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RightNation.US: Thomas Jefferson, David Barton and Lies...Lies! - RightNation.US

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I figure this deserves its own thread and a short article on the whole Jefferson controversy itself. First, my esteemed fellow RN blogger, MADGestic, has some serious problems with my side's favorite "historian", David Barton...

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That’s why Barton is such an execrable character; he not only misrepresents himself as some kind of historian but sadly some gullible folks actually believe his blather… such as Cameron. (You may remember Barton from the “Texas Textbook Wars” of a few years ago.) Barton’s recent book, ironically titled The Jefferson Lies has hit the net (if not yet the bookstores) and with relatively little effort you could see that it’s being panned by virtually everyone except for those that “want to believe”. I think Barton very well knows his niche audience and is selling them what they want to hear even if he has to MSU (Make [Stuff] Up).



Some may think that’s shrewd business acumen whereas I see a clear case of salable confirmation bias at work. I think it’s cynical, unethical, and that such devil-may-care disregard for the common moral tenet of honesty represents a form of pathology.


Let me deal first with that last part. If Barton wanted to make some real money off the malleable Christian masses, he'd write a book about a metrosexual Christian vampire and the mousy girl who loves horses and can decide between the metrosexual Christian vampire and an effeminate Greek Orthodox creature from the black lagoon. He would steer far clear of a book about Thomas Jefferson.

But, he has written a book about Jefferson called The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. It's a provocative title and states explicitly that you don't what the heck you're talking about when it comes to Jefferson. Its all been lies. Lies!!! Now i don't know if he'll make a ton of money off this book, but he will stir up no end of controversy with it. Personally, I could care less because no one seems to get the point when it comes to Jefferson. More on that later.

The notion of expertise in history is a slippery thing. Normally, we look at a scholar's area of study in which said scholar holds an advanced degree and say that in that area alone, this person is a reliable "expert". That notion assumes a whole bunch of stuff that may or may not be true, not the least of which is the rigor and objectivity of peer review. In Barton's case, there are no advanced degrees in history or work that's been subjected to the normal academic process of peer review. So, if we're going by that typical concept of expertise, Barton is clearly no expert.

So, does it mean he's a liar if he claims to be an expert? Only if you don't agree with his opinion. I guarantee you that if his opinions lined up with conventional left-wing academia, he'd be hailed as a "breath of fresh air" or some other sycophantic superlative. James Loewen famously authored Lies My Teacher Told Me claiming basically what Barton claims but from the other side of the ideological divide. And made a crap ton of money more than Barton will ever see, I might add. Does that make Loewen a liar? I don't think so. He's a BS artist who doesn't know nearly as much about history as he thinks, but I don't think he's lying about anything.

If I had to pick two real historians besides Howard Zinn to call liars, it be Charles Beard and Richard Hofstadter. Both are responsible for some egregious misrepresentations about history that have damaged the profession perhaps irrevocably. Beard created the notion that of all political philosophers, John Locke was the single greatest influence on our system of government. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to know why, pick up a copy of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Constitution and read his chapter on why Locke did not write our constitution. Hofstadter, gave us our warped concept of Social Darwinism. Jonah Goldberg has a book coming out that will deal with that, but if you'd like the basics, check out The Tyranny Blog, which is linked in the side bars.

In both cases, whole generations of historians built up narratives about American politics and social development upon these misrepresentations. They are not small areas of disagreement. One's opinions about our economic system are thoroughly haunted by these dead white men as are our ideas about social issues.

And though there have been serious books that dispel the myths of Beard and Hofstadter, the myths persist because academia either doesn't recognize the expertise of the books' authors or the authors weren't popular or visible enough to convince the public that they need to adjust their picture.

I can imagine that a David Barton would scare the adherents to certain narratives about American history because he has a platform and doesn't have a laminated backstage pass to the annual Blow Smoke up Beard's, Hofstadter's and Zinn's Butts mixer.

That's what makes him a liar, not having anything to do with his work.

From what I can glean from the interwebs, the most controversial or at least sensational aspect of Barton's new Jefferson book is that he disputes the indisputable evidence that TJ did in fact have an ongoing hook-up with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Barton seems to be very protective of TJ's image as an upright, moral person. If that bothers anyone, it shouldn't. Historians of all levels of "expertise" engage in hagiography from time to time. The DNA evidence gathered back in the 90s is compelling for sure, but I imagine Barton is simply pointing out that the DNA matches prove that a man with Jefferson genes fathered a child with Sally Hemmings. And there were other Jefferson men who had access and motive, if you will.

Airtight? Not really, but neither is the case that TJ was Hemmings' baby daddy. It seems to me that this battle will play out along ideological lines rather than spark any stimulating and enlightening discussions about Jefferson.

So, let me spark one myself. Yes, I'm that good.

TJ is the ultimate political Rorschach test. conservatives see his reflection their mirrors, liberals see it in theirs as do Christians and atheists. Why is that? It's because TJ was a complicated man just like Shaft. A conservative could see TJ as a kindred spirit in the Louisiana Purchase because it meant national greatness and a liberal would see a great example of a proactive, strong executive branch working for the greater good. An atheist sees definitive proof that TJ held the modern Left's concept of separation of church and state in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists while an evangelical Christian sees the opposite in Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address in 1805.

The point few people get is that TJ was the opposite of today's secular warrior, who at least claim they see no danger in spirituality (believing in Jesus) but only see it in the pushing of one's morality. TJ had a huge problem with the spiritual side of Christianity, but absolutely adored the morality of it, so much so as to call himself a Christian not because he believed Jesus to be divine, but because he believed in the teachings of Jesus. He went to church regularly while president and made sure government buildings were available for church services.

In other words, Jefferson believed that the morality of Christianity was the good part and not the theology. Christian morals are what really gall today's secularist, not the fact that people believe He died and rose again. "Proving" the irrationality of Christian theology is merely a means to an end, which is to remove all power behind the morals. You don't see any secularists running around trying to debunk the idea that the Buddha really got all enlightened under that tree, do you? When's the last time you heard Muhammad's story called into question by one of these truth detectives?

Finally, and I think this is where the whole Sally Hemmings thing intersects, the main problem most secularists have with Christianity is with sexual morality. If Jefferson can be shown a lech, then he obviously didn't weigh all that stuff Jesus said about sex too seriously. Well, whether he did or did not know Ms. Hemmings in the biblical sense is irrelevant. People who live by moral codes never, ever live up to them perfectly. So, if Jefferson didn't value Jesus' teachings on sexual morality, where's his explication of such opinions? One would think there would be an entire cottage industry devoted to highlighting them. They are conspicuous by their absence.

Of course, I'm no expert. So, I could be lying.

My Mind is Clean
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6 Comments On This Entry

Just when did the whole Sally Hemmings thing start, anyway? Was it during Jefferson's lifetime, in which case it could have been made up by his political enemies, or after he was gone and couldn't defend himself? And has DNA testing supported it?

Propaganda works the same way as the classic "rolling a pebble down a snowy hill" works. You start with something small -- it could be true but relatively minor, it could be misquoted, it could be admittedly speculative, it could be an outright lie, it could even be true but not about THAT person -- and then it grows and grows and grows. When future researchers go wading through dusty volumes, they will keep finding the same stories repeated over and over again, with embellishments here and there. They may even come across jokes and satires that were mistaken for true accounts and reported as such by succeeding writers. ("I can see Russia from my house!")

It's not until someone whose only agenda is the truth, and has no ego to puff up, and no loyalty to special interests to maintain, to start afresh and hunt for original accounts and supporting documents.

Today it would work like this: President X writes a piece on the official White House website, all about how he supports (FILL IN THE BLANK). This becomes the official narrative. His supporters, of which he has thousands and millions, write glowing reports about how he's saving (FITB), and all the pro- (FITB) legislation that was passed, and how there was more (FITB) under his administration than ever before.

Two hundred years later, he's still known as the "(FITB) President". UNTIL......someone starts looking up long-forgotten video clips and first-hand writings of President X. Maybe a clip of then-candidate X telling "Moe the Electrician" that opposing (FITB) is good for everyone. Then a speech before a special interest group whose special interest is diametrically opposed to (FITB), stating how (FITB) can be done away with gradually. Then maybe some wisecrack about supporters of the opposition who bitterly cling to their (FITB). Or a sermon from X's long-time pastor and spiritual guide "Jedediah Rohng" telling his congregation that (FITB) was the reason for slavery. And then the bombshell: President X's long-out-of-print books, "Musings From My Daddy" and "The Elasticity of Truth", in which he outlined his plans to fundamentally end (FITB) in his lifetime.
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JimNEPA, on 22 April 2012 - 01:38 AM, said:

Just when did the whole Sally Hemmings thing start, anyway? Was it during Jefferson's lifetime, in which case it could have been made up by his political enemies, or after he was gone and couldn't defend himself? And has DNA testing supported it?Propaganda works the same way as the classic "rolling a pebble down a snowy hill" works. You start with something small -- it could be true but relatively minor, it could be misquoted, it could be admittedly speculative, it could be an outright lie, it could even be true but not about THAT person -- and then it grows and grows and grows. When future researchers go wading through dusty volumes, they will keep finding the same stories repeated over and over again, with embellishments here and there. They may even come across jokes and satires that were mistaken for true accounts and reported as such by succeeding writers. ("I can see Russia from my house!") It's not until someone whose only agenda is the truth, and has no ego to puff up, and no loyalty to special interests to maintain, to start afresh and hunt for original accounts and supporting documents.Today it would work like this: President X writes a piece on the official White House website, all about how he supports (FILL IN THE BLANK). This becomes the official narrative. His supporters, of which he has thousands and millions, write glowing reports about how he's saving (FITB), and all the pro- (FITB) legislation that was passed, and how there was more (FITB) under his administration than ever before.Two hundred years later, he's still known as the "(FITB) President". UNTIL......someone starts looking up long-forgotten video clips and first-hand writings of President X. Maybe a clip of then-candidate X telling "Moe the Electrician" that opposing (FITB) is good for everyone. Then a speech before a special interest group whose special interest is diametrically opposed to (FITB), stating how (FITB) can be done away with gradually. Then maybe some wisecrack about supporters of the opposition who bitterly cling to their (FITB). Or a sermon from X's long-time pastor and spiritual guide "Jedediah Rohng" telling his congregation that (FITB) was the reason for slavery. And then the bombshell: President X's long-out-of-print books, "Musings From My Daddy" and "The Elasticity of Truth", in which he outlined his plans to fundamentally end (FITB) in his lifetime.


So, you've read Howard Zinn. ;)
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As I recall the "evidence" for Jefferson being intimate with Sally Hemmings was (1) the descendent of her youngest son had the Jefferson Y chromosome, and (2) her pregnancies all started at times Jefferson was at Monticello.

I also recall that Hemming's youngest son was born when Jefferson was 63. There were other Jefferson relatives who could have fathered him. Jefferson had a younger brother who was not very mentally sharp, pretty much the Forrest Gump of the family. When Jefferson returned to Monticello, his younger brother always came to visit him, and always spent some nights in the slave quarters. In later life, I believe his sons, Jefferson's nephews, were known to do the same.

We will probably never know which scenario is true: Jefferson or his brother or nephews fathering the Hemming's child. However, it is disturbing that the alternatives are dismissed or never presented. The whole notion of finding the *truth* seems to be dying in academia, instead it is about validating a viewpoint, and one that is usually hostile to American values.
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Quote

TJ is the ultimate political Rorschach test. conservatives see his reflection their mirrors, liberals see it in theirs as do Christians and atheists. Why is that? It's because TJ was a complicated man just like Shaft. A conservative could see TJ as a kindred spirit in the Louisiana Purchase because it meant national greatness and a liberal would see a great example of a proactive, strong executive branch working for the greater good. An atheist sees definitive proof that TJ held the modern Left's concept of separation of church and state in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists while an evangelical Christian sees the opposite in Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address in 1805.

The point few people get is that TJ was the opposite of today's secular warrior, who at least claim they see no danger in spirituality (believing in Jesus) but only see it in the pushing of one's morality. TJ had a huge problem with the spiritual side of Christianity, but absolutely adored the morality of it, so much so as to call himself a Christian not because he believed Jesus to be divine, but because he believed in the teachings of Jesus. He went to church regularly while president and made sure government buildings were available for church services.

In other words, Jefferson believed that the morality of Christianity was the good part and not the theology. Christian morals are what really gall today's secularist, not the fact that people believe He died and rose again. "Proving" the irrationality of Christian theology is merely a means to an end, which is to remove all power behind the morals. You don't see any secularists running around trying to debunk the idea that the Buddha really got all enlightened under that tree, do you? When's the last time you heard Muhammad's story called into question by one of these truth detectives?


You've read the Jefferson Bible? Every member of Congress received one when they entered Congress for many years.

I like your idea. You could even tie it to Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind. People don't want an absolute morality to have to live up to. They want their own relative and shifting morality to rationalize that their own behaviors are not really unacceptable.

Jefferson was searching for the "best" absolute morality and after reading the Old Testament, New Testament, and the book of Mohammed and the Greeks deeply, he thought Christianity (as presented in the Gospels) combined with the humanistic ideas of the Greeks made a perfect complete morality.
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Jeffersonfan, on 22 April 2012 - 09:59 AM, said:

Quote

TJ is the ultimate political Rorschach test. conservatives see his reflection their mirrors, liberals see it in theirs as do Christians and atheists. Why is that? It's because TJ was a complicated man just like Shaft. A conservative could see TJ as a kindred spirit in the Louisiana Purchase because it meant national greatness and a liberal would see a great example of a proactive, strong executive branch working for the greater good. An atheist sees definitive proof that TJ held the modern Left's concept of separation of church and state in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists while an evangelical Christian sees the opposite in Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address in 1805. The point few people get is that TJ was the opposite of today's secular warrior, who at least claim they see no danger in spirituality (believing in Jesus) but only see it in the pushing of one's morality. TJ had a huge problem with the spiritual side of Christianity, but absolutely adored the morality of it, so much so as to call himself a Christian not because he believed Jesus to be divine, but because he believed in the teachings of Jesus. He went to church regularly while president and made sure government buildings were available for church services.In other words, Jefferson believed that the morality of Christianity was the good part and not the theology. Christian morals are what really gall today's secularist, not the fact that people believe He died and rose again. "Proving" the irrationality of Christian theology is merely a means to an end, which is to remove all power behind the morals. You don't see any secularists running around trying to debunk the idea that the Buddha really got all enlightened under that tree, do you? When's the last time you heard Muhammad's story called into question by one of these truth detectives?
You've read the Jefferson Bible? Every member of Congress received one when they entered Congress for many years. I like your idea. You could even tie it to Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind. People don't want an absolute morality to have to live up to. They want their own relative and shifting morality to rationalize that their own behaviors are not really unacceptable.Jefferson was searching for the "best" absolute morality and after reading the Old Testament, New Testament, and the book of Mohammed and the Greeks deeply, he thought Christianity (as presented in the Gospels) combined with the humanistic ideas of the Greeks made a perfect complete morality.


That's a good point. The Enlightenment thinkers were modernists, not post-modernists. They did believe in absolutes. I think that's the main reason people get TJ wrong.
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[quote name='Mr. Naron' timestamp='1335078209']
[quote]So, you've read Howard Zinn. ;)
[/quote]

Nope. Never heard of him till you mentioned him. For an historian, he didn't seem to know very much, or else he would have steered clear of socialism. Without personal goals, humans tend to become complacent. This, along with the fact that that system was always co-opted by tinpot dictators as a means of gaining power and keeping control, is the reason why such utopian ideals fail in the end. We NEED a good reason to get up in the morning, shower, get dressed, and go to work. When someone keeps handing you everything you'd ever desire, when you are in no fear of losing what you have, when you are secure in the knowledge that someone else will do it all for you, you tend to value things less. The same can be said for celebrities who lack humility: getting paid millions of dollars to appear in silly sit-coms or movies tends to puff the ol' ego up like the Hindenburg.

But getting back to the topic: yep, that's how things go. A good historical researcher keeps digging until he or she is past the propaganda and the unknowingly-repeated propaganda on a given subject: the "Pop-History". Then characters like Jefferson, Washington, Crockett, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, etc, become real people, not the idealized demi-gods or devils others say they were. The cracks and the wrinkles show through, as do the origins of the tall tales, good and bad, that were told by them and about them. You either admire them more, or despise them, but at least now you UNDERSTAND them. You also tend to understand the reasons why they continue to be portrayed in a certain way today, and when that portrayal began.
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