I recently received this video via E-MAIL. The subject line of the message was “What you won’t be taught in school.” That intrigued me, so I watched the video. It is of a man named David Barton who is leading a tour of the U.S. Capitol. According to his company’s website:
David Barton is the Founder and President of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization that presents America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage….His exhaustive research has rendered him an expert in historical and constitutional issues and he serves as a consultant to state and federal legislators, has participated in several cases at the Supreme Court, was involved in the development of the History/Social Studies standards for states such as Texas and California, and has helped produce history textbooks now used in schools across the nation.
As I listened to just the first part of the video, however, something seemed off…way off. So I decided to do a little fact-checking. Now I am not a historian, but I am able to do some investigative research. When I checked the facts on just one segment of the video, I was rather disappointed.
I don’t normally do this, but I ask that you watch the video before you read the rest of this piece. You needn’t watch the entire thing. Just watch from 0:40 to 1:26. It’s only 46 seconds of video, but it allows you to see just how wrong he is, at least in that section of the video.
So…did any of his statements strike you as odd? Here is what bothered me:
This Bible was printed by the U.S. Congress in 1782…So the first Bible printed in America in English was printed by Congress for the use of our schools?…So the first Bible printed in English in America was done by the guys who signed the documents, endorsed by Congress, and done for the use of schools…
Barton is claiming that the U.S. Congress printed the first English Bible in America and did so, in part, for the use of the schools. This bothered me when I heard it. I wasn’t bothered by the idea of Congress supporting a Bible or even recommending it to the people. After all, most (but certainly not all) of our Founding Fathers were Christians, and most (but certainly not all) of the early Congressmen were Christians. Thus, I can see Congress recommending a Bible to the people. But I couldn’t see them actually printing a Bible or recommending it to schools. As far as I know, printing was done by the private sector back then, and the schools were not something Congress had anything to do with at that time in our history. That’s what caused me to start fact-checking. When I did, I found that most of what Barton says in that 46-second clip is simply untrue.
First, the Bible he is holding is a 1968 remake of the Bible that is referred to as the “Aitken Bible of 1782.” Congress did not print the Aitken Bible in 1782, and it did not print the 1968 remake. It did not financially support the printing of either Bible in any way. In fact, it doesn’t seem that Congress purchased a single Aitken Bible. And Congress never ever mentioned anything about the Aitken Bible being used in schools.
So what’s the real story behind the Aitken Bible? Well, you can learn everything you need to know about it by looking at the 1968 version Mr. Barton is holding in that video. That Bible was printed by Arno Press in collaboration with the American Bible Society, and it contains a preface written by someone who actually knows the history of the Aitken Bible – Margaret T. Hills. Conveniently, Logos Resource Pages has a copy of the preface posted online.
If you read that preface, you will learn that three clergymen thought there was a shortage of Bibles in 1777, and they asked Congress to find a way of making Bibles available to the people so that they could be used by schools, families, and churches. A Congressional committee decided that printing them in the U.S. would be difficult, so it resolved that the commerce committee should be ordered to import 20,000 Bibles. The resolution barely passed through committee and seems to have never been voted on by the Congress.
Robert Aitken enters the picture in 1781. At that time, he was the printer Congress used to print the journals of Congress. He presented a request (called a “memorial”) to Congress, and part of that request said that he:
…begs leave to inform your Honours That he both begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools, But being cautious of suffering his copy of the Bible to Issue forth without the sanction of Congress, Humbly prays that your Honours would take this important matter into serious consideration & would be pleased to appoint one Member or Members of your Honourable Body to inspect his work so that the same may be published under the Authority of Congress.
Do you remember the part in the video where Barton claims that Congress called the Aitken Bible a “neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools?” Congress never said that. Aitken said it to Congress when he requested that they inspect his work. That phrase was never in the Aitken Bible of 1782. It is in the historical preface to the 1968 version, but the author of that preface makes it clear that Congress did not write those words – the man who printed the Bible wrote those words to Congress.
So what came of Aitken’s memorial? Did Congress give Aitken money to print the Bible? Not as far as any historian can tell. The only thing that Congress did was give a copy of it to the Chaplains of Congress, Dr. White and Mr. Duffield. They inspected it for accuracy and submitted a report indicating that it was, indeed, accurate. As a result, Congress passed a resolution that read:
Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied of the care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.
Now these words do appear in the Aitken Bible of 1782, because Aitken thought it would be good for people to know that the Congress approved of his work. So Congress did approve of Aitken’s Bible, but they did not print it, and they did not fund it in any way. As you can see from reading the preface, the only indication of any support given to Aitken for his Bible comes from the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it was in the form of a loan. As Hills points out in the preface, it is not even clear that Aitken took the loan. In the end, Aitken’s own words indicate that the entire process caused him to lose 3,000 Continental Dollars.
So Barton is wrong about nearly everything he says in that section of the video. Congress did not print the Bible, and it did not recommend the Bible for use in schools. About the only thing he got right was that Congress did recommend it as accurate to the people of the United States.
Now why did I bring this up in my blog? There are really two reasons. First, I wanted to use it as an example of how critical thinking works. I would love for it to be true that Congress printed a Bible and recommended it for use in schools. Thus, when I first heard what he was saying, I really wanted to believe it. However, since I was bothered by a couple of nagging details, I decided to look into it a bit. When I did, I found that it was simply false. So the next time you hear something that seems to confirm what you want to believe, it is best to check its accuracy before you end up using it as evidence for your belief.
Second, David Barton is very popular among homeschooling families. Since I am a big advocate of homeschooling, I think it is important for these families to know about this. I have not reviewed his homeschooling curriculum or his books, so I cannot speak for their accuracy. I didn’t even investigate what he said in the rest of the video. However, in this one case, comparing what he says about the Aitken Bible to what the preface of the 1968 version he was holding in his hand says, it is clear that Mr. Barton did not check his facts very carefully. I pray this is not the case with the rest of his works, but I would encourage those who use his materials to do a bit of fact-checking on their own.