Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishers has canceled a controversial best-seller by David Barton, an influential evangelical leader, because the book contains historical errors.
Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies,” claims to expose liberal myths about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president.
But a group of conservative scholars says Barton’s take on Jefferson is factually untrue. And a group of ministers from Cincinnati called on Nelson to cancel the book.
Casey Francis Harrell, director of corporate communications for Thomas Nelson, said the publisher had gotten several complaints about the book and found enough errors to cancel it.
“Because of these deficiencies, we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to cease its publication and distribution,” Harrell said.
Barton stands by his book and said Nelson never mentioned any concerns about the book, which was published in April and made the New York Times best-seller list.
“All I got was an email saying it was canceled,” he said. “It was a complete surprise.”
The book is still available for sale at Amazon. com and other retailers. But Harrell said the publisher has stopped any new shipments and is recalling the book from retailers. Online retailers have been asked to stop selling the e-book version.
Harrell said that to her knowledge Thomas Nelson has never before canceled publication of a New York Times best-seller.
“We carefully edit every book we publish, and we rely on the expertise of our authors concerning their subjects,” she said. “It is extremely rare that the company would have to withdraw a book from the market based on concerns about its content.”
The publisher hasn’t decided what to do with the recalled books.
Barton is president of WallBuilders, an Aledo, Texas-based conservative group that says it wants to reclaim America’s forgotten Christian history.
An early press release for the book, put out by Thomas Nelson in May, portrayed Barton as battling revisionist history to tell Jefferson’s true story.
“History books routinely teach that Jefferson was an anti-Christian secularist, rewriting the Bible to his liking, fathering a child with one of his slaves, and little more than another racist, bigoted colonist — but none of those claims are actually true,” the press release claimed.
Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., said it’s Barton who actually twisted the facts.
Throckmorton is co-author of “Getting Jefferson Right,” a book that criticizes Barton. It was released as an e-book in May and then later in paperback.
Throckmorton said he’d been concerned about Barton’s version of American history for several years. He and his co-author looked at Barton’s sources, “and we found they didn’t support what he wrote,” he said.
For example, Barton claims Jefferson was an investor in an early American printing of the Bible, when Throckmorton says Jefferson only bought one copy.
Barton wrote that Virginia laws banned Jefferson from freeing the more than 200 slaves he owned.
“That’s not true,” Throckmorton said. “Jefferson freed two slaves, one in 1794 and one in 1796. So you can’t say he didn’t free slaves, because he did free two slaves.”
Barton said Throckmorton is wrong. He said he has documents to back up all the claims in his book.
For example, he said the laws in Jefferson’s time fined owners who freed slaves, and Jefferson would have freed his slaves if he could have. He said Throckmorton doesn’t understand how complex the laws about freeing slaves were.
Slavery claim sparks protest
The claim about slavery caused a group of ministers from several Cincinnati churches to call for Thomas Nelson to drop the book.
“‘The Jefferson Lies’ glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Cincinnati.
Lynch said he and other ministers from diverse backgrounds had contacted Nelson about their concerns. He said that if the book hadn’t been canceled, he would have boycotted Nelson.
“We love Thomas Nelson,” he said. “My library is filled with Thomas Nelson books, and I didn’t want to stop doing business with them.”
Throckmorton is not Barton’s only conservative critic.
World Magazine, run by former George W. Bush adviser Marvin Olasky, recently published an online news story about conservative historians who also think Barton made errors.
One was Glenn Moots, professor of political science at Northwood University in Michigan. He said Barton was well-intentioned but should have been more careful to get the details right.
“It doesn’t help any of us if the story isn’t told in an accurate manner,” he said.
Barton said he met with a different group of scholars recently and they approved of his work.
“I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.s were in the room,” he said. He would not give names, saying the scholars hadn’t given permission for him to do so.
He also said other publishers had made offers on his book and he hopes to sign a new contract soon.
The book’s cancellation disappointed Barton’s local fans. He was in Nashville in March to speak to about 250 people at a meeting of the 912 Project.
Janice Johnson said she’s heard Barton speak several times and bought an audio copy of “The Jefferson Lies.” She hopes the controversy won’t undermine his credibility.
“He’s usually so rock solid on history,” she said