"Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice" -- The Remarkable Hypocrisy of David Barton (Part 3)
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jun 10, 2007 at 04:10:26 PM EST
In Chapter 16 of Original Intent, entitled "Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice," Barton, after defining "historical revisionism" as "a process by which historical fact is intentionally ignored, distorted, or misportrayed in order to maneuver public opinion toward a specific political agenda or philosophy," goes on to present and provide examples of nine methods employed by those who he accuses of being the "revisionists."

(For the complete introduction to this series and Barton's list of nine revisionist methods, see Part 1.)

In this installment, I'll be looking at how Barton employs method #3, "The Use of Omission," to create the examples he uses to accuse others of "The Use of Omission."

In "Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice," Barton begins his definition of "The Use of Omission" with the following:

3. The Use of Omission

Omission (the deletion of certain sections of text) is another effective tool of revisionists and can also completely transform the tone of a work.

Barton then goes on to present a number of examples, attempting to support his claim that religion is being systematically and deliberately removed from history reference and text books.

One of the books on Barton's hit list is an abridged edition of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, first published in 1956. Barton introduces this "example of the secularizing of history through omission" by pointing out that this edition "contains less than half the content of the original." Ironically, Barton, who was a math teacher until God spoke to him and turned him into a history revisionist, can't figure out why a one-volume abridgement of a two-volume work might contain less than half the content. Apparently, Barton still has a problem with this, bringing it up again on The American Heritage Series, a new program currently airing on Christian television networks. On the first episode of this series, Barton first shows the bulky, original two-volume set, then waves around a paperback copy of the abridged edition, making the accusation, as he does in his book, that what was specifically targeted for omission by the editor of this edition was all the moral and religious content. And, how does Barton create his examples of the omission of this religious content? Well, for one of them, he takes two sentences out of context, omitting the part of the paragraph in which Tocqueville explicitly attributed the ability of religion and freedom to coexist to the "separation of church and state."

These are the two sentences quoted by Barton:

Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

This is the rest of the paragraph, omitted by Barton (emphasis in this and the quotes that follow is mine):

My desire to discover the causes of this phenomenon increased from day to day. In order to satisfy it I questioned the members of all the different sects; and I more especially sought the society of the clergy, who are the depositaries of the different persuasions, and who are more especially interested in their duration. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church I was more particularly brought into contact with several of its priests, with whom I became intimately acquainted. To each of these men I expressed my astonishment and I explained my doubts; I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone; and that they mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point.(1)

Tocqueville misquotes are found in almost all religious right American history books, including Barton's earlier book, The Myth of Separation. In that one, Barton included these other quotes from Democracy in America, omitting similar statements about the separation between religion and government.

Barton's version:

Religion in America...must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country.

The complete sentence:

Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.(2)

Barton's version:

Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent.

The complete sentence, along with the sentence immediately preceding it:

Amongst the Anglo-Americans, there are some who profess the doctrines of Christianity from a sincere belief in them, and others who do the same because they are afraid to be suspected of unbelief. Christianity, therefore, reigns without any obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate, although the political world is abandoned to the debates and the experiments of men.(3)

Most of Barton's examples in his section on "The Use of Omission," come from various reference books that quote a variety historical documents. Many compilations of this type, of course, present only select sections of documents, and omit portions of text for various reasons, so Barton had no trouble finding examples in which it happened to be religious text that was omitted.

This is one of Barton's examples, which also appears in some form in many other religious right history books (emphasis is Barton's):

Notice also the manner in which a popular library reference book presents the 1783 peace treaty which ended the American Revolution:
...ART. I. -- His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz. New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, to be free, sovereign and independent States, &c.

What was omitted by the editors at the beginning of the treaty? The section in which John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin officially declared:

In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts...

This reference to the trinity was not an acknowledgement by the government of the United States that America was a Christian nation. It was an acknowledgement by the government of Great Britain that England was a Christian nation. "In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" was the customary way that England, like most of the Christian nations of Europe, began their treaties and other documents. The agents of the United States had no control over this wording. Barton also presents the trinity acknowledgement and the beginning of the first sentence of the preamble as if they were both part of the body of the document. In reality, the trinity reference is a proclamation at the top of the page, separated from the body of the document, as was typical of official British documents of the time.

The actual preamble starts several inches below this, and begins:

It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, Arch-Treasurer and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, &ca., and of the United States of America...(4)

Treaties with Christian nations, several of which open with the trinity acknowledgement, are a popular source of quotes for religious right American history authors. Unlike treaties in foreign languages, in which the religious references of the other party were removed during the translation process, treaties with Great Britain were already in English, so they were just copied as is. So, for example, where the customary "may God strengthen" after the names of Barbary rulers was omitted, the customary "by the grace of God" between the names and titles of Christian monarchs remained.

Almost all treaties began with a preamble that included the reason for the treaty, the names and titles of the parties involved, and the agents each had authorized to make the treaty. In these statements, the names of monarchs, and sometimes of agents, were followed by all of the titles they held. Some of these titles were religious and others were not, like those of George III in the above example from the 1783 peace treaty.

In religious right history books, these strings of titles are sometimes edited to show only the religious, or religious sounding, titles, such as "defender of the faith." This title, bestowed on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in the 1520s for taking a stand against Martin Luther continued to be used by Henry, even after breaking with the Catholic Church. It was defiantly included in the Preface to the 39 Articles of the Church of England -- "being by God's Ordinance, according to Our just Title, Defender of the Faith..." -- and has been used by monarchs of Great Britain since.

For some reason, although also containing religious references, what aren't included in the religious right history books are the more ridiculous sounding titles, such as that of the agent authorized to sign the Treaty of Paris for Spain. 

Don Jerome Grimaldi, Marquis de Grimaldi, Knight of the Order of the Holy Ghost, Gentleman of my Bed-chamber with employment, and my Ambassador Extraordinary to the Most Christian King.(5)

Lengthy strings of titles, like acknowledgements of the trinity, only appear in the treaties that were drafted by the agents of other governments, and then signed by the United States. When it was the other way around, and treaties with these same nations were drafted by the agents of the United States government, they did not contain unnecessary titles, religious or otherwise, and they did not acknowledge Christianity. The United States apparently just didn't care if an agent of Great Britain happened to be a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, or who was the most Serene or Illustrious.

This simple opening statement from an 1818 convention with Great Britain is typical of the manner in which the conventions and treaties written by the government of the United States began:

The United States of America, and his Majesty the King of Great Britain and Ireland, desirous to cement the good understanding which happily subsists between them...(6)

This was followed by the names of the agents of both parties, which were followed by nothing more than their position in their government and who they were appointed by.

As already mentioned, some of the reference books examined by Barton are compilations of documents, in which it is the rule rather than the exception to present only portions or highlights of documents. These books were sometimes compiled by gathering passages from other secondary sources, so the same book might contain some passages in which religious text was omitted, and others in which it wasn't. Because of this, Barton has to chose his examples carefully in order to make his accusation that there is some sort of conspiracy among the editors of such compilations to remove religious references. In fact, Barton actually cites the same reference book twice, but for opposing reasons -- in one case to accuse this book's editors of deleting the religious language from one document, and in another to quote the religious language omitted from another document by the editor of an different book. In both cases, the book quoted is the 1909 edition of the Documentary Source Book of American History 1606-1898, edited by William MacDonald.

Citing the Documentary Source Book, Barton makes the following accusation:

In another library reference book, the Charter of Pennsylvania is presented in these words:
Charles the Second [&c.]...Know ye...that we, favoring the petition and good purpose of the said William Penn...

What is omitted from the charter? The section describing William Penn's religious motivation for forming Pennsylvania...

This accusation comes just a few paragraphs after Barton quotes, from the very same book, a passage from the Mayflower Compact, which includes its religious language, to show which phrases were omitted in another book. Obviously, there was no deliberate effort by William MacDonald to erase religion from American history, and by using the Documentary Source Book of American History to show both an omission of religious language in one case, and an inclusion of it in another, Barton proves his own accusation to be unfounded.


1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol.1, ( New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904), 331-332.
2. ibid., 329.
3. ibid., 328.
4. William MacDonald, ed., Select Documents Illustrative of the History of the United States 1776-1861, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1898), 16.
5. Adam Shortt and Arthur G. Doughty, eds., Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada 1759-1791, (Ottawa: S.E. Dawson, 1907), 93.
6. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 8, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1867), 248.


Previous parts of the "Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice" -- The Remarkable Hypocrisy of David Barton series:
Part 1
Part 2




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