I am still working my way through the second segment of David Barton’s appearance on Jon Stewart last week. In case you want to follow along, I have posted the segment below. In case you want to learn more about Christianity and the founding or the idea of America as a “Christian nation” check out Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.
7:44: Barton is talking here about his book Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion. I have a copy sitting in front of me as I write this. Barton is correct when he says that the book has a lot footnotes. (I counted 1433, not 1700, as Barton claims). He compares his well-researched book to Isaac Kramnick and Laurence Moore’s The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, which does not contain any footnotes. Now granted, The Godless Constitution is a very frustrating book because it does not contain footnotes. I have no idea why W.W. Norton decided to leave the footnotes out, but in doing so the book lost some credibility against the very people it hoped to reach. (Unless, of course, Kramnick and Moore were preaching to the choir with this book, hoping to reach liberals who already believe the Constitution is “godless.”). I think the Godless Constitution is worthy of critique because it does not look at the full complexity of church-state relations in the late eighteenth-century. It fails to address the question of federalism, or the notion that many of the states had either religious establishments or Christian qualifications for office-holding. I generally agree with Daniel Driesbach review of the book. I think Barton would agree as well.
But there is something more at work here. Barton is very impressed with books that footnote primary sources. He has criticized other Christian historians–such as Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden–for citing too many secondary sources and not enough primary source material in their The Search for Christian America.
Here is a quote from Barton’s Original Intent (p. 316-318):
A simple means by which revisionism in any of its forms may be identified is its nearly universal failure to cite primary-source documents. Consider for example, the work mentioned earlier, The Search for Christian America, wherein three scholars purported to investigate whether America really did have a Christian founding.
They ultimately concluded that it did not, based in part on their use of “psychohistory” to impugn the Founders’ motives, as well as on their rejection of the Founders definitions of Christianity in deference to their own…Yet the most glaring evidence of their revisionist approach to the American founding is revealed by an examination of the bibliography list at the conclusion of their book. While allegedly examining the Founding Era, strikingly, 88 percent of the “historical sources” on which they rely postdate 1900, and 80 percent postdate 1950!”
This quote is interesting for several reasons:
1. Barton calls the lack of primary citations a “universal failure” among revisionists. Wow! Maybe he should pick up a copy of Noll’s America’s God or Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity. According to Barton, all historians fail to use primary sources. This is an outrageous claim.
2. Barton likes to pick on a certain genre of book–the kind of book that attempts to form a bridge between scholarship and the popular reader. This is why he targets Godless Constitution and The Search for Christian America instead of more formal works of scholarship.
3. I am baffled by Barton’s claim that Search employs “psychohistory.”
4. Barton sees “revisionism” as a bad word, not realizing that he is doing it himself. Whether he is right or wrong, Barton is trying to “revise” much of the historical scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s–scholarship that he disagrees with. Revisionism is the lifeblood of history, but Barton has demonized the term.
5. Barton believes that simply citing primary sources is enough. He is not particularly interested in interpreting them. He has no use for the 5 c’s of historical thinking: change over time, context, causality, contingency, and complexity. He fails to recognize that secondary works of scholarship offer interpretations of primary sources and often-times those interpretations are sound.
So when Barton tells Stewart that Original Intent has 1700 footnotes, he sounds very scholarly. I am sure this will impress many of his followers, especially since he has set up The Godless Constitution as his straw man.
8:35: Here Barton shows his ignorance of historical scholarship when he suggests that scholars are saying that religion was not part of the founding of this country. How do you reconcile that with the fact that religion is the most studied topic among members of the American Historical Association or that American Religious History is the most thriving subfield in American history right now?
You're to be commended for doing this series, John. After reading about his appearance on the Daily Show over at Religion in Am Hist, I watched the whole thing yesterday and got a headache. Barton is clearly a flimflam salesman–he never answered a direct question, but instead would bring up a “fact” he knows to misdirect Stewart's line of questioning. It's very effective–but hardly convincing.
I also loved his fetishization of footnotes (versus a trade publication that didn't use footnotes.) Yeah, yeah: hundreds of pages of footnotes. That's the ticket! It doesn't even matter what's in the footnotes! He wields “facts” scattered from hell to breakfast, and pretends like that's scholarly analysis.
I'll say this for Barton: He makes Larry Schweikart look like a veritable Colossus.
Paul M. says
To play off of Historiann's comment, Barton's “fetishization” of primary source footnotes may be a corollary to the fascination that many fundamentalist pastors have for alphabet soup titles a la Reverend Dr. ____ ______, Ph.D., Th.D….
The semblance of respectability has an attraction all its own.
Tom Van Dyke says
You scored with this one, Dr. Fea.
Our Founding Truth says
John wrote: 4. Barton sees “revisionism” as a bad word, not realizing that he is doing it himself. Whether he is right or wrong, Barton is trying to “revise” much of the historical scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s–scholarship that he disagrees with. Revisionism is the lifeblood of history, but Barton has demonized the term.
5. Barton believes that simply citing primary sources is enough. He is not particularly interested in interpreting them. He has no use for the 5 c's of historical thinking: change over time, context, causality, contingency, and complexity. He fails to recognize that secondary works of scholarship offer interpretations of primary sources and often-times those interpretations are sound.
I will not answer for Barton's mistakes–only for my own, yet, did not the framers say not to interpret Law in any sense different than their own?:
“I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution…What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.”
–James Madison to Henry Lee on June 25, 1824.
Scholarship of the 60's and 70's rejects the Christian foundation of the founding. How is that not revisionism?
The framers told posterity we were a Christian Nation. Are we supposed to ignore it and accept the view of 1960's secularists? It is James Madison who disagrees with modern scholarship.
Am I missing something here?
Am I missing something here?
You might be confusing 1960s and 1970s historical scholarship with 1960s and 1970s (or earlier) jurisprudence.
As to Barton the “historian”:
He seems “willingly ignorant” of historical research on religion in America. This is because, despite his claim to be a historian, he despises the profession. He thinks professional historians are tools of progressivism.
He also exhibits little sound judgment. If all he did was tour churches teaching about “some lesser known evangelicals” who helped found our country, he would be engaging in a valid educational activity. But he has to add things like “we have been trained to remember the less religious founders.” There are reasons why we remember Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Franklin. Barton just does not know them.
Our Founding Truth says
Lee said: You might be confusing 1960s and 1970s historical scholarship with 1960s and 1970s (or earlier) jurisprudence.
I was under the impression the issue regarded interpretation–as Madison wrote, not to interpret the 18th century, or any century, in modern terms.
Where in the videos does Barton claim to be an historian? He makes mistakes, and gets hammered for it.
There are reasons why we remember Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Franklin. Barton just does not know them.>>>>
Lee, this is a prime example why Christians get frustrated with Secularists. Barton has told the world TJ and Franklin were not Christians. What about the other 300 guys? Are they chopped liver?
I would never claim any of the four guys you mention were Evangelicals, however, as my research has shown, Hamilton was Orthodox, and although GW walked out of communion for several years, he did take Communion with the Presbyterians, and Bishop Meade gives a valid reason why older Anglicans sporadically communed.
Jonathan Rowe says
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe says
“Barton has told the world TJ and Franklin were not Christians. What about the other 300 guys? Are they chopped liver?
“I would never claim any of the four guys you mention were Evangelicals, however, as my research has shown, Hamilton was Orthodox,…”
As I and a handful of others who witnessed him have observed, OFT likes to “read” things into the record that aren't there. No evidence shows the adult Hamilton an orthodox Trinitarian Christian until after his son died and OFT knows it.
Re the 300 others, I'm sure they all, like Jefferson and Franklin, believed in God and thought themselves “Christians” in some broad, nominal sense; but, again, the evidence does not show even a majority of them Trinity affirming, “born again,” regenerate “Christians” as OFT would like to believe.
Evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity teaches a “narrow” path — that is, the “regenerate” in ANY given nation will be a minority. I don't know why evangelical-fundamentalists like OFT think Founding era America should have been any different.
Are they chopped liver?
Well, sort of, in your manner of speaking. They were a neglected side dish, growing cold in their sanctified schmaltz until reheated by Barton and served up to those small number of people around the table who desire only Christian cuisine.
Barton demonstrated his lack of historical judgment on Beck. Using a painting depicting the signing of the Constitution ( for once, he did not claim to own the original!), Barton suggested that we have been “trained” (by secularists? ) to remember the less religious founders. He mentioned Hamilton, Franklin, and one other I cannot recall at this time. ( Barton made no claim about Hamilton's orthodoxy. He just called him “less religious”). Then he drew Beck and his viewership’s attention to less well known founders who started the first bible society or who became America's youngest theologian (whatever that means.)
Not only does it show his lack of historical judgment about what is important, it reflects his dubious educational theory. From an interview I read, he seems to believe that Americans can once again become the Christian nation that we once were if we taught school children about the Christian founders. This appears to be a Christian version of that equally dubious liberal educational theory that if history books and teachers scrounge up and devote attention to obscure women or blacks from the past, this will enhance their self esteem and their educational performance of female and black students.
I was under the impression the issue regarded interpretation
And you are right, if I understand you. But your indictment of “scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s” more accurately pertains to judges who have interpreted, er transmogrified , the Bill of Rights from a wall of restrictions on the federal government into a vehicle to project federal power into the states. In support of their warped view of the Constitution, these judges misconstrue reflections of the founders on our Constitution, including their intentions about the “separation of church and state.” ( I am a secularist, but a conservative one!)
I do not believe your indictment holds for historical scholarship. The historical scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s marked the beginning of the most fruitful period yet in the study of American religion. Before the 1960s, most history focused on the achievements of politicians and other “elites” who, as your own bible tells you, are not known for their religious devotion (I Cor. 1:26; I Cor. 2:7-8). When historians turned their studies to non-elites in the 1960s, they discovered that Americans are intensely religious. Historians have published hundreds of books on America's religious history. Barton apparently has read none of them nor seems interested in reading them.
This is why Barton in the video above contests Stewart's claim that he does not think that anyone is suggesting that “religion has not been an important part of our country.” Barton says the history professors he deals with do exactly that. Aside from Kramnick's recent offering, I am at a lost about just who are these historians.
Our Founding Truth says
Jon wrote: As I and a handful of others who witnessed him have observed, OFT likes to “read” things into the record that aren't there. No evidence shows the adult Hamilton an orthodox Trinitarian Christian until after his son died and OFT knows it.
Then let me present the evidence. If this was a court of law, I would present the evidence of Hamilton's own words, written down for the ages. These words he never contradicted with later words, therefore, the evidence for Hamilton's Christian Orthodoxy is valid:
“Hark! hark! a voice from yonder sky! Methinks I hear my Saviour cry, Come gentle spirit come away,
Com to thy Lord without delay..
O Lamb of God! thrice gracious Lord
Now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,”
–Soul Ascending into Bliss, October 17, 1772
This poem does correlate with Rev 4:8, which refers to Christ's Deity.
Also, Hamilton's roommate in colleges said he believed in the fundamentals:
“At this time,' Troup relates, 'the “General” was attentive to public worship, and in the habit of praying on his knees night and morning. I lived in the same room with him for some time, and I have often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of his prayers. He had read many of the polemical writers on religious subjects, and he was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I confess that the arguments with which he was accustomed to justify his belief, have tended in no small degree to confirm my own faith in revealed religion.”
Moreover, AH wanted to take Communion years earlier:
” It has for some time past been the wish of my heart, and it was my intention to take an early opportunity of uniting myself to the church, by the reception of that holy ordinance [Communion].”
This is beyond prima facie evidence of Hamilton's faith given he wrote nothing to refute this.
Our Founding Truth says
Lee wrote: Well, sort of, in your manner of speaking. They were a neglected side dish
Point noted. This is exactly what the 60's and 70's were all about. Madison told us the founding was the work of all the framers, not a handful:
“Dear Sir,–Your letter of the 18th Ult. was duly received. You give me a credit to which I have no claim, in calling me ” the writer of the Constitution of the U. S.” This was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads & many hands.”
–Madison TO WILLIAM COGSWELL. … MAD. MSS.Montpellier, March 10, 1834.
Therefore, to disregard the others makes no sense, except promoting revisionism through the modern liberal secular order.
Not to defend Barton–he could most likely provide several historians to support him. My beef is those historians and authors who reject we were formed a Christian Nation through revisionism. The framers wrote publicly we were a Christian Nation–politically and religiously.