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Thomas Nelson
TODAY contributor
updated 8/10/2012 5:34:28 PM ET 2012-08-10T21:34:28

A best-seller about Thomas Jefferson by an influential Tea Party and evangelical figure has been recalled after the publisher announced on Thursday that it has detected factual inaccuracies in the book.

Nashville-based evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson is no longer shipping any copies to retailers of “The Jefferson Lies’’ by David Barton and is recalling existing copies from brick-and-mortar retailers. It also has requested to online booksellers that they no longer sell the e-book version and has removed the book from its own website. The book is still being sold on Amazon.

“[We were] contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about The Jefferson Lies,’’ Thomas Nelson said in a statement. “We took all of those concerns seriously, tried to sort out matters of opinion or interpretation, and in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.”

The book, which was released in April and reached the New York Times best-seller list, aims to debunk liberal beliefs about Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president in U.S. history and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Barton is a Republican operative and Tea Party figure who has appeared as a guest on Glenn Beck’s show multiple times and made an appearance on “The Daily Show” promoting “The Jefferson Lies’’ in May.

Barton told The Nashville Tennessean that he found out the book had been dropped via an email from Thomas Nelson.

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Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
Author David Barton at the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Accusations of historical misinterpretations and factual inaccuracies in the book had been hurled at Barton from conservative and liberal scholars alike since its release. A pair of professors at Grove City (Pa.) College, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, released a book in May titled “Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President,” that is dedicated to pointing out the inaccuracies in Barton’s work.

Barton told The Tennesseean that he has gotten offers from other publishers to produce the book. Recalling a book, particularly a best-seller, is a rare event for Thomas Nelson.

“Although we do carefully edit every book we publish, Thomas Nelson relies on the expertise of our authors concerning their subjects,” a company spokesperson told Publisher’s Weekly. “It is extremely rare that the company would have to withdraw a book from the market based on concerns about its content.”

Barton argues in the book that Jefferson was an orthodox evangelical and not an anti-Christian secularist. In addition to the book by Throckmorton and Coulter refuting that claim with historical evidence, religious scholar Greg Forster wrote a piece, “David Barton’s Errors,” that details the errors in the book and says Barton’s “inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading into outright incompetence.”

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Other claims in Barton’s book also drew the ire of religious figures like a group of ministers in Cincinnati. Barton writes that Jefferson would have freed his slaves if the laws during that time would not have penalized him for it, but Jefferson did free two slaves, according to what Throckmorton told The Tennessean. The slavery issue drew the attention of African-American clergy, who contacted Thomas Nelson and considered organizing a boycott.

“‘The Jefferson Lies’ glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views,” the Rev. Damon Lynch of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Cincinnati told The Tennesseean.

Barton’s longtime critics have also pounced on the controversy, including the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that advances the agenda of religious freedom and monitors far-right evangelical groups. Barton is the owner of a Texas-based group, WallBuilders, a Christian organization “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history,” according to its website.

“It’s clear that even the evangelical community is starting to see David Barton for what he is — a propagandist who distorts history for political and ideological purposes,’’ TFN President Kathy Miller told Daily Kos. “The question is now, will politicians and pundits who have promoted his views have the integrity to follow suit and repudiate Barton?"

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Video: Thomas Jefferson books discovered

  1. Transcript of: Thomas Jefferson books discovered

    WILLIE GEIST, co-host: Back now at 8:43 on this Presidents Day morning. Following his death in 1826 , a number of books belonging to President Thomas Jefferson were considered lost to history, but thanks to some intrepid researchers, 74 of those books were recently discovered. Ann Lucas is from the International Center for Jefferson Studies , Shirley Baker is from Washington University . Good morning to you both.

    Ms. ANN LUCAS (International Center for Jefferson Studies): Good morning.

    Ms. SHIRLEY BAKER (Dean of Libraries, Washington University): Good morning.

    GEIST: Ann , let's start with you. This was a little bit of a historical mystery of sorts, we knew the books were out there, but you didn't quite know where they had ended up. So where did you begin to look for them?

    Ms. LUCAS: Exactly. Well, I'd been doing some research on Jefferson 's granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge , and we knew that she and her husband had purchased a sizable number of volumes from the auction after Jefferson 's death, and when I asked Coolidge descendants, I was getting -- coming up empty with answers. And I had a colleague, Endrina Tay , at the International Center , who was also tracking Jefferson 's volumes , and I had the lucky happenstance one day of hitting -- having a hit on Google Books when I was searching for information about Joseph Coolidge , Ellen 's husband, and up popped a reference to Joseph Coolidge 's library being given in 1880 to Washington University in St. Louis . And instantly...

    GEIST: It must have been exhilarating.

    Ms. LUCAS: It was. October 20th, you know, it's a day that's sort of seared into my memory. And when I took this to my colleague, the two of us said this makes perfect sense that they were somewhere safe, but someone we -- somewhere we never would have thought to look.

    GEIST: Now, Shirley , these books had been sitting in the library at Washington University in St. Louis for what, some 130 years?

    Ms. BAKER: A hundred and thirty years.

    GEIST: So how did you put two and two together, when did you realize you had a treasure on your hands?

    Ms. BAKER: Well, Ann talked with Erin Davis , our rare books curator, and said, 'Do you have a Coolidge collection?' And we didn't have records in the online catalog in those days for our donors, so we in the archives found records that in fact the books had come here, there were 3,000 of them...

    GEIST: Wow.

    Ms. BAKER: ...which doubled the library at the time. The students wrote about it in the student newspaper and they were very excited.

    GEIST: And Thomas Jefferson , Ann , leaves a mark that led you to know that these were the real thing.

    Ms. LUCAS: Exactly. So what we could do was we had a list of books that we knew the Coolidges bought and we could track their provenance from Joseph and Ellen Coolidge saying, 'These are the books we'd like,' these are the books that had been shipped to them, these are the books they've received. And so we sent them literally a list of call numbers for volumes and we said, 'Go ahead and pull these volumes and start looking for Jefferson 's mark.' And Jefferson marked his books in a way that was unique, not unusual, other people have done this, but the way he did it was he put a T in front of the I signature on a volume and an I after the T signature for his initials, I being the -- Latin for the J. So these are each marked with a T and a J in at least two places within the volumes . And we were getting e-mails back as they were pulling volumes and opening and examining and every day we'd have more and more and more coming back until we hit 74.

    GEIST: Wow . Shirley , let's talk about some of the books we have here. We know this is the architecture book...

    Ms. BAKER: Yes.

    GEIST: ...that led to one of the crowning achievements for Thomas Jefferson .

    Ms. BAKER: Exactly. Well, Ann can probably talk about that a little better because she's the Jefferson scholar.

    Ms. LUCAS: This...

    GEIST: So what are we looking at here, Ann ?

    Ms. LUCAS: ...this is a book by Freart de Chambray , and it's "Parallels of Architecture , Modern and Ancient ," and you can see Joseph Coolidge 's bookplate. This -- it's amazing that this is the one volume that has his bookplate and the original binding, and that we're so thrilled by this. And it is -- this is the volume that Jefferson would lend to his workmen who were building the University of Virginia .

    GEIST: So they actually used this as a guide to build Monticello .

    Ms. LUCAS: To build the...

    GEIST: To build the University of...

    Ms. LUCAS: ...to build the University of Virginia . And he also used this same volume to design Monticello ...

    GEIST: Right.

    Ms. LUCAS: ...and that earlier edition of it he sold to the Library of Congress . So he reacquired it for his work on the university . And you can see even here in the margin where he's marked some calculations so that he doesn't have to do that twice. And the wonderful thing is that for each of these volumes there are letters, drawings, these are all filling in pieces of puzzles for historians.

    GEIST: Shirley , what do we take away from some of these books as we look at the other ones? What do we learn about Thomas Jefferson with this discovery?

    Ms. BAKER: Well, the first thing that struck me was how important it was -- how interesting and important it was that they'd be in St. Louis , because Thomas Jefferson did the Louisiana Purchase ...

    GEIST: Right.

    Ms. BAKER: ...and the -- and so -- and he sent Lewis and Clark there to survey it. So finding what is now the third largest collection of Jefferson 's books in Missouri was particularly appropriate.

    GEIST: And they'll stay right there for now?

    Ms. BAKER: They will stay right here -- right there, yes.

    GEIST: Well, ladies, congratulations on the sleuth work...

    Ms. LUCAS: Thank you.

    GEIST: ...uncovering these books belonging to Thomas Jefferson . Incredible . Ann Lucas , Shirley Baker , thanks so much.


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