The Fake Quotes Refuse to Die

Jon Rowe and I have spent a good deal of time over the last couple years documenting the numerous fake quotations from the founding fathers that circulate among the religious right continually, almost all of them traced back to David Barton and his pseudo-historical books and videos. No matter how many times they get pointed out, however, they continue to be repeated. And here's an example of them being repeated even after Barton has publicly disavowed them and admitted that they've never been found among the authentic writings of the founders - and it's for an organization that Barton himself writes for.

The Christian Worldview Network includes lots of prominent religious right leaders, including David Barton. Indeed, on the very same day that Barton published an essay on their website, Duncan Brannan published this article about the founding fathers. In it, he explicitly says he gets his information from Barton:

Let me say from the onset of this article that once upon a time I was very ignorant of the origins and history of our great land. And, it wasn't until hearing a very bright and fast-speaking fellow by the name of David Barton talk on America's Christian foundations that I was deeply challenged to check out the facts for myself⦠rather than blindly parrot my college professor. In my search I was soon to be stunned at how much my secular education had mysteriously omitted regarding the faith of our Founders and their vision for our country.

He then goes on to offer a list of quotations from the founders, several of which are fake and are on David Barton's own list of "unconfirmed" quotations. In particular, he uses the fake James Madison quote:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to government ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

The fake Patrick Henry quote:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

and the fake John Quincy Adams quote:

"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."

He also takes three entirely different statements from Noah Webster together as though they were a single quote, and quotes a state constitution that had an explicit religious test requiring that only Christians could be elected to office - something entirely rejected by the founders when they wrote the Constitution. So while Brannan apparently gets all his information from Barton, he seems to have missed the memo retracting these fake quotes.

More like this

Thanks to my perusing your blog, specifically, "Dispatches from the Culture Wars', I have arrived at what I believe is a defensible inference. Both you and your readers would welcome news of in-your-face overt opposition to your "smirking chimp", my "dum'ya botch".

In plainer terms, I want to run for Representative for Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District on a platform calling for the impeachment of President George Walker Bush.

Incidentally, I deliberately referred to your blog, to indicate that I visited your blog as an individual, and not as a spammer. Yes, that last is an illustion to a "pre-deconstruction" chick flick with a rating of two and a half hankies.

Ah, before you click on any of the enclosed hyperlinks, please read the entirely of my comment. For example, the three planks I nailed together in my platform out to get me elected. "impeach bush" is the first plank. The second is "impeach bush". The third is like the second, "impeach bush".

To continue, the first hyperlink below leads to the opening salvo of my campaign.…

As for the second hyperlink, it leads to evidence that my candidacy is about more than opposition solely for the sake of opposition.…

.he who is known as sefton

I suspect this one is false, too, but I wonder whether you've got better information on it:

"I have been alternately called an aristocrat and
a democrat. I am now neither. I am a Christocrat.
He alone who created and redeemed man is
qualified to govern him."

Benjamin Rush. Signer of the Declaration of Independence

It doesn't sound like Rush; every time I've seen it, it has been uncited, claiming only to be from Rush, never from any known piece of writing of his.

It's currently in the header of a blog called "Digital Brown Pajamas."

Got anything on it?

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 14 Jan 2006 #permalink

Thanks. I've got to do a post on this. I left a comment on the original site. Though, I've tried leaving comments there before and they never went through.

(Somehow my email got on their mailing list; that conference in Branson with Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort and David Barton sounds real fun!)

I've had some largely valid criticism that Barton (and his followers) is an easy strawman to knock down (you can still argue against the modern notion of "Separation of Church and State" without endorsing his "Christian Nation" twaddle). Yet, millions of people believe Barton. And that, I think, validates what we do.

One of the strange things about the internet is that you find out how much you know is wrong. I've found reading through urban legend pages quite humbling, for instance. It's astounding that we can go ahead with life at all, in such a condition of not just ignorance but active inaccuracy.

Perhaps we don't succeed as well as we'd like to think. We are constantly fighting each other, unable to really put together the facts of life into coherent conclusions supported by everyone, even the basic conclusion that we ought to all exist in peace and work together for the shared safety and welfare of all.

The internet is starting to change things, by bringing much more information to bear on each problem that arises. I'm young enough to remember when the only way to know a song lyric was to listen over & over to the singer's mumbling, and when if you thought an urban legend sounded phony, you were on your own as to coming up with a counter-argument.

There's still a long way to go. For example, the emerging internet news ecosystem (Digg, etc) lit up around Thanksgiving time with stories debunking the well-known and mostly-wrong "turkey->tryptophan->sleepiness" connection. (This post you're reading is another echo of that counter-urban-legendary force.) Yet, only people exposed to the counter-meme have the possibility of being innoculated, and the facts can often be less appealing than the legends. It will be a while still before people's beliefs will bear any resemblance at all to what's really happened in the world.


Hey, way to take this thing to a new place. I'm always suprised at how much some of these ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian are will to go. I was suprised at how false Brannan's article was, but in another sense I am not. All to often in these fundamentalist circles are the leaders willing to lie. What sickens me is thinking about how many people just read his article and accepted it without doing any fact-checking. Yesterday I was talking to a friend (a fundamentalist) and he said that he has stopped reading the news because it's biased. What place does he trust...Worldview Weekend. Oh well, I guess there will always be overwhelming ignorance (I'm guilty of it sometimes also).
On another note, I was also randomly placed on their mailing list, I don't know how I got on there. Anyway, for a fun time check out their worldview test, it is one of the most screwed up things I've ever seen. If you believe that George W. Bush is president, according to this test, you have a healthy worldview in respect to family.

By Ben Williams (not verified) on 14 Jan 2006 #permalink

As a history teacher in the making, one of the things pounded into us during our introduction to methodology was to never take your threory to the archive. You go with an idea, a question, or a glimmer of curiosity. Now, I would not go so far as to say that the fundamentalists are lying. Many of the founder's lives have been revised to make them heroes in the eyes of the masses, and these tall tales, moral lessons, and character studies often invoked religious piety as an important part of America's past. However, fundamentalists often wear blinders when studying the past in order to present their worldview. Once they find a piece of information that supports the "great Christian nation" thesis, they pick it up and move on to the next founder. Little attempt is made to develop a complex, nuanced view of people and events. Perhaps this thinking emerges from a strict black/white or them/us conception of the world? "As the founders were good, they therefore must have agreed with us and our understanding of the world," or are some really so machiavellian as to know better but continue spreading such fiction?

By Irrational Entity (not verified) on 14 Jan 2006 #permalink