Monday, December 23, 2013

The Jefferson Lies (Book Summary)

 “My views… [are] very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who 
know nothing of my opinions.” – Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies p. 83

We should be interested in truth. Unfortunately, the world is interested in promoting and advancing its own worldview and to accomplish that it is willing to twist the facts and even re-write history. It is important that we examine the facts and know the truth about the history of the United States, and about our founding fathers. It tell us what this country was founded upon and what its values were. Thomas Jefferson is one that is most often dismissed today as racist, secular, anti-Christian and worse. David Barton wrote a book called, The Jefferson Lies – exposing the myths you’ve always believed about Thomas Jefferson. In it he specifically examines 7 things about Jefferson that are told as factual by most universities and scholars in America today. If they are true, it raises some serious questions about the man who had a key role in the founding of our country, and if false, than we have a real hero in Thomas Jefferson that we should greatly admire and honor.

I will give the “7 Lies” here and briefly describe the facts surrounding them. I would highly recommend you get and read the book for yourself though – don’t just take my word for it.  ( ) You should note that the book was originally published by Thomas Nelson, but they pulled it because of "historical errors". It is my opinion that while Barton probably tried a little too hard to make Jefferson more orthodox (this really only comes out in chapter 7), the bulk of the book is addressing the lies that he had no real Christian or Biblical values or character. Thus, I still found it very interesting and helpful.

Lie #1: Thomas Jefferson Fathered Sally Hemings’ children. There is no evidence to prove this, and actually all DNA testing has shown that Thomas Jefferson was absolutely not the father of two of her children (which are the two that have most often been claimed are). This chapter explains where this lie first came from and the research and testing done to examine it.

Lie #2: Thomas Jefferson founded a secular university. Not true. The university he helped to start (the University of Virginia) was merely the first university that was not associated with a particular denomination. It was in fact America’s first trans-denominational school but was not secular by any means, in fact, it was quite the opposite. He designated a building in the center of the campus to be used for religious worship and he actually invited seminaries of various denominations to establish groups on the campus. He explained,

“We suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects [denominations] to establish, each for itself, a professor ship of their own tenets on the confines of the university so near as that the students may attend lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them… [B]y bringing the sects [denominations] together and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities [harshness], liberalize and neutralize their prejudices [prejudgment without an examination of the facts], and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason and morality.” (see p. 48)

He also wrote that “the students of the university will be free and expected to attend religious worship at the establishment of their respective sects.” (see p. 54) That is hardly secular!

Lie #3: Thomas Jefferson wrote his own Bible and edited out things he didn’t agree with.
Thomas Jefferson did not write his own “Bible”. He did however, write an abridgement of the New Testament as a translation for the Indians (made it simple for them to be able to read it), and he also had a book he wrote (for his personal use only) that was basically just all the “red letters” of Jesus speaking from the Gospels so that he could focus just on the words of Jesus. However, in neither of these writings did Jefferson omit facts, miraculous events, etc. (see p. 67&ff) To say he wrote his own Bible is simply a very large exaggeration.

Lie #4: Thomas Jefferson was a racist who opposed equality for black Americans. He was not racist in the least! One argument that people will use is that Jefferson didn’t even free his slaves upon his death (unlike George Washington, although I’ve heard him condemned nonetheless). The short answer for this is that he couldn’t because of Virginia state law at the time, but he wrote to a friend that he wished he could. There’s context of history and the culture of the times to understand in all of this as well and we shouldn’t rush to conclusions. (More on this on pages 91-93.) From Jefferson’s own pen:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is… the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and the degrading submissions on the other… And with what execrations [denunciations] should the statesman be loaded who permit[s] one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other… And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis – a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? … Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever… [T]he way, I hope, [is] preparing under the auspices of Heaven for a total emancipation.” (see p. 102)

You can also read of Jefferson’s advocacy for escaped slaves, his petitions for anti-slavery laws and his reaction to the Missouri compromise in this chapter. Quite enlightening.

Lie #5: Thomas Jefferson advocated a secular public square through the separation of church and state. I was already aware that in our modern society Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” clause that he wrote in a letter in 1802 (to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut) has often been taken out of context and used so as to keep religion out of the public square.  What Jefferson intended by that phrase was that the government had no right to put limitations on the free exercise of religion. In fact, he himself advocated Christian morality and principles to be laws. This can be proved by his actions as a statesman, Governor and President. Thomas Jefferson introduced several bills in the Virginia legislature including (see p. 131):
-A bill for punishing disturbers of religious worship and Sabbath breakers.
-A bill for appointing days of fasting and prayer.
-A bill annulling marriages prohibited by Levitical law and appointing the mode of solemnizing lawful marriage.
-A bill for saving the property of the church heretofore by law established.

Also, as Governor of Virginia, he signed several bills into law that reflected Biblical morality and instituted that everyone taking an oath of office should say “So help me God.” (see p. 132)

Another interesting fact is that two days after Jefferson wrote the famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, he arranged for a Baptist ministry named John Leland to preach at the church at the Capitol (and that’s another thing - yes, Jefferson was the one who helped to form that church that met in the federal capitol building!). David Barton writes this about this event: “Didn’t Jefferson understand the ‘separation’ doctrine that he had just penned? Of course he did, and he understood that the separation prohibited the government from preventing a religious expression, which is why having church in the Capitol was completely acceptable.” (see p. 151, emphasis his)

Lie #6: Thomas Jefferson detested the clergy. That doesn’t make a lick of sense based on the paragraph above. Jefferson regularly invited clergy to speak at the church in the Capitol. The clergy he “detested” were a few in the northern states who wrote and spoke blatant lies about him! Context again… (see p. 141&ff)

Lie #7: Thomas Jefferson was an atheist and not a Christian. He most certainly was NOT an atheist… this is one of the most ridiculous lies out there as it can very easily be proven otherwise. Jefferson also was NOT a deist – he believed in a very personal God. While at the end of the life he was following some “Progressive” (Unitarian-type) beliefs, he always maintained and held fast to his belief in God. (see p. 165&ff)  While his orthodoxy may be somewhat questionable, Jefferson did have a profoundly Christian worldview. And if you want to know who were most fundamental in shaping Jefferson’s thinking you can find out in his own words: “Bacon, Newton and Locke… [are] my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.” (see p. 38) All three of these men were solid, Biblical Christians.  

Truth needs to be sought out. Let us seek to find it out. For further study you can read Jefferson's works at this website:

Additional Note: For a great book on George Washington read George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter Lillback. It is a whopping 725 pages (not including the additional 10 Appendix’s and then over two hundred pages of footnotes, in small font!), but gives you tons of information and writing by Washington himself to argue that he was indeed a Christian and not a deist like many claim. I have read it, and it's very good!

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