Fighting history hoaxes


Daily Kos I don’t get to daily. But here’s a post I did see that all history teachers ought to read, if only to raise their consciousness about the frauds that plague us every day: Help Fight Fake History that Powers the American Right.

Fight fake historyChris Rodda needs help supporting her research against all the old dogs of history revisionism, and the post from Troutfishing goes through most of the dishonor roll: D. James Kennedy, David Barton, Catherine Millard, and Chuck Norris

Rodda’s blog series can be found at Talk2Action.

My interest in getting history done right was kindled when high school teachers mentioned early versions of David Barton’s work — stuff that showed up on tests, though anyone who had read our texts and had a passing knowledge of real history would have known was in error. As a staffer in the U.S. Senate I had to got to read letters from people who bought the Barton tales lock, stock, and monkey barrel, and who consequently felt that everyone else on Earth was lying to them.

I wish Rodda luck.

4 Responses to Fighting history hoaxes

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Catch this response at Rational Rants (I wonder why there’s no trackback?):
    http://rationalrant.blogspot.com/2008/07/more-christian-nationitis.html

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  2. […] night I found one more deluded, on-line writer working against the First Amendment and, IMHO, hammering away at the foundations of […]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    If you’re gonna swallow cyanide-tainted Kool-Aid, swallow it all and swallow it fast, no? Barton’s hit and run incidents are so frequent, and there is so little time to clean up.

    Hmmm. I guess our Founders were revisionists too. Either that, or Barton & Co. managed to brainwash them.

    “The GENERAL PRINCIPLES on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were those GENERAL PRINCIPLES? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects [the Roman Catholics, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, and Universalists] were united, and the GENERAL PRINCIPLES of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.” ~ John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (June 28, 1813)

    When Jefferson first asked Adams about that statement, Adams denied he’d said it. Adams said that Jefferson should know better, Adams being the guy who said this would be a perfect world if only there were no religion in it. Jefferson found a newspaper clipping alleging this, and sent it to Adams.

    Have you read Adams’ response to Jefferson? Adams said the newspaper probably got some of it wrong, but then he went on at some length about where the speech was given, and to whom. It was off-the-cuff remarks to a group in Philadelphia. As Adams noted, he had thought he said “American” where the article said “Christian.” But, Adams said, if he said “Christian,” then Jefferson needed to know that the audience included Jews, atheists (perhaps the America-saving atheist Stephen Girard). So, in this excerpt you offer here, Adams is not calling America a Christian nation, as Barton argues, but is instead noting that Adams’ definition of “Christian” is much broader than Barton allows, taking in the American ideal.

    I find it odd that you edit Adams’ words in this case. You cut out several of the sects he specifically listed, which would undercut your case. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in this case and assume you simply erred, and had no maleficent intent. But here is what you cite, in more full contextual quote, showing more of what Adams meant; I’ve highlighted some things you and David Barton should note:

    Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and “Protestans qui ne croyent rien [“Protestants who believe nothing”].” Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.

    Could my Answer be understood, by any candid Reader or Hearer, to recommend, to all the others, the general Principles, Institutions or Systems of Education of the Roman Catholicks? Or those of the Quakers? Or those of the Presbyterians? Or those of the Menonists? Or those of the Methodists? or those of the Moravians? Or those of the Universalists? or those of the Philosophers? No.

    The general Principles, on which the Fathers Achieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their Address, or by me in my Answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.

    Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.

    Adams denied directly Barton’s claims on that quote; and then Adams goes on to illustrate, noting that many of those Barton reviles were included in Adams’ definition of “Christian” including atheists and “Priestleyans,” by which I assume he means scientists (after Joseph Priestly) who don’t hold views David Barton holds.

    Adams is a bit of a revisionist here, but he revises against Barton’s claims. You should get the full series of correspondence between Adams and Jefferson and read it through. You’ll see that these two great founders shared much between them, but almost nothing with David Barton.

    You continue:

    “The Rights of the Colonists as Christians – These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian Church: which are to be found closely written and promulgated in the New Testament.” ~ Samuel Adams, ‘The Rights of the Colonists’ (1772)

    This statement is limited to Christians and, sadly, to non-Catholics (but see Adams’ explanation) — you cite wholly out of context a small part of a larger piece in which Adams defines the rights of colonists in three spheres, “as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects.” In this piece Adams makes clear that everyone’s right to worship as they please is to be respected, and that all Englishmen have such rights. This cuts exactly contrary to Barton’s claims. It is fully supportive of complete separation of church and state. You should read it sometime:
    http://infomotions.com/etexts/gutenberg/dirs/etext00/2sdms10.htm

    Oh, and one of our 2 Fathers of American Jurisprudence — James Kent, friend of Founder Alexander Hamilton — was also a revisionist:
    “We are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].. .. [We are] people whose manners … and whose morals have been elevated and inspired . . . by means of the Christian religion.”
    ~ Chancellor James Kent, People v. Ruggles (1811) decision

    This was a case against a fellow for disturbing the peace. At the New York Constitutional Convention of 1821, Kent disavowed this reading, voting for the provision that overturned it. It’s a stretch to argue Kent as a founder, acting in 1811, a full generation after the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But if you wish to include Kent, include his full portfolio and his support of the separation of church and state, contrary to Barton’s claims.

    The Ruggles case is a mish-mash, and I’m not sure it should be cited at all — but the ellipses in your quote tell us that you don’t dare quote it fully. Why is that?

    And goodness! When this decision was reviewed 10 years later by the New York State Convention of 1821, they didn’t find anything wrong with the decision!
    “The authors of our constitution never meant to extirpate christianity, more than they meant to extirpate public decency. … Are we not a christian people? Do not ninety-nine hundredths of our fellow citizens hold the general truths of the Bible to be dear and sacred?”
    ~ “Reports of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of 1821″ (1821), p. 463

    See? Here Barton makes a liar out of you. This snippet of the debate fails to note that the convention voted to vitiate the law created by Ruggles, and that Judge Kent voted along with the assembly, against his own case. In short, you cite the losing side of the debate as authoritative, rather than as dissent. When the issue arose again later in the convention, Kent made a speech making clear that his decision in no way supported an establishment of Christianity, contrary to Barton’s claims. See here:
    http://candst.tripod.com/case03.htm

    If that isn’t bad enough, the Supreme Court declared in the case Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892), after reviewing the constitutions of various states, and other similar historic documents, made this incredible statement:
    “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

    You misunderstand the operation of the Supreme Court, you misstate the case, and you misstate the ruling. The Court ruled that the anti-Chinese labor acts were not intended to keep out preachers from Britain — Holy Trinity was a labor law case, not a religion case. The language you cite is obiter dicta against a line of argument in the case. The U.S. Solicitor General had argued that the First Amendment required the Court to interpret laws as hostile to Christianity; Judge Brewer, in a fit of purple prose, went on at some length about Christianity in the U.S., with many erroneous citations, eventually coming to the conclusion that, since we have such a strong Christian heritage, surely the First Amendment does not require hostility to religion and especially Christianity. That you quote Barton’s language almost verbatim tells me you’ve not bothered to read the case or its history, as, I suspect, Barton never has.

    So you miscite a minor issue of procedure in a rather egregious case. You’re also familiar with the companion case, L’Hote v. New Orleans, right? Misreading Judge Brewer’s decision in Holy Trinity as you do, Methodists in New Orleans sued to stop the siting of a house of prostitution next to their church. Surely, in a Christian nation, they argued, law could not allow a whore house next door to a church! Judge Brewer again wrote the decision for a unanimous court, and the whore house stayed next to the church. Why would Brewer ignore the “Christian nation” ruling, if it were law? In his 1905 lectures at Yale, Brewer said the First Amendment holds sway, and Holy Trinity did not rule that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

    And now, 103 years later, you offer Brewer’s words incorrectly, as he noted, as if none of us has ever read the circumstances or the history?

    AND ON TOP OF THAT, the Congressional Committee of the US House of Representatives of 1854, after reviewing the words of the Founders, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, and acts of Congress, declared:
    “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion to attempt any war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in it cradle. At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged — not any one sect [of Christianity]. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation.”
    ~ “Report of the Committees of the House of Representatives …” (1854), page 6

    Some very impressive forgery!

    You fail to note what committee that was — I suspect you don’t know, and I suspect the quote is a hoax. You should be aware that this issue was debated several times in Congress over the course of the 19th century, generally with regard to shutting down the Post Office on Sundays. In each case, Congress ruled that the U.S. is not a Christian nation where Christianity has any peculiar or dominating role in law, and the mails moved on Sunday (it wasn’t until after 1900 that some post offices started closing on Sunday for lack of business).

    Forgery it is, but not really very impressive. It doesn’t withstand a cursory reading of real history.

    Have you never read the First Amendment? Here:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    And do you need interpretation to know it supports the separation of church and state created by the rest of the Constitution, especially Article VI? Then read Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance:
    http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/madison_m&r_1785.html

    My experience is that Barton is generally allergic to the Memorial and Remonstrance, rather as Dracula is allergic to the sunlight. It’s a clear explanation for what the founders wanted with regard to religion, and it’s clear from the text that Barton’s reading is in error.

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  4. Hmmm. I guess our Founders were revisionists too. Either that, or Barton & Co. managed to brainwash them.

    “The GENERAL PRINCIPLES on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were those GENERAL PRINCIPLES? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects [the Roman Catholics, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, and Universalists] were united, and the GENERAL PRINCIPLES of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.” ~ John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (June 28, 1813)

    “The Rights of the Colonists as Christians – These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian Church: which are to be found closely written and promulgated in the New Testament.” ~ Samuel Adams, ‘The Rights of the Colonists’ (1772)

    Oh, and one of our 2 Fathers of American Jurisprudence — James Kent, friend of Founder Alexander Hamilton — was also a revisionist:
    “We are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].. .. [We are] people whose manners … and whose morals have been elevated and inspired . . . by means of the Christian religion.”
    ~ Chancellor James Kent, People v. Ruggles (1811) decision

    And goodness! When this decision was reviewed 10 years later by the New York State Convention of 1821, they didn’t find anything wrong with the decision!
    “The authors of our constitution never meant to extirpate christianity, more than they meant to extirpate public decency. … Are we not a christian people? Do not ninety-nine hundredths of our fellow citizens hold the general truths of the Bible to be dear and sacred?”
    ~ “Reports of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of 1821” (1821), p. 463

    If that isn’t bad enough, the Supreme Court declared in the case Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892), after reviewing the constitutions of various states, and other similar historic documents, made this incredible statement:
    “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

    AND ON TOP OF THAT, the Congressional Committee of the US House of Representatives of 1854, after reviewing the words of the Founders, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, and acts of Congress, declared:
    “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion to attempt any war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in it cradle. At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged — not any one sect [of Christianity]. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation.”
    ~ “Report of the Committees of the House of Representatives …” (1854), page 6

    Some very impressive forgery!

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