David Barton wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson that turns the founding father into a person a modern day evangelical would not only recognize but love. His publisher, Thomas Nelson, listened to historians, reviewed the material and pulled the books from the shelves and ceased publication saying “basic truths just were not there.”
In the book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, Barton attempts to portray the writer of the Declaration of Independence and a framer of the Constitution as an evangelical who set out to create a “Christian” nation in terms agreeable to modern evangelicals.
By re-writing Jefferson’s history, Barton attempts to give scholarly cover to those who would want to align the nation’s laws and government with a narrow, biblicist view of the world. It also gave cover to those who want to want to line up the social teachings of the church to current conservative political views.
Since its initial publication, historians have debunked and raised concerns about numerous claims in Barton’s book. In it, Barton calls Jefferson a “conventional Christian,” claims the founding father started church services at the Capitol, and even though he owned more than 200 slaves, says Jefferson was a civil rights visionary.
“Mr. Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern-day evangelicals could love and identify with,” Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the evangelical Grove City College, told Hagerty. “The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson; it’s not getting him right.”
Thomas Nelson agreed:
“When the concerns came in, from multiple people, and that had weight too, we were trying to sort things out,” said Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton. “Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all.”
The book has already been pulled off the Thomas Nelson website, and the publisher is in the process of pulling down its availability as an e-book from retail partners. Publishing rights are being reverted to the author, and the physical copies of the book are in the process of being removed from bookstores.
“The truth is, the withdrawing a book from the market is extremely rare. It’s so rare I can’t think of the last time we’ve done this,” Hampton said. But, he said, “If there are matters of fact not correctly handled or the basic truth is not there, we would make a decision based on that.”
Historians Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, co-authors of Getting Jefferson Right, fact-checked a few of Barton’s more common claims on this NPR post.