You know you wanted it: more historical revisionism from the world of Christofascism. The American Family Association is infected with David Bartonism. The AFA is currently promoting a series of lectures called “Biblical Foundations of Government with Erich Pratt.” Pratt happens to be a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University, which ought to ve enough to damn Regent University for all time in the eyes of academia. He is also, no surprise, a conservative activist.
As Right Wing Watch tells us,
The group advertises that “the Bible tells us that all governing authorities are instituted by God and are responsible for the reward of good behavior and the punishment of evil,” and by watching the series “you’ll gain a strong, scriptural understanding of the basis of American civil government and your role as a citizen.”
Not so much, as we’ve shown here before, but that’s not really the issue here. What is more of concern is the use of one of Barton’s infamous “Founders” quotes – quotes that he has himself made up through either gratuitous ignorance or gratuitous dishonesty.
AFA has a one minute trailer for the Biblical Foundations series. This contains what purports to be a quote from John Quincy Adams,
“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: ‘It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.'”
The fly in the buttermilk is that this is not a quote from John Quincy Adams. He never said this. He never said anything close to this.
Where then does it come from you might ask. I will tell you. It comes from David Barton, from his America’s Godly Heritage series, a veritable treasure-trove of falsehoods.
Ed Brayton at Scienceblogs has written that “the quote, to be blunt, is a fake” and there is no other way to say it.
The words are actually those of John Wingate Thornton, from a book of his called The Pulpit of The American Revolution (1860) but Barton didn’t get it directly from Thornton’s book; he got it from a book of quotations by William Federer called America’s God and Country: An Encyclopedia of Quotations. Federer, as it happens, is a conservative (again, no surprise) who is one of those who in November 2009 signed the ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration. The Manhattan Declaration, you may recall, for for evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox to refuse to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences.
The problem for the AFA and for Barton (and obviously for Federer) is that this is not a quotation from John Quincy Adams. It is lacking quotation marks, which Thornton is careful to use, and it lacks a footnote giving a source, which Thornton was also careful to use.
You can search all you want but you won’t find anything in Adams’ writing like this.
You have to be careful with quotes; you never know where they might have come from. I once read a book about the Dakota War of 1862 on the Minnesota frontier. It attributed a quote to a Union captain and cited another book as a source. I tracked down this other book and it turned out that author had simply invented these words to be put into the mouth of that captain. To simply have quoted the quote without checking would have been to repeat and compound the originally error of a not very scholarly author. Barton is supposed to be an “expert” on these matters. He clearly is not. The fraud is rendered more blatant still by the simple expedient of appealing to Wikipedia. Full of errors it may be but it even gets the quote right, calling it a quote “about” Adams.
Why Thornton felt compelled to encapsulate Adams’ beliefs with this inaccurate statement we will never know, but Thornton himself was honest enough, however mistaken, to not present it as an actual quote. Unlike Barton. And unlike the AFA.
One thing Adams did say that is applicable here is this: “To believe all men honest would be folly.” I don’t think I need to explain the applicability of this quote. But this, by the way, is something he said but it is not all of what he said, which is this:
All men profess honesty as long as they can. To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse. From a Letter to William Eustis (22 June 1809), in Writings of John Quincy, Adams (1914), The Macmillan company.
This renders Adams words somewhat less pessimistic than in the partial quote I first provided, however true it might be.
It behooves any reader of history to do their due diligence. Read all you can, but read books that tell you where they get their information by way of food or end notes and a decent bibliography, and if you are really interested, check those sources. As I have just shown above, and as I showed yesterday with regard to Alan Keyes, quotes can be taken out of context, and made to say things they were never meant to say.
As Brayton writes, “this is an excellent example of what passes for historical scholarship among the Christian Nation proponents – the truth doesn’t matter so long as something can be made to appear as supporting their position.”
And that is it in a nutshell. Historical fact has no value and no meaning to ideologues. Christofascists say America is a Christian nation and was founded as a Christian nation. Therefore, what the Founding Fathers said and did must prove that America was founded as a Christian nation. But it doesn’t prove that at all; it proves that the United States was established as a nation full of Christians but with a secular government they themselves mostly welcomed; every state ratified the Constitution, after all. The proof is there for anybody who wishes to examine actual facts rather than invent new ones.