Stephen Mansfield's "Ten Tortured Words" -- A Book Review (Part 3)
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Aug 25, 2007 at 11:58:00 PM EST
As I noted in Part 1 and Part 2 of this review, Stephen Mansfield's Ten Tortured Words contains many stories copied almost verbatim from the works of other Christian nationalist history revisionists, proving the claims of Mansfield's extensive historical research to be beyond ridiculous. A number of good examples of this best-selling author's near-plagiarism of these existing bad history works are found in his section on church services in the U.S. Capitol Building.

In this first case, Mansfield is clearly copying David Barton -- presenting the same quotes; in the same order; edited in exactly the same way; and even making the same mistake in one of the footnotes, indicating that Mansfield simply copied Barton's footnotes without even bothering to verify them.

The following is from pages 46 and 47 of Mansfield's Ten Tortured Words:

Worship services had actually begun in the nation's Capitol before the federal government moved to Washington in the fall of 1800. As early as July 2, 1795, the Federal Orrery, a Boston newspaper, reported:

City of Washington, June 19. It is with much pleasure that we discover the rising consequence of our infant city, Public worship is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock by the Reverend Mr. Ralph.

One possible explanation for use of the Capitol as a church may be in the lack of other churches in Washington. As late as 1803, U.S Senator John Quincy Adams complained, "There is no church of any denomination in this city." In fact, churches did not proliferate in Washington until many years after its founding. "For several years," one citizen of the time reported, "there were but two small [wooden] churches. . . . Now, in 1837 there are 22 churches of brick or stone."

Now, compare Mansfield's version to the corresponding paragraphs in David Barton's article, "Church in the U.S. Capitol":

Significantly, the Capitol building had been used as a church even for years before it was occupied by Congress. The cornerstone for the Capitol had been laid on September 18, 1793; two years later while still under construction, the July 2, 1795, Federal Orrery newspaper of Boston reported:

City of Washington, June 19. It is with much pleasure that we discover the rising consequence of our infant city. Public worship is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock by the Reverend Mr. Ralph.

The reason for the original use of the Capitol as a church might initially be explained by the fact that there were no churches in the city at that time. Even a decade later in 1803, U. S. Senator John Quincy Adams confirmed: "There is no church of any denomination in this city." The absence of churches in Washington eventually changed, however. As one Washington citizen reported: "For several years after the seat of government was fixed at Washington, there were but two small [wooden] churches. . . . Now, in 1837 there are 22 churches of brick or stone."...

To show the identical editing of the quotes in both Barton's and Mansfield's versions, here is the entire sentence from the "citizen" they quote. Not only do both omit exactly the same words describing the churches, but both add the bracketed word "wooden" -- mighty coincidental.

For several years after the seat of government was fixed at Washington, there were but two small churches. The roman-catholic chapel in F. street, then a little frame building, and the Episcopalian church at the foot of Capitol-hill; both, very small and mean frame buildings. Now, in 1837 there are 22 churches of brick or stone.(1)

But, the definitive evidence that Mansfield simply copied Barton is the appearance in his footnotes of the same error that appears in Barton's footnotes. This telltale error is the page number for the notice in the Federal Orrery. Barton's footnote says this notice appeared on page 2. It didn't. It appeared on the third page. If Mansfield had checked this source, he certainly would have realized this, yet his footnote also says page 2.

Mansfield's reliance on the work of pseudo-historians like Barton, coupled with his own apparent lack of knowledge about the period and places he is writing about, leads to the perpetuation of another error in the above excerpt from Ten Tortured Words. Barton claimed in his article that church services were being held in the Capitol Building as early as 1795, using the quote from the Federal Orrery to support this claim. If Mansfield had actually looked up this 1795 newspaper article, he might, in addition to the erroneous page number, have caught that Barton capitalized the word "Capitol" to imply that this meant the building, while the article had the word "capitol" with a lower-case "c," clearly using the word to mean the entire future seat of government, not a particular building.

This was the entire notice:


It is with much pleasure that we discover the rising consequence of our infant city, Public worship is now regularly administered at the capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o'clock by the reverend mr. Ralph, and an additional school has been opened by that gentleman, upon an extensive and liberal plan.(2)

In 1795, the Rev. Ralph referred to in this notice was preaching in the "Episcopalian church at the foot of Capitol-hill" mentioned by the Washington citizen quoted above. This was actually a converted tobacco shed, not the Capitol Building, which was barely under construction at the time.

Both Barton's and Mansfield's stories go on, with other marked similarities, to explain that church services in the Capitol continued well into the nineteenth century. At this point, Mansfield also begins to draw from another of his favorite sources, James H. Hutson, chief of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress (and Christian nationalist history revisionist), leading him to repeat even more historical inaccuracies, which I'll get to in a minute. First, however, I'd like to show yet another example to reaffirm what Mansfield's errors in parts one and two of this review indicated -- that this "historian" is clearly chronologically challenged.

James H. Hutson, in the companion book to his 1998 Library of Congress exhibit, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, writes about the First Congregational United Church of Washington D.C., a church that formed in 1865, and met in the Capitol from 1865 to 1868, while its own church building was being constructed. According to a history of this church, its founder, Rev. Charles Boynton, was so popular that his sermons at the Capitol drew close to 2,000 people.

While citing only Hutson's companion book in his footnotes, Mansfield also appears to have relied heavily on the website version of the exhibit, which is very similar to the book, and on which the following information about the First Congregational Church appears.

Church Services in Congress after the Civil War
Charles Boynton (1806-1883) was in 1867 chaplain of the House of Representatives and organizing pastor of the First Congregational Church in Washington, which was trying at that time to build its own sanctuary. In the meantime the church, as Boynton informed potential donors, was holding services "at the Hall of Representatives" where "the audience is the largest in town. . . .nearly 2000 assembled every Sabbath" for services, making the congregation in the House the "largest Protestant Sabbath audience then in the United States." The First Congregational Church met in the House from 1865 to 1868.

House of Representatives, After the Civil War
The House moved to its current location on the south side of the Capitol in 1857. It contained the "largest Protestant Sabbath audience" in the United States when the First Congregational Church of Washington held services there from 1865 to 1868. this says that the House moved to its present location in 1857, and that the First Congregational Church met in this chamber from 1865 to 1868. It also says that it was during this period -- beginning in 1865, eight years after the House was relocated -- that an audience of 2,000 was present at the services. Anyone with basic reading comprehension skills would understand this, right?

Well, here's Stephen Mansfield's interpretation:

By 1857, when the House moved into its new home in the extension, more than two thousand people were attending church there every week.

Citing Hutson's exhibit companion book as his source, Mansfield goes on to recount the popular tale of Jefferson's alleged encounter with an anonymous friend on his way to church. In addition to presenting this anecdote as fact in spite of its dubious origins, Mansfield screws up the story, once again showing that he has a serious reading comprehension problem.

Before getting to the problems with any version of this story, let's compare Mansfield's version to Hutson's, the version that Mansfield cites as his source, but apparently had trouble understanding.

First, here is Hutson's version (which Hutson clearly introduces as "an anecdote the Reverend Allen recorded"):

Jefferson, according to Allen, was walking to church one Sunday "with his large red Prayer Book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."

Incredibly, Mansfield, in spite of Hutson's two distinct references to Reverend Allen merely being the recorder of the story, somehow derived from this that Reverend Allen was the friend that Jefferson encountered. Here's Mansfield's version:

There is an anecdote that captures better than any other on record the approach to religion that moved Thomas Jefferson to faithfully attend his church in the House of Representatives. He was walking to church one Sunday "with his large red Prayer Book under his arm" when a friend happened upon him. It was the reverend Ethan Allen.

"Which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson?" Allen asked.

"To Church Sir."

"You? Going to church Mr. J? You do not believe a word in it!

"Sir," said Mr. Jefferson, "no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."

When the government moved to Washington in 1800, the only churches that existed in the city were the tobacco shed being used by the Episcopalians, and a small Catholic chapel built in 1794 for the Irish stone masons who had moved to the city to work on the federal buildings. It was the tobacco shed, not the Capitol, that Jefferson was heading to in this popular, but unsubstantiated, anecdote.

Here is the original story as it appears in a handwritten manuscript by Rev. Ethan Allen called Historical Sketch of Washington Parish, Washington City.

"Mr. J.P. Ingle says in his note of July 6, 1857, 'Mr. Underwood and myself can both recollect that Mr. McCormick held service in a Tobacco House as early in 1803 when Mr. Jefferson attended there. The old Market which stood on the NW corner of the Virginia & New Jersey Avenues was often pointed out as the place also where Mr. McCormick officiated. Was the tobacco house near this? Here it was that Mr. Jefferson was coming one Sunday morning across the fields leading to it with his large red Prayer Book under his arm when a friend riding him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson - to which he replied to Church Sir -- you going to church Mr. Jefferson? You do not believe a word in it -- Sir said Mr. Jefferson no nation has yet existed or been governed without religion -- nor can be -- the Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man & I as the chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.'"

While others have asserted that this story lacks credibility because Rev. Ethan Allen, who was born in 1796, would have been a child when Jefferson allegedly had this encounter, this really doesn't matter. Allen was merely recording the recollections of others, making his own age at the time irrelevant. What is relevant, however, are the ages of the two men who were recalling the story, both of whom would also have been children at the time. John P. Ingle, who at various time in his life was the President of the Washington City Bible Society, Vice Chairman of the American Sunday School Union, and a lay delegate to the Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, was born in 1791, making him ten years old in 1801. (Although Ingle's later recollection was that Jefferson attended church in the tobacco shed in 1803, it was actually during 1801, before services at the Capitol began, that Jefferson was known to go there.) The Mr. Underwood mentioned by Ingle was almost certainly John Underwood, his brother-in-law. John Underwood, the son of Robert Underwood, who came to Washington in the 1790s while the city was being built, was born in 1796, making him five years old in 1801. So, what we have is the account of two men who heard a story about an encounter between Jefferson and a stranger that occurred when they were children, recalling this story over fifty years later -- hardly a primary source. Nevertheless, the words allegedly uttered by Jefferson as his reason for going to church have become a popular Jefferson quote, found on countless religious right websites, in the revisionist history books, and even in amicus briefs filed in several court cases -- most recently the McCreary County, Kentucky ten commandments case, heard by the Supreme Court in 2005, in which the quote was claimed to be found not in Rev. Allen's third-hand account of an unsubstantiated story, but in a letter from Jefferson to Allen.

For a more detailed explanation of how the use of this story evolved, see my post from February 20, 2007.

Another popular church at the Capitol claim that appears in Mansfield's book is that Jefferson ordered the Marine band to play at these services. Once again, the similarity between Mansfield's wording of this story and the wording of David Barton's version is striking, both coincidentally saying that the reason this practice ended was because it was too "ostentatious," which is not the reason given in the source cited for this claim.

According to Barton:

Interestingly, the Marine Band participated in the early Capitol church services. According to Margaret Bayard Smith, who regularly attended services at the Capitol, the band, clad in their scarlet uniforms, made a "dazzling appearance" as they played from the gallery, providing instrumental accompaniment for the singing. The band, however, seemed too ostentatious for the services and "the attendance of the marine-band was soon discontinued."

According to Mansfield:

[Jefferson] even tried to help and ordered the Marine Band to play for the services. They proved ostentatious and were never scheduled again.

Margaret Bayard Smith, mentioned by Barton as his source of the Marine band story, was the wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, a Philadelphia newspaper editor who moved to Washington in 1800 to establish a national newspaper, The National Intelligencer. She is also the "Washington citizen" referred to in the quotes at the beginning of this post.

By selectively quoting Mrs. Smith's description of Sundays at the Capitol, found in The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of Her Grandson, J. Henley Smith, Mansfield, like Hutson and Barton, gives the impression that what took place there were serious religious services, which, most importantly, were attended by Thomas Jefferson. For this one, Mansfield copies from the companion book to James H. Hutson's religion exhibit.

Hutson's version:

According to the recollections of an early Washington insider, "Jefferson during his whole administration, was a most regular attendant. The seat he chose the first sabbath day, and the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied, were ever afterwords by the courtesy of the congregation, left for him."

Mansfield's version:

An early Washington insider reported that, "Jefferson during his whole administration, was a most regular attendant. The seat he chose the first day Sabbath, and the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied, were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation, left for him."

Judging by Mrs. Smith's entire description of these services, which appear to have been the weekly social event more than religious services, it's not surprising that Jefferson, who complained about the lack of any social life in Washington, was such a "regular attendant."

"...I have called these Sunday assemblies in the capitol, a congregation, but the almost exclusive appropriation of that word to religious assemblies, prevents its being a descriptive term as applied in the present case, since the gay company who thronged the H. R. looked very little like a religious assembly. The occasion presented for display was not only a novel, but a favourable one for the youth, beauty and fashion of the city, Georgetown and environs. The members of Congress, gladly gave up their seats for such fair auditors, and either lounged in the lobbies, or round the fire places, or stood beside the ladies of their acquaintance. This sabbathday-resort became so fashionable, that the floor of the house offered insufficient space, the platform behind the Speaker's chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in was crowded with ladies in their gayest costume and their attendant beaux and who led them to their seats with the same gallantry as is exhibited in a ball room. Smiles, nods, whispers, nay sometimes tittering marked their recognition of each other, and beguiled the tedium of the service. Often, when cold, a lady would leave her seat and led by her attending beau would make her way through the crowd to one of the fire-places where she could laugh and talk at her ease. One of the officers of the house, followed by his attendant with a great bag over his shoulder, precisely at 12 o'clock, would make his way through the hall to the depository of letters to put them in the mail-bag, which sometimes had a most ludicrous effect, and always diverted attention from the preacher. The musick was as little in union with devotional feelings, as the place. The marine-band, were the performers. Their scarlet uniform, their various instruments, made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery. The marches they played were good and inspiring, but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued, -- it was too ridiculous."(3)

The two sentences at the end of this passage from Mrs. Smith's book are the sole source for the claim that Jefferson "ordered" the Marine band to play at church.

Mansfield also quotes, equally deceptively, from another early description of the Capitol church services -- again copying from Hutson's book.

Hutson's version:

A British diplomat, Sir Augustus Foster, reported that during Jefferson's administration, "a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a minister of the Church of England, or a Quaker, or sometimes even a woman took the speaker's chair," which was used as the pulpit.

Mansfield's version:

A British diplomat reported that during Jefferson's administration, "A Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a member of the Church of England, or a Quaker, or sometimes even a woman took the speaker's chair," which was used as a pulpit.

Like Mrs. Smith's account, Sir Augustus Foster's description, when read in its entirety paints a very different picture of early Washington and the Capitol church services than the impression given by the selective quoting done by Hutson and copied by Mansfield.

After a brief description of the shocking behavior of the ladies from Virginia in Washington, Foster continued with the following, from which Hutson plucked the words for his quote.

In going to assemblies one had sometimes to drive three or four miles within the city bounds, and very often at the great risk of an overthrow, or of being what is termed 'stalled,' or stuck in the mud. .... Cards were a great resource during the evening, and gaming was all the fashion, at brag especially, for the men who frequented society were chiefly from Virginia or the Western States, and were very fond of this the worst gambling of all games, as being one of countenance as well as of cards. Loo was the innocent diversion of the ladies, who when they looed pronounced the word in a very mincing manner....

Church service can certainly never be called an amusement; but from the variety of persons who are allowed to preach in the House of Representatives, there was doubtless some alloy of curiosity in the motives which led one to go there. Though the regular Chaplain was a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a minister of the Church of England, or a Quaker, or sometimes even a woman took the speaker's chair; and I don't think that there was much devotion among the majority. The New Englanders, generally speaking, are very religious; though there are many exceptions, I cannot say so much for the Marylanders, and still less for the Virginians.(4)

So, given that Stephen Mansfield's extensive historical research for Ten Tortured Words seems to have consisted of simply copying from other revisionist history books, and also that he doesn't appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I have to wonder if this best-selling author even realizes that he is spreading an inaccurate and deceptive version of American history to a new and wider audience.

1. Gaillard Hunt, ed., The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of Her Grandson, J. Henley Smith, (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1906), 16.
2. Federal Orrery, Boston, July 2, 1795, vol. 2, no. 74, 289. (The volumes of this paper were numbered continuously, making page 289 the third page of this issue.)
3. Hunt, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, 13-14.
4. Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington: Life and Scenes in the National Capital, as a Woman Sees Them (Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington & Co., 1873), 61.

As usual, the people at Talk2Action have come throught with the goods and dissected another piece of psuedoscholarship by the Right, but something has been nagging me.  Will it matter?

For a long time, cranky and kooky conservative  books like Ann Coulter's Slander and Treason, O'Neill and Corsi's Unfit for Command, Levin's Men in Black have been on best sellers list for weeks (or even months) at a time without the elite media bothering to examine whether these popular books contain accurate claims, or even make any sense.  Since the elite media is the only place to go to reach the general audience of people that don't have the tools to dissect how weird and wrong these books are (blogs are gaining an audience, but aren't anywhere close to the elite media's power, yet), their "facts" go unchallenged around America's watercoolers, dinner tables and in bars/wateringholes; the places where most Americans discuss politics and daily events.  

This is a serious problem, one that Bob Somerby has written about a lot.  What is the solution?  I don't know if Ten Tortured Words has sold a lot of books yet (or even if it will sell many or end up in the fame Scaife wood chipper), but how should people go about alerting the elite media about how wrong the book is?

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 11:11:01 AM EST

One reason I think these books show up as best sellers is that the folks who run operations such as Conservative Book Club,, and WorldNet Daily purchase these titles in bulk for use as premiums and promotional giveaways. What is interesting is that relatively few individual buyers buy the books, and when I go to used book stores or sometimes thrift shops, I often see multiple copies of books by authors like Ann Coulter, David Limbaugh, or Bernard Goldberg on the shelf. I suspect that the market for these books is a small niche that demonstrates clout beyond its relatively small numbers. Some best seller lists now specify if sales figures come from bulk purchases.

From what I recall, similar techniques were used to inflate sales figures on L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction works, and individual buyers purchased relatively few of these books.

by khughes1963 on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 02:24:20 PM EST

but these books have a negative impact on our country's political discourse vastly out of proportion to their sales.  One could even argue that Unfit for Command (and the elite media's refusal to critically review it in a timely manner) was a key reason behind W's re-election.  Still, the question remains: how do we get the elite media to do its job and reveal how deranged these books really are before their "facts" get into general circulation in the public at large?

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 03:46:17 PM EST
that these works and their larger impact on society are not discussed in the the progressive press or the more general alternative media either.  

The problem we face is not one of the media elite, but of a more general failure to examine and evaluate the signficance of the various aspects of the religious right.  That is why this site exists in the first place.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 04:49:26 PM EST

You mentioned what I didn't think of-the press hasn't addressed these dubious works, but the works have more influence than people realize.

by khughes1963 on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 12:15:18 PM EST

Excellent work by Chris, as always. But I think she misses an aesthetic point: plagiarism doesn't mean the same thing within Christian Right publishing as it does in the rest of the world. That's not a slur, that's just description. Barton, Mansfield, LaHaye, Dobson, Robertson and many others are all rife with plagiarism or near-plagiarism. The anthropologist Susan Friend Harding has suggested that the criteria for "truth-telling" are different within these circles. Originality is less prized than adherence to doctrine; the repetition of bogus stories might be considered a sort of fundamentalist ritual by which new semi-scripture is created. Whatever the case may be, the fact is fans of such writers and usually the writers themselves don't care; and the rest of us already know it's bunk.

Still, I'm tremendously grateful for Chris's careful work -- these are the kinds of close readings we need more of.
Author of THE FAMILY: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper, May 20)
by Jeff Sharlet on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 11:52:00 PM EST

This is something I have never heard before. I think there are a lot of such books of which I haven't heard, maybe there will be a lot other people out there like me who has got no idea about these books. So, these discussions are of great help to people like me.
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by Heman on Mon Dec 28, 2015 at 11:08:41 PM EST

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Christian Dem in NC (3 comments)

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