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Christian Homeschooling Pseudo-History
on September 10, 2007
America's Providential History contains far too many lies to cover in a short review, but here is a sampling of what you'll find in this popular homeschooling pseudo-history book.
To begin with, you'll find many misquotes that appear on David Barton's "Unconfirmed Quotations" list -- misquotes that even a revisionist as bad as Barton advises his minions not to use. These include the infamous James Madison Ten Commandments misquote, and this one, allegedly from Thomas Jefferson:
"The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty; ...students perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens."
The first part of this, "The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty," is a complete fabrication, appearing nowhere in Jefferson's writings. The second part doesn't come from Jefferson either, but from an 1852 letter written by Daniel Webster, an ardent promoter of Sunday schools. Webster claimed in this letter that Jefferson, in a conversation twenty-five years earlier about Sunday schools, had said, "the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands."(1)
This Jefferson misquote is followed by one from James Madison:
"religion... [is] the basis and foundation of government."
According to Beliles and McDowell, this comes from Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance."
Here's what that document actually says. Notice how many words appear between the word "Religion" and the phrase "the basis and foundation of government," words omitted to create a "quote" with an entirely different meaning.
"Because finally, 'the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience' is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the 'Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government,' it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis."(2)
Among the many lies about Jefferson promoting religion, you'll find this one about him putting the Bible in public schools.
"...while President, he also chaired the school board for the District of Columbia and authored its plan of education using the Bible and Watt's Hymnal as reading texts."
This lie is created by combining two things -- Jefferson's election in 1805 as president of Washington's school board, and an 1813 report by the teacher of one of the city's early schools, showing the school's success in teaching reading by the number of children who could read from the Bible and Watts's Hymns. Jefferson had nothing to do with this. The school in this report didn't even exist until 1812, three years after he left Washington.
Jefferson did not approve of Bible reading in schools. Describing his 1777 plan for public schools in Virginia in his "Notes on the State of Virginia," Jefferson made it clear that the absence of the Bible in that plan was not an oversight, but a deliberate exclusion.
"Instead therefore, of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious inquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history."(3)
You'll also find some popular lies about the Continental Congress, (called "The Christian Continental Congress" in this book), importing and printing Bibles.
"In 1782, Congress acted the role of a Bible society by officially approving the printing and distribution of the `Bible of the Revolution,' an American translation prepared by Robert Aitken."
There are many versions of this story floating around, all worded to mislead that Congress either requested the printing of these Bibles, granted Aitken permission to print them, contracted him to print them, paid for the printing, or printed them for the use of schools. Congress did none of these things. All they did was grant one of Aitken's many requests by having their chaplains examine his work, and allowing him to publish their resolution stating that, based on the chaplains' report, they were satisfied that his work was accurate.
Aitken actually asked Congress for quite a bit more, requesting that his Bible "be published under the Authority of Congress,"(4) and that he "be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures."(5) He also asked Congress to purchase some of his Bibles to distribute to the states. None of these requests were granted.
In addition to the typical lies above, which can be found in most revisionist history books, you'll find others that are quite unique, like the ridiculous claim that, since 1862, the words "so help me God" have been legally required at the end of the presidential oath of office.
You'll also find some twisting of fundamental government principles when necessary to make the religion lies seem plausible. For example, in describing an 1805 treaty with Tripoli, which didn't contain the "not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" phrase found in the previous 1797 treaty, Beliles and McDowell claim that Congress changed this treaty just to remove these offensive words.
"Congress renegotiated and ratified the `Treaty of Tripoli' in 1805 after repudiating and deleting the phrase: `The United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.'"
So, thanks to the fact that this book is so widely used among Christian homeschoolers, countless children are being taught a version of the separation of powers in which Congress has the power to repudiate, delete a phrase from, renegotiate, and ratify a treaty.
1. The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, vol. 16, (Boston: Little, Brown, & Company, 1903), 656-657.
2. Letters and other Writings of James Madison, vol. 1, (New York: R. Worthington, 1884), 168.
3. Lipscomb and Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, (Washington D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 204.
4. Papers of the Continental Congress, M247, r48, i41, v1, p63.