Tag Archives: David Barton

Run Dave Run

Some upstanding citizens are trying to convince David Barton to run for the Senate.  If it means he won’t have as much time to write history books, I’d be happy to make a small campaign contribution.

I believed in Harvey Dent, and I believe in David Barton.

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Glenn Beck presents a history exhibit

Glenn Beck hosted an exhibit of historical artifacts called the “Independence Through History Museum” at the Grand American Hotel in Salt Lake City over the July 4th weekend.  The museum was only one part of Beck’s “Man in the Moon” event, which included conferences, lectures, and a live performance that (as far as I can determine) was an attempt to combine historical pageantry with Cirque du Soleil.

More info here and here.  Note that the exhibit featured Arnold Friberg’s painting of Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge.  Since it’s doubtful the incident in the painting ever happened, it’s highly fitting that David Barton helped select the items to be displayed.

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This historian gig is messing with my culture war

David Barton recently responded to Gregg Frazer’s critique of his Jefferson book in WORLD Magazine:

Throckmorton’s original assault on my book managed to avoid its major points and instead criticize minor and even obscure facts, and this new attack by Frazer seems to suggest that this “debate” may become a never-ending discussion over less and less. With so many important cultural battles that desperately need our focused attention, it seems a misuse of time and energy to continue arguing over relatively inconsequential points with those who profess to hold the same common Christian values, so I will now resume my efforts attempting to beat back the secularist progressive movement that wrongly invokes Jefferson in their efforts to expunge any presence of faith from the public square.

I found this response interesting for two reasons. First, I think Barton is understating both the number and the seriousness of the issues his critics have raised. There comes a point where so many errors and misinterpretations accumulate that it’s not a matter of a few tiny nicks, but something more like the old Chinese punishment of death by a thousand cuts.

Second, what to make of Barton’s statement that defending his work against fellow believers is a misuse of time and energy?  Does this mean he’ll only be responding to “secularist” critiques from now on?  It almost comes across as a tacit admission that his historical writing is merely ammo for the culture war, and that he’s not really interested in teaching history for its own sake.

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Remind me again why this guy is an authority

Whenever Glenn Beck and David Barton get together to talk about history, you know you’re in for a show.

Check out this conversation they had about the movie Lincoln.  Beck asks Barton about the film’s accuracy, and Barton claims that, contrary to what the film shows, the Thirteenth Amendment passed Congress easily as a “slam dunk” and without all the wheeling and dealing.

In reality, the vote in the HOR was anything but a “slam dunk.”  Approval of a proposed constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority, not a simple one, and the Thirteenth Amendment just barely passed.  A mere handful of additional nays, and it wouldn’t have.

Barton’s supporters are always assuring us that he’s an expert in matters constitutional and historical; he does know how new amendments get added to the Constitution, right?

As for the “wheeling and dealing,” Lincoln’s administration did, in fact, put quite a bit of pressure congressmen to support the amendment.  The exact nature and extent of that pressure is a matter of some uncertainty (for obvious reasons, it’s not the sort of thing that leaves a paper trail), but that Lincoln was more heavily involved in this congressional matter than was usual for him is pretty well established.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War

Lincoln gets his mouth washed out

At long last, we arrive at the most pressing issue yet regarding Spielberg’s Lincoln: Is there too much cussin’ in it?

The Hollywood Reporter asked David Barton for his take:

“The historical record is clear that Lincoln definitely did not tolerate profanity around him,” Barton says. “There are records of him confronting military generals if he heard about them cursing. Furthermore, the F-word used by [W.N.] Bilbo was virtually nonexistent in that day and it definitely would not have been used around Lincoln. If Lincoln had heard it, it is certain that he would instantly have delivered a severe rebuke.”

Barton is overstating his case, as he often does. Lincoln didn’t make a habit of swearing, but he did break out the curse words occasionally, especially when his temper got the better of him. Check out Chapter Seven in Michael Burlingame’s The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, which discusses some of these episodes. And as we’ve noted before, he wasn’t above telling an off-color joke.

What about those records of Lincoln confronting generals who cursed? Barton doesn’t specify which records he’s talking about, but in an article at his organization’s website he says Lincoln “personally confronted one of his own generals when he learned of his profanity and then urged the general to use his authority to combat that vice.” His source is Arthur Brooks Lapsley’s The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, which briefly mentions the incident without naming any names or providing specific details. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what incident this is.  In any case, I don’t really think we can use this story to draw any broad conclusions about Lincoln’s level of toleration for profanity.  It wouldn’t be unusual for a commander-in-chief to rebuke an officer who used vulgar language in his presence in the nineteenth century.

As for the f-word being “virtually nonexistent” during the Civil War, while the term wasn’t as common or endowed with so many varied meanings as it is now, it wasn’t unknown. It was rare to see the f-word in print, of course, although even during the Victorian era it appeared in pornographic stories.

Barton notes that officers and enlisted men in the Union forces were subject to courts-martial for using profanity, and that’s certainly true. Yet to judge by their own accounts, soldiers in that war—like soldiers in other times and places—swore profusely. “There is so much swearing in this place it would set anyone against that if from no other motive but disgust at hearing it,” wrote one Northern soldier about life in camp. Another noted that “Drinking, Swearing, & Gambling is carried on among Officers and men from the highest to the lowest.”  The same thing was true of the Continental Army, where cursing was officially discouraged but widely practiced.

So if you ask me, here’s the bottom line: While  Abraham Lincoln didn’t curse much, and while profanity wasn’t as ubiquitous in his day as it is in ours, there’s nothing particularly inaccurate about the movie’s language.

None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s interesting that moviegoers are surprised at the notion that nineteenth-century Americans had an arsenal of vulgarities at their disposal and the moxie to use them. I think it’s because they look so stern and dignified in those old paintings and photos. We’re so used to seeing them in gilt frames and on marble pedestals that encountering them in any other way can be a jolt.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, History and Memory

Labor Day miscellanea

A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.

  • Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies.  The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website.  This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.”  It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart.  (Hat tip to John Fea)
  • A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far.  It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
  • In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
  • Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
  • An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol.  If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
  • Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, American Revolution, Civil War, History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites

This isn’t the way to defend David Barton

For what it’s worth, I’m an evangelical Christian whose political inclinations are not liberal. I mention this here because posts of this sort tend to prompt irate commenters to speculate about my convictions.  Now, on to business.

Rick Green, who does speaking engagements for WallBuilders, takes on David Barton’s critics on his site. I stumbled across his defense of Barton while browsing some religious history blogs, and there are a number of points he makes which I find problematic.

He begins by posing a question.

Question: What do elitist professors have in common with Adolf Hitler & Saul Alinsky?

Answer: They masterfully use the powerful art of innuendo to falsely defame those with which they disagree.

Definition of Innuendo: A derogatory hint or reference to a person or thing

For someone who has a problem with derogatory hints or references, Green is surprisingly ready to employ them in taking on Barton’s critics.  He’s just compared them to Hitler.

Furthermore, he doesn’t hesitate to impugn their motives, writing that Barton’s critics (“elitist professors,” as we are reminded a number of times) are motivated by jealousy, since “they write boring books that very few people read and they give boring lectures that are only attended by students forced to do so in order to get a grade,” and “they do not want to lose the power of being the keepers of the keys to history.”

Green also repeats a defense commonly used by Barton and his defenders, namely that Barton cites and quotes from original sources in his work.  That’s true, but it ignores the fact that what is often at issue in discussions of Barton’s work is his interpretation and contextualization of those sources.  That a scholar has used primary sources does not address the issue of how he has done so, which in the case of Barton’s work is often the very point being contested.  It is the proper use of the evidence, and not simply the presence of quotations or references, that distinguishes good scholarship from bad.

If we’re going to have a discussion about the quality of Barton’s work, then, the only way to go about doing so is to grapple with the work itself.  Green claims that Barton’s critics have failed to do this, that they “have not pointed out even one inaccuracy or false statement.”  I find this statement baffling, since many critics—including a number of evangelical Christians—have been taking issue with specific claims made by Barton for some time. (See, for example, here, here, and here.)  Indeed, entire books have been written in response to his work.

Even more puzzling is Green’s claim that “if you’re wondering why Thomas Nelson would pull the book, perhaps you should know that HarperCollins (secular publisher) recently purchased Thomas Nelson (Christian publisher). I wouldn’t have expected Deepak Chopra (New Age Atheist) and David Barton to remain under the same publisher for long.” This line of argument makes little sense. HarperCollins publishes books from a number of religious perspectives, including an explicitly Christian one.  In recent years Harper (sometimes through HarperOne, its religious imprint) has published Luke Timothy Johnson’s defense of traditional New Testament orthodoxy against the Jesus Seminar, works on spiritual formation by Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, and popular theological books by N.T. Wright.

And if it was Thomas Nelson’s acquisition by HarperCollins prompted the pulling of Barton’s book, why didn’t Nelson also pull their other books of an evangelical bent? After all, the bulk of Thomas Nelson’s catalogue consists of explicitly Christian and evangelical books by prominent believers and ministers such as John MacArthur, Max Lucado, Hank Hanegraaff, and Billy Graham.  If Thomas Nelson’s acquisition by a “secular publisher” made Barton’s book a problem, why are Billy Graham’s books still available through Thomas Nelson?

I think we should all be open to hearing a robust defense of Barton’s work based on the evidence at hand and the proper interpretation of it. What Green has offered us, alas, is not that defense.  Barton’s defenders need to stay focused on the historical claims Barton makes and whether or not he is able to substantiate them—and the same applies to his critics.

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