Publisher Drops David Barton’s Book ‘The Jefferson Lies’ Over Factual Errors
August 10, 2012 by News WireFrom Tennessean.com
Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishers has canceled a controversial bestseller by David Barton, an influential evangelical leader, because the book contains historical errors.
Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies,’’ claims to expose liberal myths about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president.
But a group of conservative scholars says Barton’s take on Jefferson is factually untrue. And a group of ministers from Cincinnati called on Nelson to cancel the book.
Casey Francis Harrell, director of corporate communications for Thomas Nelson, said that the publisher had gotten a number of complaints about the book. The publisher reviewed those complaints and found enough errors to cancel it.
“Because of these deficiencies, we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to cease its publication and distribution,” said Harrell.
Barton stands by his book and said that Thomas Nelson never mentioned any concerns about the book, which was published in April and made the New York Times bestseller list.
“All I got was an email saying it was canceled,” he said. “It was a complete surprise.”
The book is still available for sale on Amazon.com and other retailers. But Harrell said that Thomas Nelson has stopped any new shipments of the books from their warehouses and is recalling the book from retailers. She also said that online retailers have been asked to stop selling the e-book version.
The publisher hasn’t decided what to do with the recalled books.
Barton is president of Wallbuilders, an Aledo, Texas-based conservative group that says it wants to reclaim America’s forgotten Christian history.
An early press release for the book, put out by Thomas Nelson in May, potrayed Barton as battling revisionist history to tell the true story of Jefferson.
“History books routinely teach that Jefferson was an anti-Christian secularist, rewriting the Bible to his liking, fathering a child with one of his slaves, and little more than another racist, bigoted colonist — but none of those claims are actually true,” the press released claimed.
But Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., said it’s Barton who actually twisted the facts.
Throckmorton is co-author of “Getting Jefferson Right,” a book that criticizes Barton. It was released as an ebook back in May and then later in paperback.
He was glad to hear that Thomas Nelson book was canceled.
“Wow, I think they did the right thing,” he said.
Throckmorton said he’d been concerned about Barton’s version of American history for several years. He and his co-author looked at all of Barton’s sources to see if he was being accurate or not.
“We checked all the footnotes and we found they didn’t support what he wrote,” he said.
Barton and his critics disagree about the details of Jefferson’s life.
For example, Throckmorton said Barton claims Jefferson was an investor in an early American printing of the Bible, when it turned out that Jefferson only bought one copy.
He also claimed that Barton downplayed Jefferson’s views on slavery.
Throckmorton said that Barton wrote that Jefferson owned more than 200 slaves but said that Virginia laws banned him from freeing those slaves.
“That’s not true,” said Throckmorton. “Jefferson freed two slaves, one in 1794 and one in 1796. So you can’t say he didn’t free slaves, because he did free two slaves.”
Barton said that Throckmorton is wrong. He said he has documents to back up all the claims in his book.
For example, he said that the laws in Jefferson’s times fined any owners who freed slaves and that Jefferson would have freed his slaves if he could have.
He said Throckmorton doesn’t understand how complex the laws about freeing slaves were.
“This is one of the cases where he is just nuts,” he said.
The claim about slavery caused a group of ministers from several churches from Cincinnati to call for Thomas Nelson to drop the book.
“‘The Jefferson Lies’ glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Cincinnati.
Lynch said he and other ministers from diverse backgrounds had contacted Nelson about their concerns. He said that if the book hadn’t been canceled, he would have boycotted Nelson.
“We love Thomas Nelson,” he said. “My library is filled with Thomas Nelson books and I didn’t want to stop doing business with them.”
He was pleased that the book was canceled.
“That’s great news,” he said.
Throckmorton is not Barton’s only conservative critic.
World Magazine, run by former George W. Bush advisor Marvin Olasky, recently published an online news story about conservative historians who also think Barton made errors.
One of them was Glenn Moots, professor of political science at Northwood University in Michigan. He said Barton was well-intentioned but should have been more careful to get the details right.
“It doesn’t help any of us if the story isn’t told in an accurate manner,” he said.
Barton said he met with a different group of scholars recently and they approved of his work.
“I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.’s were in the room,” he said.
But he would not give any names, saying the scholars hadn’t given their permission for him do so.
He also said that other publishers had made offers on his book and he hopes to sign a new contract soon.
The news that Barton’s book had been canceled disappointed his local fans. He was in Nashville back in March to speak to about 250 people at a meeting of the 912 Project.
Janice Johnson said she’s heard Barton speak a number of times and bought an audio book copy of “The Jefferson Lies” on CD.
She said the book wasn’t as good as some of his other previous works. She hopes the current controversy won’t undermine his credibility.
“It’s bad because it’s not typical of him,” she said. “He’s usually so rock solid on history.”
Trinity Mount Ministries