block for Notre Dame no matter what else was going on at the time. Who is No. 1 in college football? Notre Dame! Who makes the best car in the United States? Notre Dame! Who makes the best doughnuts? Notre Dame! Who dug the Panama Canal? Notre Dame! I don’t know about the truth of any of that, but he spent a lot of his 84 years being POed about that on the back burner of his mind. He was a southern WASP.

  6. Posted February 19, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The United States was assumed to be a Christian nation by all and sundry until JFK was elected President. Once only Protestants were default loyal Americans, Catholics being tolerated, barely.

    Reviewing the political rants of elections up until JFK, it was common to lambast Catholics running for office as such, as being agents for the Papacy. The political roots of the United States are traceable back to the English Civil Wars in which Catholicism was viewed as a threat to national security. Parliament’s victory over the crown under Cromwell established a number of constitutional mechanism that were encorporated in our Constitution. Some issues that didn’t make it into British conssitutional law including the abollition of titles of nobility did in ours.

    The “Puritan” tradition is Yankee propaganda accepted wholly without consideration that the Jamestown Colony was establishment Anglican, and a for profit corporation. They didn’t make enough profit so the Crown nationalized it.

    One Kennedy was sainted by a Communist bullet, all further doubts about the basic Protestant nature slipped away, and once on the slippery slope, the assummed Christian nature of the country started to slip. This process was accelerated by the Hippy Dippy Sixties that challenged everything. Now that the Sixties generation is in their Sixties, the fanatacism pendulum is swining in the other direction just as far and as nutty.

    It is not unreasonable for people of a certain age to suddenly realise that the assumed Christian nature of the nation not so assumed as was assumed before. This is a reasonable shock to the value systems.

    Trying to prove that the US was never a Christian nation flies into the reality that the assumption, albeit neither lefal or conssitutionally based, were part of the fabric of America. Further illustration of this paradism includes:

    Syngman Rhee, President of Korea was accetped as OK for America because he was Christian, as was Chiang Kai Shek, and Ngo Diem. It was a sure fire guarantee of American military aid if the President was Christian and to oppose the “GodLess Communists”.

    The conquest of the Philippines and the governance of the Islands under the USA was predicated on converting the heathen which included both Catholics and Muslims. Church groups moved in with the occcupation forces and built schools.

    Quoting chapter and verse in the courts and in the political hustings was a decided advantage. “Onward Christian Soldiers” was sung by FDR and Churchill on the desks of the HMS Prince of Wales as a part of the signing of the Atlantic Charter.

    It is better to characterize the Christian Right as having a Rip Van Winkle moment of considerable greater than Rip’s twenty years. But trying to prove that the United States was never a Christian nature and was never under strong Christian values is historical humbug. The most accurate account is the note that the United States places a vastly different distribution of believers than before JFK.

  7. Cytocop
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Coragyps, Barton is so stupid and such a liar, he could have said this: “Two plus two equals five.”

    Life in the United States is so bizarre, in the words of Will Ferrell from the movie Zoolander: “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.”

  8. Charles
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Ben. I will go you one better because it shows that few people appreciate or even care about the truth, including supposedly responsible people.

    As you know, I am an archaeologist (among other things). I was in a museum run by a town government. I told the museum guy that I was a professional archaeologist and pointed out the fact that several artifacts in his display case were labeled with pure nonsense and suggested that it be changed to state the truth. Still there. You know why? Here is what mitigates against the truth.

    The artifacts are owned by a wealthy and influential local artifact collector with no educational background in archaeology. Just in case you are not aware of it, professional archaeologists view artifact collecting as an unethical practice and state it as such in formal organizational ethics statements. This artifact collector has the ignorant locals cowed into thinking he is some kind of real and knowledgeable archaeologist. The guy at the museum that day was a young school teacher picking up a few extra summer bucks. He did not take me seriously simply because I was a stranger from out of town. He thought the collector’s labeling in the display case was probably correct because Mr. X had a reputation (among really ignorant people) that he really knew his archaeology. Furthermore, the teacher dared not challenge Mr. X’s ignorance about archaeology because it might make waves that could cost him his teaching contract for the coming year. Mr. X was a very powerful and civically active man in town.

    This is what keeps men like Barton in business and allows his errors to exist as truth.

  9. Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    This is what James Madison wrote: “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” c. 1817, William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555. It is way past time to admit the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution and to instead make sure the constitutional issue is not distorted by using its words: “religion,’ not church. I further expound upon the constitutional principle in The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer. I majored in religion, Baylor ’62. David Barton did not; he was a high school math teacher?

  10. knowledgeispower
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    A good number of quotations from the founding fathers are available; no need to make them up:

    “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” –John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli, 1797.

    “The clergy had a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity throughout the United States….The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, and any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in oppostion to their schemes.”–Thomas Jefferson, 1800.

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”–Thomas Jefferson, 1814.

    “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
    –James Madison, 1803.

    The founders had experienced the miseries of theocracy. They created the first godless constitution since Transylvania’s in the 1590′s, and they did it on purpose: to keep religion out of government and the state out of religious affairs. Too bad the religoneers can’t appreciate what they’ve got.

  11. Ben
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Coragyps, that’s a great idea. I encourage you to start a blog called “Things David Barton Could Have Said.” Heavy-duty satire, along the lines of the blog about Glenn Beck raping and murdering a girl in 1990. Did you ever see that one?

  12. David
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I looked a the Tea Party website.
    Could we get some real historians to challenge Barton et. al. to a debate or series of debates?

    Then we could get some big time media publicity going on it.

    I’d almost just as soon have an “ol’ timey ” ‘rasslin” match.

  13. Coragyps
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    “He also suggests that, while Madison and Henry probably didn’t say these things, they could have because their other writings and statements included similar ideas, particularly in the case of Madison.”

    That gets funnier the longer you think about it….
    I wonder how many things I can make up that Barton “could have said?”

  14. Ben
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    You want to hear something really outrageous? A math professor at James Madison University has that quote on his page.

    http://www.math.jmu.edu/~jim/JamesMadisonQuotes.htm

    I wrote to the president of the university last year and told him about this. The assistant who got back to me didn’t seem to care and didn’t take any action.

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