May 13 2012

How Big of a Liar is David Barton? You Ain’t Even Gonna Believe This One!

So, the reason I’ve been AWOL from blogging again is because I’m scrambling to write a quick book specifically debunking all the lies in David Barton’s new best-seller about Jefferson. I hadn’t planned to post any excerpts of this until it was closer to being done, but I came across one particular lie from Barton today that is just so incredible that I just have to share it. For anyone who’s ever wondered just how far Barton will go, I think this one answers that question.

This particular lie comes from the section of Barton’s book where he’s trying to convince his readers that Jefferson rejected all of the secular Enlightenment writers, and only embraced the Christian ones. He first goes after David Hume, taking a quote from Jefferson completely out of context to make it look like Jefferson’s problem with Hume was his religious views, when Jefferson’s real problem with Hume was that he was a history revisionist. What Barton quotes out of context for his Hume lie is something that Jefferson wrote specifically about his disapproval of Hume’s History of England, and had absolutely nothing to do with Hume’s religious views.

But it’s the next lie, in which he pulls a similar trick to make it appear that Jefferson had a problem with Abbé Raynal because of his religious views, where Barton really outdoes himself. Seriously, you ain’t even gonna believe this one!

From Barton’s book:

Jefferson was similarly forthright in his criticism of other secular enlightenment writers, including Guillaume Thomas François Raynal (known as Abbé Raynal). Jeferson described his works as “a mass of errors and misconceptions from beginning to end,” containing “a great deal of falsehood” and being “wrong exactly in the same proportion.” He even described Raynal as “a mere shrimp.”

As with Hume, Jefferson was referring to a particular work, and it was a work that had nothing to do with religion. Raynal had written a history of the American Revolution that was full of errors, and these errors had been copied from Raynal’s book into another work. That is what Jefferson was referring to in the first two quotes that Barton uses.

But it’s the third quote that he uses – that Jefferson called Raynal “a mere shrimp” – that really shows Barton’s astounding level of dishonesty and just how far he will go when taking things out of context. The “mere shrimp” comment had nothing to do with Raynal’s writings at all. It was referring to the man’s height!

Jefferson was recounting some of Benjamin Franklin’s anecdotes to author and publisher Robert Walsh for an article that Walsh was writing about Franklin. Here is the one that the “mere shrimp” comment comes from:

The Doctor told me, at Paris, the two following anecdotes of Abbe Raynal. He had a party to dine with him one day at Passy of whom one half were Americans, the other half French & among the last was the Abbe. During the dinner he got on his favorite theory of the degeneracy of animals and even of man, in America, and urged it with his usual eloquence. The Doctor at length noticing the accidental stature and positions of his guests, at table, ‘Come’ says he, ‘M. L’Abbe, let us try this question by the fact before us. We are here one half Americans, & one half French, and it happens that the Americans have placed themselves on one side of the table, and our French friends are on the other. Let both parties rise and we will see on which side nature has degenerated.’ It happened that his American guests were Carmichael, Harmer, Humphreys and others of the finest stature and form, while those of the other side were remarkably diminutive, and the Abbe himself particularly was a mere shrimp. He parried the appeal however, by a complimentary admission of exceptions, among which the Doctor himself was a conspicuous one.*

Yes, my friends, that is how far David Barton is willing to go with his misquotes – claiming that a comment about someone’s height in a story told by Benjamin Franklin was a “vehement denunciation” by Thomas Jefferson of the religious opinions in that person’s writings!


* Thomas Jefferson to Robert Walsh, December 4, 1818, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Works of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 12, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), 110-111. (This is the same source that Barton lists in his endnotes, so he was looking at exactly the same thing as I was looking at.)


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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    Barton has shown, time and time again, that the truth is a minor consideration when he’s pushing his religious agenda. He’s a true Liar for Jesus™.

  2. 2
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    The “mere shrimp” comment had nothing to do with Raynal’s writings at all. It was referring to the man’s height!

    How I wish there had been blogs back then.

  3. 3
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    That is really funny in a ghastly sort of way.

  4. 4

    I have come across some information that the sales of Monumental are not doing very well at all. Low even on by-Christian/for-christian standards.

    There is still little information about it. Expelled was a flop, but one could hear she sound when it flopped but Monumental has flopped quietly.

    One thing that you consider it that the sales of this type of movie is always artificially raised. For one the standards are lower and two they buy huge quantities to be shown in churches, sunday schools, xtian events, tec. Despite selling boxes and boxes to any religious organization that will buy them — the sales still don’t end up very high. And the boxes of Monumental DVDs sit in the closets in church basements until someone needs thespace for something else and — to the landfill they go.

  5. 5
    John-Henry Beck

    At that point of misquoting, why even bother with actual quotes at all? Doesn’t seem materially different from just making up quotes out of whole cloth.

  6. 6

    The reason Barton goes to such lengths is to sufficiently impress the talk show hosts who are dim enough or sufficiently persuaded by the goals to push the lies. He spreads a slimy film of historical context which contains just enough true historical reference to seem plausible. What is needed is a Prevarication Plausibility Index, or PPI™ for all Barton’s utterances.

    As Chis has pointed out often with her meticulous historical rebuttals, Barton rarely goes past the point of believability for anyone with even a small amount of historical acumen. These highlights are laughable but may represent a pushing of the envelope to see how far a lie will travel with the right push.

  7. 7

    I don’t believe Barton would know the truth if it came up and bit him in the butt, and if he did recognize it, he’d drop kick it so far, it would never bother him again. But, he knows his audience very well. I criticized his Jefferson book on Amazon and was told I “hate our country and the founders!” His followers are not interested in the truth, only what sounds good to them.

  8. 8

    I don’t believe Barton would know the truth if it came up and bit him in the butt…

    I think that he knows perfectly well what the truth is by observing the apparent effort that he puts into avoiding stepping in it.

    Chris – did you see any of the comments that I made at the AC blog regarding Jefferson and Epicurianism? It seems to me that any understanding of the man has to incorporate how much Epicurean thought he has absorbed via sources such as Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things and the writings of the 17th century French philosopher astronomer Gassendi (who tried to reconcile Epicurus with Christianity).

    It seems that all/most of the apparent contradictions and mysteries that people complain about and use to smear Jefferson are much less so when using Epicurean and Unitarian goggles – especially, emphasizing the Epicurean.

    Have you run across other sources that explore this?

  9. 9
    d cwilson

    Jefferson’s real problem with Hume was that he was a history revisionist.

    Well, obviously, Barton has no interest in drawing attention to Jefferson’s criticisms of historical revisionism.

  10. 10
    Chris Rodda

    @ jimmiraybob … I haven’t been over to AC since that ridiculous crap with TVD, but I’ll go check it out.

  11. 11

    Anyone with an ounce of common sense would be able by context alone see that Thomas Jefferson was referring to Abbe Raynal’s height rather than anything else. David Barton on the other hand has no sense and even less common sense when he starts going on about Thomas Jefferson’s xian religious feelings, his love of a god/gods, and of course his motivation for writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights as being solely based on the buybull and its morality.

    I loathe David Barton and his ilk for continuing their assault on the truth about this nation’s formation. There must be a way to counter these specious arguments and Chris you’re providing the necessary ammunition to continue fighting the David Barton’s of this nation. Thank you for continuing your struggle and for giving us ammunition to fight back and the revisionists of this nation.

  12. 12

    Chris, in comments here.

    Also maybe of interest regarding Jefferson and the Trinity, here and here.

    I’ve been reading and commenting at AC for 2-3 years and a sad fact is that TVD has a habit of attempting to drive off anybody, and by anybody I mean everybody*, that threatens his tightly held views. Some people have gone so far as to say that he doesn’t argue in good faith. Go figure.

    *and usually successfully, but I’m much too stubborn and have too much free time.

  13. 13

    If my 2 comments with links are in moderation and can be approved, only one, if any, needs to make it through.

  14. 14
    Chris Rodda

    @ jimmiraybob … just got the second one out of the spam catcher and approved it. I guess it was the links that made it look like spam, but I don’t understand why it would be seen as spam since you’re not a new commenter whose comments need to be moderated. The way I have things set is that once I approve the somebody’s first comment their future comments are automatically approved and post right away.

  15. 15
    Phillip IV

    claiming that a comment about someone’s height in a story told by Benjamin Franklin was a “vehement denunciation” by Thomas Jefferson of the religious opinions in that person’s writings!

    But look at it the other way round – if you ever find Barton commenting negatively on somebody’s height, it’s a safe assumption that it would be somebody with whose religious opinions he vehemently disagrees. On the other hand, he would never mention any sort of physical shortcoming – or any kind of shortcoming – on the part of somebody who is on his side on those issues. So all that Barton really did was projecting his own petty mindset on Jefferson.

    But as long as Barton is freely making up stories, couldn’t he at least make them interesting? I want to know what happened when Jefferson called Ed Elric a shrimp.

  16. 16

    David Barton lacks the educational credentials to teach American history at the grade school level. He may as well be calling himself an astronaut. He is, evidently, smart enough to have figured out that there is a lot of money to be made, telling certain people what they want to hear.

  17. 17

    I apologize for this being so late in response.

    I dare say, I DO believe Mr Barton doth protests too much!! Could it be that perhaps, he finds that particular phrase rather, well, “personal”?

    On a recent episode of Glenn Beck’s GBTV show, I noticed that Mr Barton appeared to be wearing rather steep platform shoes.

    I would wager that the fraud, David Barton, may have possibly overheard the term “a mere shrimp” at another point in his life…..

    PS. Just FYI Chris, Beck is getting ready to premiere some of his OWN “full-featured movies”, in his “attempt” to “take back the culture”. His movies, of course, we’re heavily influenced by Barton and are about our “Christian Founders”, (of course). Personally, the one scene he showed on his show, (to which he dutifully cried after the clip, of course), appeared to look more like a 3rd grade play, starring adults. He DID remark, (after wiping his eyes), that ir was still a very rough draft of this “soon to be blockbuster film, showing the TRUTH of America’s founding”.
    He’s also going to be releasing some “folk music” this week, to “take it back from the hippies and radicals of the 60′s & 70′s, and return it to its Judeo-Christian roots”. (Uhhhmmm, I guess everything I learned in Music History was wrong…then again, it WAS back in those “radical 70′s”, at a “Marxist University”-FSU. :)
    He’s gotten SO deep into the “Domionism” stuff, I’m surprised he’s still allowed at his LDS Temple….(My Aunt, who lives around the corner from him & attends the same LDS church, says the Church is split on Beck-about 60/40. At least 60% of Mormons are somewhat,…reasonable… (I know, BAD choice of words. :)

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