Tag Archives: David Barton

In which David Barton invokes the Revolutionary War

A few days ago, James Robison’s TV show featured court evangelical Robert Jeffress and David Barton.

Barton’s Rev War illustration has a few problems. (Shocking, I know.)

He notes that at the outset of the war in New England, “nobody contacted the national commander-in-chief and said, ‘Hey, we got the enemy coming.  What are you going to do about it?'”  That’s…not exactly inaccurate. But it wasn’t because the Revolutionaries intentionally bucked national authority in favor of local action.

Initially, there wasn’t really a “national commander-in-chief” to contact, since there was neither a national army nor a national governing body.  The Second Continental Congress didn’t convene until May 1775, weeks after the fighting had broken out at Lexington and Concord.

Barton’s argument that local church congregations more or less shouldered the early war effort is likewise problematic.  The mobilization of New England militia in 1775 didn’t all boil down to ministers organizing their congregants into battalions. The pulpit and the pew bolstered Revolutionary mobilization, but Barton is engaging in quite a bit of overstatement and oversimplification—which is generally the case when he discusses the role of the church in American history.

Barton also says, “The reason we won the national battle was we won all the local battles.” Given his references to specific engagements like Lexington and Bunker Hill, I assume he means “local battles” literally. So did the Revolutionaries achieve final victory because they won these battles?

That’s not even close to accurate with regard to the war as a whole. It’s more tenable if you’re only referring to the war’s initial stages, although one wonders what “winning the national battle” would mean short of victory in the war.  (And even the statement that the Americans won the “local battles” early in the war would be debatable on one level, since Bunker Hill was technically a British victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one.)

In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of what happened during Nathanael Greene’s campaigning in the South.  Greene himself did not gain a single clear-cut battlefield victory, although his subordinates did. But his campaigns nevertheless wrested control of the Carolinas out of British hands. Greene won the long game despite losing the individual battles.

Maybe Barton means “battles” metaphorically, and is speaking in political terms. In other words, the Revolutionaries succeeded because they laid the organizational groundwork on the local level. The Revolution is indeed a pretty good case study in the effectiveness of building local political momentum to generate a national movement. 

Local committees and provincial institutions helped shift American attitudes toward support for resistance and then independence, which Congress formalized in July 1776. But these local organizational efforts weren’t solely the work of churches, any more than military mobilization was.

Of course, I realize that all this might come across as pedantic.  The real purpose of Barton’s little history lesson isn’t to explain the Revolution, but to encourage local political action and promote his culture war.  History is just a means to an end.  But, hey, this is a history blog. And if you’re going to invoke history for political purposes, you should get your facts straight…or at least be precise enough to make it clear what you’re talking about.

Militia on the Revolutionary War’s first day. From A Brief History of the United States by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, 1885 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Glenn Beck is hosting a history-themed cruise

…to the Mediterranean along with David Barton and Bill O’Reilly.  Who better to guide you through the birthplaces of Western Civilization than a guy who thinks the Dead Sea Scrolls are texts suppressed by Constantine?

If you’re willing to shell out some extra cash, you can “upgrade your vacation package to associate with Glenn and crew in more intimate sessions.”

All levity aside, Barton seems an odd choice for an endeavor like this.  Since Barton bills himself as an American historian, one wonders what expertise he’s bringing to bear on a Mediterranean tour.  (I mean, all these guys are odd choices for a history-themed vacation, but you know what I mean.)

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Glenn Beck is offering history internships. Seriously.

Ever dreamed of the chance to study history with a guy who thinks the Dead Sea Scrolls are remnants of texts that Constantine suppressed, that Native Americans carved Hebrew inscriptions, and that Parson Weems is a reliable source of information on George Washington?

Well, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 25, you—yes, friend, YOU!—are eligible for a two-week internship at Beck’s Mercury One library.

You’ll have to apply first, of course.  They’re not just taking any Tom, Dick, or Harry from off the street.  But if you make the cut and fork over $375, you get access to Beck’s collection of original documents and “the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge from our speakers and guest lecturers.”

While you’re there, maybe David Barton will sign your copy of the book his publisher recalled.  Start getting those CVs ready!

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David Barton’s new TV gig

America’s favorite pseudohistorian now has his own show on the three-ring circus that is the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  That’s a formula for comedy gold—not as much as all that gilding on TBN’s sets, perhaps, but still quite a bit.

He’ll be in good company over there.  TBN evidently has a thing for self-appointed experts with dubious credentials.  One of their shows used to feature would-be creation scientist Carl Baugh, whose claims are so fatuous that even his fellow young Earth creationists have denounced him.

Barton’s apparent immunity from criticism never ceases to amaze me.  You’d think a guy who has been shown to be wrong as much as he has would eventually lose a little credibility.  I suppose when the criticism is coming from “a few dedicated liberal individuals,” you can afford to shrug it off.

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Barton and Jefferson ride again

Back when Thomas Nelson withdrew David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies from publication, Barton claimed that Simon & Schuster would release a new edition in 2013.  Whatever arrangement he thought he had with S&S must have fallen through, because it never happened.

Two years on, it looks like he’s finally found somebody to reissue it: WND Books, the publishing arm of WorldNetDaily.

If the PR is any indication, it seems that Barton and his associates, like the French monarchists before them, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing:

Despite the wildly popular success of the original hardcover edition, a few dedicated liberal individuals campaigned to discredit Barton’s scholarship and credibility, but to no avail.

Wait, to no avail?  Dude, they found so many errors and misrepresentations that the original publisher pulled it from circulation.  That’s kind of why you’re writing this ad copy for a new edition in the first place, remember?

Nice try with the circumstantial ad hominem, too.  “A few dedicated liberal individuals” sounds so much better than “numerous historians and evangelical commentators.”

I will say, however, that the new cover looks a lot sharper than the old one, so it’s got that going for it.

(Hat tip: Warren Throckmorton)

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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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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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