- Paperback: 534 pages
- Publisher: WallBuilder Press; 5th edition (August 30, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932225633
- ISBN-13: 978-1932225631
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 217 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion 5th Edition
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About the Author
David Barton is the founder of WallBuilders, an organization dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious, and constitutional heritage. David is author of numerous best-selling works and a national award-winning historian who brings a fresh perspective to history.
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This book has meticulous foot notes and references to it's sources. Barton uses the words of the founding fathers themselves to make his points. He uses actual court cases, and even puts the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the back of the book for your reference. The author presents the material in a clear and precise manner, and the reader can easily look up, reference, and test his conclusions themselves (his footnotes and index make it that easy) ..... Better yet, Barton actually invites the reader to read the federalist and anti-federalist (the words of the founding fathers themselves) papers after reading this book . If Barton's conclusions are false as some have concluded he's definitely a horrible revisionist since he gives the reader all the ammunition in the world to check his sources and refute him.
This book has done more for my understanding our founding fathers than the many secular based history texts I've pawned through. The author is thorough, complete, and as I said earlier he gives the reader all the power by giving him/her the power to reference the original documents. The truth is many of our founding fathers were Christians, did read the bible, and most wouldn't approve of the course of action taken against religious expression in our country today. This is a worthy read for the Christian and secular skeptic alike. Truly, this is a must read!!!!
Postscript: There have been many attacks on this book and those who give favorable reviews to it (as of this date the reviews are 44 five star reviews and 30 some one star reviews on the hard back version). Instead of believing what any man says I urge the reader to do what I'm doing.... Look up the material yourself... Read the book, check it's sources, and make your own conclusion... Don't let the many individuals who leave nasty comments under these reviews steal from you your right to make your own conclusion....
There are, however, major difficulties with this book. Most stem from Barton's misuse of evidence--which is not too surprising, given that he is writing a brief for his position rather than attempting to do history.
1. Barton uses the widest definition of the term "Founding Fathers" that I have ever seen. He includes the Signers of the Declaration and the Constitution, of course, but also the fourteen presidents of the Continental Congress, "three dozen or so prominent military leaders," and even Noah Webster. Presumably enrolling a larger group helps Barton dilute the monumental influence of exceptional figures like Jefferson and Madison, whose religious views can be tricky to work around. (Barton tries nonetheless. We are told that "Jefferson thought Christianity so important that he personally authored a work for the Indians entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth which set forth the teachings of Jesus as delivered in the Gospels." (207) Prudently, he refrains from telling us that Jefferson composed largely with a scissors, cutting out all the miracles, including the Resurrection.)
2. Barton brags about the "thousands of primary sources" that he uses. He even prints a chart comparing the dates of his sources with those of Noll, Hatch, and Marsden, The Search for Christian America (1982). A problem with Barton's sources, though, is that Barton considers, say the testimonies of George Washington's contemporaries as primary evidence of Washington's religion. So we get six "primary source" quotes about Washington's Christianity from friends and admirers but nothing from the vast corpus of the Washington papers--because there is nothing there that will do Barton's position any good. (Incidently, the "Washington prayers" mentioned on page 270 were proved not to be in Washington's hand more than seventy years ago. They make regular appearances in fundamentalist literature anyway.) Along the same lines, Barton denies that Jefferson was a deist because Jefferson never calls himself a deist--only secondary sources do. (144)
Barton's use of primary sources is frequently deceptive; again, it is more in the nature of a lawyer's brief than the work of a historian. For instance, Barton argues that Federalist #81 (Alexander Hamilton) rejects judicial review (256): "In the first place, there is not a syllable in the plan which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution." When you check the original, you find that the word "directly" is italicized, and the statement is followed by this sentence: "I admit, however, that the Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is an evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution." (In Federalist #78, Hamilton says that the duty of the courts is to "declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.")
3. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources for Barton's quotations are proudly identified in bold face, but Barton is a lot more cagey when it comes to contemporary supporters of his views. One Yale Law School grad quoted at length as a "prominent national figure" turns out to be Pat Robertson (if you can find the citation at the back of the book.) (329) Ed Meese gets the same treatment.
4. Barton denies that the states ever established any churches after the Constitution was adopted and argues in a footnote that what looks like state establishment of churches was "often nothing more than the almost universal preference of the people of that region." (28) New England Baptists of the late eighteenth century would not have been amused. Of course, if 21st-century states attempted to reestablish churches, modern Christians might better recognize the wisdom of the contemporary interpretation of the First Amendment.
5. Barton enjoys knocking down straw men. The "revisionists," whom he routs handily, include Robert Ingersoll; W.E. Woodward, a novelist and debunking biographer of the early part of this century; the Broadway musical 1776, a novel about Sally Hemings (Jefferson's alleged mistress), and even an undocumented charge that George Washington died of syphilis. (This immediately follows the section titled "The Use of Insinuations and Innuendoes.")
However, Barton ignores major scholarly opponents of his views, including:
Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (Macmillan, 1986)
William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 1630-1833: The Baptists and Separation of Church and State (Harvard, 1971)
Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Beacon Press, 1967)
Barton does not have to agree with any of these authors, but to retain credibility for his theses, he must attempt to answer arguments of historians who have made this area their specialty.
6. Some of Barton's charts would make good illustrations of how to lie with statistics. For instance, the chart on page 245 eliminates the whole lower end of the scale (which I think goes down to two hundred) in order to make the drop in SAT scores look more dramatic.
7. Barton's argument about the consequences of the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools is an excellent example of post hoc, propter hoc reasoning. The removal of Bible reading from the schools is not a trivial matter, but an awful lot of other things prepared for the cultural decline of the last thirty years. I would argue that the court decisions of the mid-1960s were a reflection of the latter rather than their cause.
Finally, the conclusion of the book is flat. Barton can only argue vaguely for better education and political activism. To go much further would be to expose the vast difference between the eighteenth century (when nine out of ten citizens were of British and Protestant heritage) and the pluralistic American culture of the twentieth century. As The Search for Christian America says, "Assuming the similarity of past and present, this vision overlooks the profound Christian legacy that Western society enjoyed in the early modern period--capital for which individuals in that day were not themselves responsible and which we today find largely spent." (151)
Ironically, it is a quotation in large type on the back cover that best explains why this nation is in such a mess and why Barton's arguments are of comparatively little consequence: "The fundamental principle of our Constitution enjoins that the will of the majority shall prevail"-- George Washington.
David Barton seems to think that sexist white slave owners from the 18th century should be the sole measure of freedom in the digital age. That we have issues that they had no ways of conceiving of is irrelevant to Barton's way of thinking.
Despite this, those that agree with Barton will think this book is indispensable to your library. Trust me it is. A college textbook about Constitutional Law will provide you with a balanced prospective, explaining original intent, living document, and shockingly even more viewpoints of Constitutional interpretation. It will also do it well, which is more than I can say for Barton's, often purposeful, misconstruction of the Court's logic.