No, Mr. Beck, John Adams Did Not Think Governments Must be Administered by the Holy Ghost
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 02:56:28 AM EST
This is the second installment in what will be an ongoing series debunking the American history lies being promoted by Glenn Beck on his new "Founders' Fridays" episodes and other shows. (If you missed the first one, you can find it here.) Beck has already had several guest "historians" on his show, but I still have quite a few lies to debunk from his April 8 show, which was a full hour featuring Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton, so I'm going to knock those off first.

This post is about another mainstay of Barton's presentations: an 1809 letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush that Barton butchers to make it appear that Adams thought that all governments, including, of course, the government of the United States, must be administered by the Holy Ghost in order to be legitimate.

On Beck's show, Barton also incorporated his other lie about this letter, claiming that this was the letter that magically reunited Jefferson and Adams, who had been on the outs since Jefferson got elected president in 1800. Why does Barton do this? Because it allows him to combine two completely unrelated parts of Adams's letter into a claim that it was really God, working through his "prophet" Benjamin Rush, who restored the friendship between Adams and Jefferson.

Unlike my last post, where I included an excerpt from my book in addition to a video debunking, I'm just going to use a video for this one.

Sources for the letters mentioned or quoted in video:

Rush to Adams, October 16, 1809, John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush 1805-1813, (Reprint, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 169-171.

Adams to Rush, October 25, 1809, ibid., 172-173.

Rush to Adams, December 5, 1809, L.H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, vol. 2, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), 1026.

Adams to Rush, December 21, 1809, Alexander Biddle, ed., Old Family Letters: Copied from the Originals for Alexander Biddle, Series A, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1892), 247-249.

This December 21, 1809 letter is the Adams letter butchered and lied about by Barton, who owns the original letter. Alexander Biddle, who was married to Benjamin Rush's granddaughter, was able to get someone to make copies of many of the letters between Adams and Rush. Biddle's book is now available on Google Books for anyone who wants to read the entire letter from an independent source and compare it to the edited and manipulated version as it appears in David Barton's article "The Dream of Dr. Benjamin Rush & God's Hand in Reconciling John Adams and Thomas Jefferson."

Here's Barton's version:

"My friend, there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, Who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishop on the heads of candidates for the ministry. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious -- there can be no legitimate government - but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it -- all without it is rebellion and perdition, or, in more orthodox words, damnation. . . Your prophecy, my dear friend, has not become history as yet. I have no resentment of animosity against the gentleman [Jefferson] and abhor the idea of blackening his character or transmitting him in odious colors to posterity. But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many correspondences. If I should receive a letter from him, however, I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it."

And, here is the full, un-Bartonized letter:

Quincy December 21. 1809.

My Dear Sir, -- I thank you for the pleasing account of your Family in your favour of the 5th. As I take a lively interest in their Prosperity and Felicity, your relation of it gave me great Pleasure. We have Letters from our Colony navigating the Baltic, dated at Christiansand. They had been so far as prosperous, healthy and happy as such Travellers could expect to be.

Pope said of my Friend General Oglethorpe

Some driven by strong Benevolence of soul
Shall fly like Oglethorpe from Pole to Pole.

But what was a Trip to Georgia in Comparison with the Journeys and Voyages that J. Q. Adams has performed ? I do not believe that Admiral Nelson ever ran greater Risques at sea.

Tell Richard that I hope Mrs. Rush will soon present him with a son that will do him as much honour in proportion, as the first born of his Genius has already done him in the opinion of the world. W. S. S. our Guardian of the Athenaeum has obtained it and proclaimed it loudly every where the best Pamphlet that ever he read. Be sure you do not hint this to Mrs. Rush Senr. It would allarm her Delicacy.

I really do not know whether I do not envy your City of Philadelphia for its Reputation for Science, Arts and Letters and especially its Medical Professor. I know not either whether I do not envy you your Genius and Imagination. Why have not I some Fancy? some Invention? some Ingenuity? some discursive Faculty? Why has all my Life been consumed in searching for Facts and Principles and Proofs and Reasons to support them? Your Dreams and Fables have more Genius in them than all my Life. Your Fable of Dorcas would make a good Chapter or a good Appendix to The Tale of a Tub.

But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a Baptism, not a Marriage not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishops on the heads of Candidates for the Ministry. In the same manner as the holy Ghost is transmitted from Monarch to Monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a Dove and by that other Phyal which I have seen in the Tower of London. There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All, without it is Rebellion and Perdition, or in more orthodox words Damnation. Although this is all Artifice and Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft, Gentlemens Craft, Peoples Craft, Doctors Craft, Lawyers Craft, Merchants Craft, Tradesmens Craft, Labourers Craft and Devils Craft in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it.

Do you wonder that Voltaire and Paine have made Proselytes? Yet there was as much subtlety, Craft and Hypocrisy in Voltaire and Paine and more too than in Ignatius Loyola.

This Letter is so much in the tone of my Friend the Abby Raynal and the Grumblers of the last age, that I pray you to burn it. I cannot copy it.

Your Prophecy my dear Friend has not become History as yet. I have no Resentment or Animosity against the Gentleman and abhor the Idea of blackening his Character or transmitting him in odious Colours to Posterity.

But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many Correspondences. If I should receive a Letter from him however I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it.

The Auroras you sent me for which I thank you, are full of Momentous Matter.

I am Dear Sir with every friendly sentiment yours

J. Adams

Beyond all of the lies with the self serving manipulation of history in order to generate more money, viewers and, ultimately, power, such social and political parasites as Barton, Beck and the others have consistently missed an important point. And, in fact, I think those who do the important and well done refutations of these con men and women (like Chris Rodda) sometimes miss it as well. There is little point to 'proving' whether or not the Founding Fathers were either Christian or, for that matter, deeply pious Christians. They most certainly did have deeply held Christian based values...perhaps some more than others....but most were very pious Christians. Even Jefferson, who mainstream reporters tend to mis-represent as secular, was a deeply religious man even if his beliefs about religion led to him to do his own rewrite of the bible! The supposed 'argument' over whether Adams and his contemporaries were 'Christian' or whether their Christianity was key to their self concepts and present in their writing is bogus and should be a non-starter. Instead, the point to be made is that these men believed just as strongly that their own beliefs should not be forced onto others and that the new America's strength would be driven by both, the freedom to worship as one wished and that the state would not...ever...appear to sponsor or force upon any citizen a 'state sponsored' religion. Even those who would have liked to see others become more Christian refused to either require or enforce such a mandate. They wanted citizens to make such choices on their own and free from coercion. This was clearly identified at the first Constitutional Convention in 1787 to include the church/state separation. And the transcripts make it quite clear. It is also important to recognize that history, its writing and beliefs are also a cross section of time and place. Taking the writing of an individual done at a time long past and presuming to give it a literal interpretation and application at wholly different time is self serving simplicity at its highest form. For instance, whether George Washington was a deist or an orthodox Trinitarian Christian is hardly the point. The fact that Washington went to great lengths to separate religion from his work (so to speak) is the point to be made...and remade. Lets talk instead about the formulating revulsion such Founders as Madison (I believe it was Madison!) and Mason had when pre-Revolution Virginia enacted laws that led to the brutalizing and murders of Baptist and other non-Christian leaders. So, rather than getting into this back and forth...just provide the accurate and true documentation of what the Founding Fathers said and wrote. That should speak for itself!

by Dr Lou on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 11:04:48 AM EST
Dr Lou:
I think you missed the point, not Chris.
You  avoid calling Jefferson a deist, but instead call him a deeply religious man. I have read all of Jefferson's writings and find no evidence of any deep religiosity. His desim was about as skin deep as Voltaire's was after the Lisbon earthquake. Given the evidence of evolution and modern cosmology he wouldn't have even called himself a deist. He was a humanist to his very bones.
His creation of the Jefferson Bible was to strip out the nonsensical supernatural baloney about Jesus and portray him as simply a man of admirable ethics. This is not the hallmark of deep piety or religiosity. He found the Christian edifice to be absurd.

You made a few unfortunate blunders ( I hope they were just blunders) - in your post you say "these con men and women (like Chris Rodda)" implying Chris Rhoda is a con woman.... shame!!!
And amusingly you then say "laws that led to the brutalizing and murders of Baptist and other non-Christian leaders." So Baptists are non-Christian leaders???.... in their rampant homophobia I always doubted their Christianity.... thanks for verifying that for me!!!! :-)

by PastorJennifer on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 11:40:49 AM EST

Just a couple quick things... Jefferson was a religious man even as he sought to reduce the 'magic' and miracles from Christianity. He did, in fact, believe in Christ but saw JC as a leader, teacher and philosopher rather than a god. Though Jefferson did have significant difficulties with the traditional Christian model (said some rather unflattering things about the priesthood and clergy as well, I might add), I'd think he'd be offended to not be considered 'Christian' or religious. I am quite aware that Chris Rodda is a woman and if my post inferred that she is a part of the con then I either mis-communicated or was simply misunderstood. The con men/women reference was to Barton, Beck and their many pandering colleagues. Ok, you did get me in my reference to Baptists as 'non-Christian leaders.' I certainly consider Baptists to be Christian but not of the mainstream Protestant denominations. Catholics are certainly Christian as well but were demonized then and still are, actually, by the modern day incarnates of those same Protestant denominations.

by Dr Lou on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 06:00:11 PM EST
I'm probably a bit closer to Dr. Lou.

This is what I've concluded:  Jefferson thought of himself as a "Christian" and a "unitarian."  He may have thought himself a "Deist," but there is not much evidence for this.  Jefferson believed in an active personal Providence, NOT a non-intervening watchmaker.  Jefferson thought Jesus of Nazareth a "Savior."  Yet, Jefferson rejected:  "The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c."

Jefferson believed men were saved through their good works and therefore anyone whether they believed in Jesus or not could attain salvation.  Indeed, Jefferson thought most if not all world religions taught the same morality as Christianity.  Hence they were valid paths to God.

Jefferson probably believed the future state of punishment for the bad was temporary, not eternal.  I say probably because unlike all of the other claims I made, for which I have smoking gun evidence, I don't have smoking gun of that other than to say most folks who thought along those theological lines believed in temporary not eternal punishment.

by Jonathan Rowe on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 07:58:18 PM EST

and "Deism" before we have this discussion.

It does not seem that Jefferson was a Christian at all - at least not by the standard definition of the word. Central to Christianity are exactly the "supernatural" elements that Jefferson removed from the story in the "Jefferson Bible". He definitely believed in Jesus as a great moralist, philosopher and teacher, but not as the incarnation of God.

As proof of his "Christianity", it is pointed out that Jefferson attended the Congregationalist Church. 18th Century Unitarians, however, existed within the Congregationalist Church as a liberal, anti-Calvinist, anti-trinitarian, and anti-creedal movement, and one that embraced rationalism. Not a long step to Deism at all.

Deism is the belief in one God, arrived at by reason, separated from religion. No dogma, no holy books, no priests. At the time of the Enlightenment, as I pointed out in my reply in the comments to Jonathan Rowe's book review the other day, there were two distinct branches of Deistic thought. The so-called English and French Schools. The "English" branch did believe in a "personal" God that actually intervened in man's affairs. The French branch was closer to what Deism is perceived as now, perhaps better called Deistic Humanism. (Although within modern Deist communities, you will still find English Deism adherents.)

It is perfectly logical to believe that Jefferson (along with many other Founders) was a Deist, given that split in Deistic beliefs. I think that the only argument is whether he followed more closely the English or the French form of it, or whether perhaps his beliefs changed with age.

by phatkhat on Sat Jun 12, 2010 at 01:47:01 PM EST
I respectfully disagree with your assertion that "supernatural" elements are central to Christianity. There are many of us liberal/mainline Christians for whom belief in the supernatural is incidental or even marginal. By so narrowing the definition of "Christian," you are doing the same thing that the fundamentalists do, drawing lines to exclude those who do not adhere to a lengthy and strict set of beliefs, many of which contradict both logic and science. I think the main question to ask is whether or not a person describes her or himself as a Christian. No one has the right to impose a definition on another, either to include or exclude.

by MLouise on Sun Jun 13, 2010 at 11:18:29 PM EST
I'm not talking about a "lengthy and strict set of beliefs". If you do not believe in at least the death and resurrection and the atonement for man's sin, which are certainly central to any standard definition of Christianity, but still consider yourself a Christian, then I would be interested in knowing how you define Christianity. It is very difficult to have a discussion about anything, but particularly so in the case of abstract things like beliefs, without defining the terms up front. Unless we are clear about the terms we are using, we are probably talking past one another, and not understanding at all. Perhaps if you don't believe in the supernatural, and leave off the beliefs that "contradict both logic and science", you are actually a Deist who believes in the philosophy of the Jesus the Rabbi, which seems pretty close to Jefferson, himself! Actually, that would describe me as well, but I would never call myself a "Christian", since I do not by any means fall into the standard or "normal" definition of the word. Calling myself a Christian would mislead people, though it might make my life's path in the USA a little smoother.

by phatkhat on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 04:53:56 AM EST
Ebionites were an early group of Jewish Christians who believed that Jesus was the mortal son of Joseph and Mary who had been glorified by God. They did not hold to many of the beliefs and practices of other Christians, and they rejected the writings of Paul. It isn't certain whether they believed in the resurrection at all. Has history narrowed the definition of what it means to be a Christian to such a degree that any variation must be heresy? Hmmm...

by offbeatjim on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 09:11:26 AM EST

One doesn't have to be an expert in Deism or Enlightenment thought to see how out of context Barton, Beck et al took Adams' quote.   The paragraph in question is highly ironic and Adams is instead skewering the notion of "divine right of kings."  Much of the "Christian" Dominionist movement (or more accurately, confluence of like-minded movements) BELIEVES in the divine right of kings.

This is almost as bad as believing Jonathan Swift (alluded to in this letter) advocated eating babies in "A Modest Proposal."  Adams is no Swift but you can't blame him for trying.  You CAN blame Barton and Beck for not getting it, however.

by ulyankee on Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 10:18:39 AM EST

would be deliberate deception, or even calling them what they are.

Outright LIARS.

Their revising of what was written is academically dishonest, deceptive, and totally changes what was written.  I don't think they forget the importance of context- it is pretty obvious that it was deliberate.

I just have problems understanding their motives.

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