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Virginia Slave Law: 1782 Act to Authorize the Manumission of Slaves.

This law (scroll to page 39) allowed the emancipation of slaves by an owner either at death through a will or while an owner was alive via a deed of manumission. Many slaves were freed by their owners as the result of this law.

Legal adults of sound mind and body did not need support from the former master but children, those over 45 and others not of sound mind or body needed support from the the former master.

On can read deeds of manumission here and here (an extensive collection by Professor Michael Nicholls).


An act to authorize the manumission of slaves.

I. WHEREAS application hath been made to this present general assembly, that those persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and the same hath been judged expedient under certain restrictions: Be it therefore enacted, That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

II. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court, of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate; and upon neglect or refusal so to do, the court of the county where such neglect or refusal may be, is hereby empowered and required, upon application to them made, to order the sheriff to distrain and sell so much of the person’s estate as shall be sufficient for that purpose. Provided also, That every person by written instrument in his life time, or if by last will and testament, the executors of every person freeing any slave, shall cause to be delivered to him or her, a copy of the instrument of emancipation, attested by the clerk of the court of the county, who shall be paid therefor, by the person emancipating, five shillings, to be collected in the manner of other clerk’s fees. Every person neglecting or refusing to deliver to any slave by him or her set free, such copy, shall forfeit and pay ten pounds, to be recovered with costs in any court of record, one half thereof to the person suing for the same, and the other to the person to whom such copy ought to have been delivered. It shall be lawful for any justice of the peace to commit to the gaol of his county, any emancipated slave travelling out of the county of his or her residence without a copy of the instrument of his or her emancipation, there to remain till such copy is produced and the gaoler’s fees paid.

III. And be it further enacted, That in case any slave so liberated shall neglect in any year to pay all taxes and levies imposed or to be imposed by law, the court of the county shall order the sheriff to hire out him or her for so long time as will raise the said taxes and levies. Provided sufficient distress cannot be made upon his or her estate. Saving nevertheless to all and every person and persons, bodies politic or corporate, and their heirs and successors, other than the person or persons claiming under those so emancipating their slaves, all such right and title as they or any of them could or might claim if this act had never been made.

The Emancipation of James Armistead Lafayette

In his World rebuttal to us, David Barton claims that the case of James Armistead  Lafayette proves that we did not take into account slave laws other than the 1782 law allowing owners to emancipate their slaves. The situation of this slave who became a double agent during the Revolutionary War is an interesting story and one which more people should know. However, it does not prove we are wrong about slave emancipation.

In his World article, Barton wrote on page four:

Virginian William Armistead similarly wanted to free his slave, James (the hero of the Battle of Yorktown, credited with being America’s first double agent), but it took a special legislative act and the intervention of Virginia’s adopted favorite son, Marquis de Lafayette, in order to achieve William’s desire to free James.[xxvii] Why didn’t William just emancipate him, as Throckmorton asserts was possible under the 1782 law? Because Throckmorton did not account for the many other state laws that were also part of the Virginia slave code.

Armistead gained the trust of the British by feeding them (mostly false) information about the American army and then brought information about the British to the Marquis de Lafayette. As his petition to the Virginia House of Delegate claims, Armistead gave important service to the Americans and sought freedom based on that service.

In his article, Barton claims that William Armistead wanted to free James. However, Barton offers no evidence for this contention. There is a piece of this story that Barton does not tell you. It was James who approached the Virginia House of Delegates to gain his freedom. The petition (which is below) came from James with the support of Lafayette. Armistead eventually took Lafayette’s name as a tribute to his benefactor.

Apparently, Armistead (who himself was a Delegate in the Virginia House) did not try to stop James’ petition. However, one detail Barton omits is that William Armistead was financially compensated for the loss of James’ services as a slave.  In a private emancipation after 1782, no compensation was guaranteed to the owner. A slave and master could negotiate emancipation if the slave purchased his freedom but a master could also simply free his slave, if that slave was legally an adult under the age of 45 and of sound mind and body.

In the surviving documentation of James’ efforts to gain his freedom, James asked the Virginia House of Delegates for money to compensate his master William for the loss of his services. In other words, even though William was allowed to simply set James free (based on his age and his sound mind and body), freedom did not come to James until the legislature compensated William for his slave.

The primary sources are below. First is the petition which James submitted to the House of Delegates.

James Petitioned the General Assembly, November 30, 1786

To the honorable the Speaker & gentlemen of the genl Assembly,*

The petition of James (a slave belonging to Will: Armistead of New Kent county) humbly sheweth:

That your petitioner perswaded of the just right which all mankind have to Freedom, notwithstanding his own state of bondage, with an honest desire to serve this Country in its defence thereof, did, during the ravages of Lord Cornwallis thro’ this state, by the permission of his master, enter into the service of the Marquiss Lafayette: That during the time of his serving the Marquiss, he often at the peril of his life found means to frequent the British Camp, by which means he kept open a channel of the most useful communications to the army of the state: That at different times your petitioner conveyed inclosures, from the Marquiss into the enemies lines, of the most secret & important kind; the possession of which if discovered on him would have most certainly endangered the life of your petitioner: That he undertook & performed all commands with chearfulness & fidelity, in opposition to the persuasion & example of many thousands of his unfortunate condition. For proof of the above your petitioner begs leave to refer to the certificate of the Marquiss Lafayette hereto annexed, & after taking his case as here stated into consideration he humbly intreats that he may be granted that Freedom, which he flatters himself he has in some degree contributed to establish; & which he hopes always to prove himself worthy of: nor does he desire even this inestimable favor, unless his present master from whom he has experienced everything, which can make tolerable the state of slavery, shall be made adequate compensation for the loss of a valuable workman; which your petitioner humbly requests may be done & your petitioner shall ever pray &c.

Citation: Legislative Petition for James, Slave Belonging to William Armistead, 30 November 1786, Box 179, Folder 10, Library of Virginia, Richmond Virginia.

The Delegates acted favorably on this petition by passing the following law:


An act to emancipate James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman.

I. WHEREAS it is represented that James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman, of the county of New Kent, did, with the permission of his master, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, enter into the service of the Marquis la Fayette, and at the peril of his life found means to frequent the British camp, and thereby faithfully executed important commissions entrusted to him by the marquis; and the said James hath made application to this assembly to set him free, and to make his said master adequate compensation for his value, which it is judged reasonable and right to do.

II. Be it therefore enacted, That the said James shall, from and after the passing of this act, enjoy as full freedom as if he had been born free; any law to the contrary thereof, notwithstanding.

III. And be it further enacted, That the executive shall, as soon as may be, appoint a proper person, and the said William Armistead another, who shall ascertain and fix the value of the said James, and to certify such valuation to the auditor of accounts, who shall issue his warrant to the treasurer for the same, to be paid out of the general fund.

The Statues at Large; Being A Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Hening (1823), Vol. XII, pp. 380-381, “An act to emancipate James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman,” October, 1786.

Note the means of compensation for William. James’ value was appraised by appraisers of William’s and the executive’s choosing. Eventually, William was paid $250 for James.

Barton’s question: “Why didn’t William just emancipate him?” is a good one but does not require the answer Barton hopes. We can find no evidence that William wanted to free James but was prevented by law from doing so. Instead the evidence points to a different scenario. James’ freedom was purchased from William by the Virginia House due to James’ meritorious service. James said in his petition that he did not want freedom unless his master was compensated. Whether that was really William’s condition for allowing the petition or James really felt that way is not known. What is known is that William could have freed James but did not until he was compensated.

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Three

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.


In parts one and two of this response to David Barton’s appearance on Glenn Beck’s show, we looked at Barton’s defense of The Jefferson Lies on the subject of Jefferson’s record on slavery. In this post, we look at the remaining claims regarding slavery made by Barton last week. Here again is the video:

Barton claimed that Jefferson inherited 187 slaves when he was 14 years. On the clip at about 4:37, Barton says:

He [Jefferson] inherited 187 slaves when he’s 14 years old. So why didn’t he just release them? Because Virginia law says if you’re an adolescent, you cannot free any slave you’ve been given, you cannot emancipate any slave. So now he’s got 187 slaves he’s not been allowed to free.

It is true that Jefferson inherited slaves at age 14, but Barton gets the number of slaves wrong. Jefferson inherited 20 slaves at that time. In Getting Jefferson Right, we address this matter and get our information right from Jefferson’s Farm Book.

To get the proper accounting, we turn to the primary source of Jefferson’s notes in his Farm Book. In it, Jefferson delineated three categories of slaves he owned as of January 14, 1774. Jefferson titled the entire section, “A Roll of the proper slaves of Thomas Jefferson. Jan. 14. 1774” and then listed forty-one slaves that came through inheritance from his father along with those slaves who were purchased or born before his inheritance from his mother [20 slaves plus 21 who were added via birth and purchase]. He then listed eleven “slaves conveyed by my mother to me under the power given her in my father’s will as an indemnification for the debts I had paid for her.”  Finally, he listed the “roll of the slaves of John Wayles which were allotted to T. J. in right of his wife on a division or the estate. Jan. 14. 1774.” Here Jefferson listed the 135 slaves he received by inheritance from his father-in-law, John Wayles.* Adding these lists together, Jefferson owned 187 slaves by age thirty.

It may seem like a small point but for some reason Barton persists in saying Jefferson inherited the 187 when he was 14. Jefferson’s Farm Book (which you can see here; the total of 187 in 1774 is on page 18 at the bottom) says otherwise. While it is true that Jefferson was unable to free slaves when his father died in 1757, this was in part due to the fact that the only reason at that time allowed for emancipation was meritorious service on the part of a slave. The law allowing owners to emancipate slaves was not passed until 1782 (click here to see the text of the act to authorize the manumission of slaves).Barton then says on Beck’s show that someone told him that Jefferson could not free his slaves because they were collateral for his debts. While it is true that the Virginia legislature added a specific requirement in 1792 that freed slaves were required to work off any debts of the emancipator, this requirement actually could have made it an advantage for Jefferson to free his slaves. While the slaves would have had emancipation postponed until Jefferson’s debts were paid, they would have been free afterwards with Jefferson’s debt paid.  In other words, Virginia law allowed such emancipations but with rules in place to protect creditors.

Also, on the program, Barton states that we failed to discuss other laws that  were related to slavery. On the program, he said that there were a “whole bunch of laws that Jefferson had to deal with.” He then speaks of laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798 and 1802. We are not the only ones not to refer to all of those laws. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton only cites the 1782 and 1806 laws regarding emancipation. We cite the 1782, 1806 and 1816 laws in Getting Jefferson Right.

On the program, Barton didn’t identify what the particular content of those laws were and how they related to slavery, or in what way that those laws might have prevented Jefferson him from freeing even some of his slaves. Our review of those laws do not support Barton’s contention. Male slaves younger than 21, female slaves younger than 18, all slaves older than 45 and slaves not of sound mind and body needed the financial support of their emancipator. All others did not. These parameters were still in place when Virginia amended slave laws in 1819. The bottom line is that we would like to see the Virginia statute or court case that Mr. Barton relies on to make his claim. In his book, the reference he cites concerns Massachusetts law, not Virginia.

Manumission deeds are available for review online. A review of these finds that some emancipators provided deeds for minor children with a promise of freedom at adulthood. Some slaves purchased their freedom. We encourage readers to read through some of the deeds of manumission. See the end of this post for links.

A couple of final points: When Glenn Beck introduced the segment, he said, “They say Jefferson was not against slavery.” I don’t know who “they” are, but we do not make that claim. Jefferson clearly did oppose slavery in principle and he took steps to eliminate the slave trade. However, his personal slave trade continued. In principle, Jefferson favored emancipation connected to deportation away from white society, rather than immediate abolition of the practice.

Last, those reviewing the evidence should ask why Barton omitted a section of Virginia law which would have undercut his basic argument. He mentioned it on the Beck show but did not give any explanation for the omission. Simply listing dates without specifics does nothing to address why Barton did not tell listeners that emancipation of slaves was legal, was done by many slave holders in the period between 1782 and 1806, and that Jefferson emancipated two slaves while he was alive.

Next we move to the segment on the Jefferson Bible.

Links to deeds of manumission:

Lists of slaves freed after 1782 in eight Virginia counties

Searchable links to those same eight counties

Manumissions in Isle of Wight County, VA

James Hemings manumission papers signed by Thomas Jefferson

Francis Drake deed of manumission

Deed of manumission drawn up by Robert Carter for his 452 slaves

Farm Book, 1774-1824, pages 9-13, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Two

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.


On Friday, we posted part one of our response to David Barton’s appearance on the Glenn Beck Show (8/16/12).  On that show, Barton defended his claim that Virginia law did not allow Thomas Jefferson to emancipate his slaves. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton does not cite the part of the 1782 Virginia law that allowed slave owners to emancipate their slaves. In his book, Barton does not mention that owners were allowed to free their slaves during the life of the owner and gives no explanation for why he omitted that portion. During his appearance on the Glenn Beck Show, he mentioned the section of the law that allowed manumissions, but gave no explanation about why he failed to include it in his book.

On the Beck show, Barton said Virginia law required slave owners to provide a security bond for emancipated slaves. Since Jefferson was often in debt, he was unable to provide these funds for his slaves.  Part of the problem in getting clarity has been Barton’s presentation of the evidence in The Jefferson Lies.  He says on page 94 that “Jefferson was unable to free his slaves under the requirements of state law…” Actually, Jefferson was able to free his slaves after 1782 in accord with the provisions of the law on manumission. Barton is now arguing that Jefferson’s inability was financial and not legal.

On the Beck show, Beck made an analogy to small business owners in the present. He said that one is allowed to start a business but the government regulations make it so difficult that it is practically impossible. To accept that analogy as relevant, one must find evidence that Virginia government regulations prevented manumissions. To be sure, during the years between 1782-1806, there were government regulations (writing a deed, and a small clerk’s fee for filing the deed), but they were not so onerous that manumission was impossible, as is demonstrated by the many private manumissions and the large one of over 450 slaves initiated by Robert Carter.  And most important for Barton’s financial argument, we can find no evidence, nor has Barton presented any, that security bonds were required for slaves who were in the proper age range and of sound mind and body. As we demonstrate below, the evidence Barton presents does not relate to Virginia.

The one citation in The Jefferson Lies on the subject of security bonds is on page 92, where Barton writes:

Subsequent laws imposed even harsher restrictions, mandating that a slave could not be freed unless the owner guaranteed a full security bond for the education, livelihood, and support of the freed slave.

The footnote at the end of that sentence is to an 1857 book by W.O. Blake titled, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern. Barton cites page 386 as his source for this information. Below is the entire page 386 from that book. Instead of a reference to Virginia law, this page completes a discussion of the fate of children born of black and white parents and begins one on emancipation in Massachusetts.

Laws were even found necessary in some of those colonies to limit what was esteemed a superfluity of parental tenderness. In the Anglo American colonies, colored children were hardly less numerous. But conventional decorum more potent than law forbade any recognition by the father. They followed the condition of the mother. They were born and they remained slaves. European blood was thus constantly transferred into servile veins and hence among the slaves sold and bought to day in our American markets may be found the descendants of men distinguished in colonial and national annals. –Hildreth’s History United States

In Massachusetts, a controversy arose as to the justice and legality of negro slavery which was conducted by able writers. It began about 1766 and was continued until 1773, when the subject was very warmly agitated. In 1767 and afterwards, attempts were made in the legislature to restrict the further importation of slaves. It was even questioned whether under the laws of Massachusetts any person could be held as a slave. This point was carried before the superior court in a suit by a negro to recover wages from his alleged master. The negroes collected money among themselves to carry on the suit and it terminated favorably. Other suits were instituted between that time and the revolution and the juries invariably gave their verdict in favor of freedom. The pleas on the part of the masters were that the negroes were purchased in open market and bills of sale were produced in evidence that the laws of the province recognized slavery as existing in it by declaring that no person should manumit his slave without giving bond for his maintenance &c. On the part of the blacks it was pleaded that the royal charter expressly declared all persons born or residing in the province to be as free as the king’s subjects in Great Britain that by the law of England no subject could be deprived of his liberty but by the judgment of his peers that the laws of the province respecting an evil and attempting to mitigate or regulate it did not authorize it and on some occasions the plea was that though the slavery of the parents were admitted yet no disability of that kind could descend to the children. The view taken by the Massachusetts juries was sanctioned about the same time in England by a solemn decision of the court of king’s bench in the celebrated case of James Somersett mentioned in a former chapter. Being brought before Lord Mansfield on a writ of habeas corpus his case was referred to the full court. After the argument Lord Mansfield said In five or six cases of this nature I have known it accommodated by agreement between the parties On its first coming before me I strongly recommended it here But if the parties will have it decided we must give our opinion Compassion will not on the one hand nor inconvenience on the other be to decide but the law The question now is whether any dominion authority or coercion can be exercised in this country on a slave according to the American laws The difficulty of adopting the relation without adopting it in all…

A review of the pages (click the link to go to the book) before and after page 386 finds no mention of requirements for security bonds in Virginia. If you read on to page 389 of that book, you will read:

The Virginia Assembly, on the motion of Jefferson, prohibited in 1778 the further introduction of slaves. In 1782, the old colonial statute was repealed which forbade emancipations except for meritorious services to be adjudged by the governor and council. This repeal remained in force for ten years during which period private emancipations were very numerous. But for the subsequent reenactment of the old restrictions the free colored population of Virginia might now have exceeded the slaves. Maryland followed the footsteps of Virginia both in prohibiting the further introduction of slaves and in removing the restraints on emancipation.

Note that private manumissions were numerous according to this source used by Barton. Actually, the significant restrictions were not added until 1806.  There is nothing mentioned here about a security bond.

In part three, we will address the remaining claims about slavery.

Here again is the Glenn Beck segment on slavery:

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part One

By Michael Coulter & Warren Throckmorton

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.



On Thursday August 16, Glenn Beck had David Barton on to “clear the air” about The Jefferson Lies. Our impression is that Mr. Beck is a very loyal friend and his loyalty is preventing him from objectively considering the evidence. A more objective approach would be to have had someone else on the show to counter Barton’s claims.  That did not happen even though there was some discussion of evidence.

In any case, there are several clips of the broadcast posted on The Blaze website. During the broadcast, Beck said he would never promote another Thomas Nelson product. Given that statement and others, we think Thomas Nelson should come out with details about their rationale for pulling the book. Since we have not spoken with Thomas Nelson about Barton’s book, we don’t know what their specific problems with the book were.

The first clip to which we want to respond is the one on slavery and Jefferson. Barton provided more detail about this claim than in his book so we want to respond to what he said last night.  Roll the tape:

Barton said we were wrong (he kept referring to me while ignoring Michael Coulter, a political science professor) because we only refer to the 1782 law in our book. Actually, in our book, we discuss the laws passed in 1782, 1806 and 1816. Barton explained to Beck:

I say you could free your slaves at death like George Washington, and I say because of the laws, you couldn’t free your slaves.

Barton acknowledged that he left out the section which allowed slave owners to free their slaves during life, but gave no explanation why he did so. He then pivoted to say:

The point I make throughout the whole chapter is that there’s a whole bunch of laws Jefferson had to deal with.

Barton says our whole rebuttal is based on that 1782 law. At the point Beck takes a swipe a me because I am a psychology professor, completely ignoring my co-author Dr. Coulter. It continues to amaze me that Barton supporters use that defense since Barton is not a professor of history.

Barton then said we don’t take into account other laws in Virginia relating to slavery which he said prevented Jefferson from freeing slaves. On the program, Barton listed laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798, and 1802 as relevant to emancipation. In The Jefferson Lies, when he takes up the issue of Jefferson and slave owning (pages 91-94), Barton refers to laws dated 1692, 1723, 1782, and 1806. He only quotes part of the 1782 law (leaving out the part of freeing slaves by deed) and then says that the 1806 law changed the conditions for emancipated slaves.  Barton is correct to say that the burdens on both master and slave were added to make emancipation a more difficult proposition after 1806. However, between 1782 and 1806, slave owners did, in fact, free slaves. Jefferson freed two slaves and he could have freed more.

The main change in the 1806 law was that emancipated slaves had to leave Virginia within a year of being emancipated.  Regarding, that change in Virginia law, Barton cites Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello (footnote 25 on Page 92). On the page that Barton cites, Malone only states that the 1806 law required that emancipated slaves leave the state.  Malone never indicates that the 1806 law created an “almost impossible economic burden.”(The Jefferson Lies, 92)

On the Beck show, Barton then referenced various other slave laws passed between 1778 and 1802. There is another law (1785) that he didn’t mention as well. We will take up this list in part two of this series. However, as far as we can tell, none of these laws encumbered owners in ways that prevented owners from freeing able bodied slaves. Some related to treatment of slaves and others related to rights of slaves to petition for their own freedom.

We did not say Jefferson could have easily freed all of his slaves. We agree that there were some financial considerations involved for some slaves.  In keeping with provisions with the 1782 law, slaves which were judged not to be of sound mind or were infirm or above age 45 or below the age of 18 for women and 21 for men required the guarantee of the master for their care. However, there were many slaves owned by Jefferson which were of sound mind, and between these ages which could have been emancipated. None of those slaves would have needed a pledge of support from Jefferson.  Since Jefferson could have freed some additional slaves between 1782 and 1806 and did not, then Barton’s description of Jefferson as “a bold, staunch, and consistent advocate and defender of emancipation and civil rights” can reasonably be questioned (The Jefferson Lies, 113).

On the Beck show, Barton then brings up the 1814 letter to Edward Coles where Jefferson said “the laws do not allow us to free them [slaves].

Here is the pertinent section of the 1814 letter to Edward Coles:

It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man. But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. That, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the missionary of this doctrine truly christian; insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily, through the medium of writing and conversation; associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment.

Coles wanted Jefferson to be more involved in efforts to end slavery and informed him that he wanted to leave the state to free his slaves. It is important to note that Jefferson advised against this abolitionist move. Jefferson urged him to stay and maintain the status quo all the while “softly and steadily” work for emancipation.

In this letter, Jefferson claimed the law did not allow owners to “turn them [slaves] loose.” This was technically incorrect even in 1814, as emancipation was still an option for owners. However, as we say in our book, the situation became much more difficult in the practical sense after 1806. Jefferson’s complaint about the law at that time was more of a practical restriction than legal one. However, between 1782 and 1806, Jefferson, like Robert Carter and other Virginia slave owners, was legally able to emancipate a good number of his slaves. In fact, as we point out, but have never heard Barton address, Jefferson did free two slaves, one in 1794 and the other in 1796. Barton’s reference to the 1814 letter to Coles is not relevant to the legal situation between 1782 and 1806.

Barton and Beck discuss Jefferson’s financial situation as a barrier to emancipation.  We agree that financial considerations were relevant to Jefferson since he considered slaves to be his property. However, this is a different set of factors than the legal ability to emancipate his slaves. Barton inappropriately cites Jefferson’s 1814 statement as covering the years between 1782 and 1806. The law allowed emancipation during that period for slaves, as  we noted above.

In our view, Barton does not consider the economic issues from all angles. Slaves were costly to keep (even for the slaves which required security, emancipation might be cheaper since he had to provide for them anyway) and owners had to pay taxes on them. In some cases, it might have been more economical to emancipate slaves rather than pay taxes on them and for their care. Furthermore, Jefferson bought and sold slaves as well as leased them from other slave owners. Important considerations relating to Jefferson’s financial situation were his continual building at Monticello and his acquisitions of finery from Europe.  A fuller treatment of Jefferson’s finances would be necessary to discuss his actions toward his property (slaves) but one cannot say he was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law, especially during the period between 1782 and 1806.

David Barton’s Capitol Tour: Did Thomas Jefferson Spend Federal Funds to Evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians?

This week, Michael Coulter and I are going to present a series of reactions to an eight minute YouTube video of David Barton’s Capitol Tour. Sponsored by the Family Research Council, the video provides narration from Barton speaking in the Rotunda of the Capitol. First, I am going to revisit Barton’s fable about Jefferson and the Kaskaskia Indians. I wrote about the Kaskaskia treaty last year and we cover it in our book Getting Jefferson Right.  In his book The Jefferson Lies, Barton uses the Kaskaskia story as evidence that Jefferson supported missionary work to Indians. Barton also points to the Kaskaskia treaty as an indication that Jefferson supported government sponsored religious activities. Here is the video (this version has 3.7 million views):

In his Capitol tour, Barton makes a little different claim about the Kaskaskia treaty than he does in The Jefferson Lies. On the tour at 6:45, Barton says:

Most people have no clue that Thomas Jefferson in 1803 negotiated a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians in which Jefferson put federal funds to pay for missionaries to go evangelize the Indians and gave federal funds so that after they were converted we’d build them a church in which they could worship.

One reason people have no clue about this story is that it didn’t happen that way.

[Read more...]

Price Reduced – Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President

Get the book David Barton doesn’t want you to see. Now get it cheaper.

Until early next week, I am lowering the price of the Getting Jefferson Right in paperback to $9.95 (23% off) and the Kindle version to $3.99 (20% off).

It will take awhile for the Kindle price to change on Amazon but you can get the lower price on the paperback from our CreateSpace site now.  Just click the link for CreateSpace.

The book is a must for anyone on your gift list who knows about the David Barton controversy, has read The Jefferson Lies, or who like Thomas Jefferson and/or American history.

To read reviews of the book, go on over to

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To get the paperback, go to the book’s CreateSpace page.

Getting Jefferson Right now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

NOW AVAILABLE: Getting Jefferson Right in paperback.

Many have asked for it and so here it is in print. It will be available on the main Amazon site in a few days and then in stores within a month.

The eBook, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President is still available on and Barnes and Noble (only $4.99 both places).

Click the links to see the pages and purchase the book.

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Featured reviews:

They [Throckmorton & Coulter] find without fail that the claims [in The Jefferson Lies] fall into one of the following categories: 1) complete falsehoods (there are plenty of those); 2) misleading falsehoods (such as the story about wanting Christian imagery on the national seal – true, but on the other side of the seal, had Jefferson gotten his wish, would have been a pagan story); 3) true, but entirely irrelevant and ultimately misleading statements (such as signing documents with “the Year of our Lord,” which he did because pre-packaged treaty forms had that language, and had about as much meaning as signing “Dear” in our salutations in letters to complete strangers); 4) statements with a “kernel” of truth but blown so far out of proportion as to end up being false (such as Jefferson wanting federal funding for Indian missions, when in fact the titles of the bills simply took on the name of already existing religious societies; 5) baffling assertions that are so far out of the realm of reality as to be neither “true” nor “false,” but simply bizarre (such as Barton’s defense of Jefferson’s views on race, which were disturbingly ugly even by the standards of his era).

In each of these categories, as Throckmorton and Coulter gently put it, “we find the reality is often much different than the claim.” That’s their way of saying that the claims are, mostly, “pants on fire,” to use the language of Politifact, the Tampa Bay Times’ fact-checking project. Others rate a “false” or “mostly false” label, while there isn’t a single one (other than minor statements of fact, such as date of birth or dates of his Presidency) that rates “true,” or even “mostly true.”

Getting Jefferson Right is an excellent example of the art of historical contextualization, of trying to tell the whole story, not just part of it. For those reasons, the work should become a standard reference.

–Paul Harvey, Professor of History, University of Colorado, from a review at Religion Dispatches


In GETTING JEFFERSON RIGHT, Coulter and Throckmorton prove beyond doubt that Barton is no more scrupulous about the facts of American history than the “revisionists” whose work he pretends to correct. The authors have performed a valuable service.
–Alan Pell Crawford, Author of Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson


Getting Jefferson Right is an intellectual and historical take down of David Barton’s pseudo-history of Thomas Jefferson by two Christian professors who teach at a conservative Christian college. Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton have done their homework. Anyone who reads this book must come to grips with the untruths and suspect historical interpretations that Barton regularly peddles in his books, speaking engagements, and on his radio program. I have yet to read a more thorough refutation of Barton’s claims.

–John Fea, Chair of the History Department, Messiah College and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction


I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is absolutely essential to read this book if you intend to read Barton’s. Significantly, the authors are not atheists: they are both professors at conservative Christian colleges who assert that Christian ethics and belief inform their scholarship. They are both, in the end, honest scholars willing to examine the facts on the ground and render the necessary judgment: and therefore in the end, they are everything Barton is not and their book is everything Barton’s will never be: actual history.

–Hrafnkell Haraldsson at PoliticUSA, Getting Jefferson Right – A Review


Thomas Jefferson is one of the most revered Presidents in U.S. history. And also one of the most misunderstood. In Getting Jefferson Right, Throckmorton and Coulter confront some of the biggest myths with objective facts. The result is a provocative and informative book that has something to teach everyone.

- Jonathan Merritt, author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars


I cannot overemphasize the importance of reading Getting Jefferson Right, by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter. It is a point-counterpoint to David Barton’s, aptly titled, The Jefferson Lies; and, it corrects every myth that Barton presents. Every evangelical pastor in America, especially African-American pastors, needs to not only read, but also study the facts in Getting Jefferson Right. For too many years, David Barton has misled pastors across America and this book is the perfect tool to help bring us back to the true, undiluted life of Thomas Jefferson.

-Ray McMillian, President, Race to Unity


Now the academy has spoken – and Barton is not going to like what it has to say. Two Grove City College professors holding doctorates have just released Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims About Our Third President…I started the book last night after dinner and couldn’t put it down. To be blunt, it’s a hammer. Throckmorton and Coulter look at numerous pieces of disinformation spread by Barton and give the real story, usually backing up their claims with words from Jefferson’s own writings…So why did Throckmorton and Coulter write it? Their answer is remarkably refreshing: “The duty of Christians as scholars is first to get the facts correct…. Engaging in scholarship as a Christian is not about who is on our team; it should have as an aim of uncovering the facts about a subject, whether it is a historical figure or a theory of social science, and following the data where they lead.”

–Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State


Christians are rightly distressed when American history is purged of its religious elements. But that’s no excuse for us to reconstruct the views of Founders such as Thomas Jefferson according to our likeness. In Getting Jefferson Right, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter have done all of us a great service by exposing, carefully and dispassionately, so many of the popular distortions and half-truths about Jefferson. In the process, they have modeled how to deal with historical texts honestly. If you are interested in learning about the real Jefferson, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

–Jay W. Richards, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute, Co-author of The New York Times bestselling Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late


Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter thoroughly refute David Barton’s attempts to transform Thomas Jefferson into an orthodox Christian hero. By meticulously quoting Thomas Jefferson, extensively and in proper context, they disprove all of Barton’s major assertions. Not only is this a fantastic rebuttal, but it serves as an excellent source for any student of history interested in learning more about the real Thomas Jefferson.

–Paul Zummo, Editor, American Catholic

Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President

In mid-April, Warren Throckmorton & Michael Coulter, professors at Grove City College (PA) will publish on their eBook titled, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President.

The book examines key claims frequently made by Christians about Thomas Jefferson. Wh
ile the authors also address claims made by those who view Jefferson as an athiest, they zero in on false or misleading claims made by evangelical Christians.To get an idea of the kinds of questions the authors examine, take this quiz.

  • Did Jefferson sign his presidential documents, “In the year of our Lord Christ?”
  • Did Jefferson and other Founders finance a Bible in 1798 to get the Word of God to America’s Families?
  • Did Jefferson found the Virginia Bible Society?
  • Was Jefferson an orthodox Christian, who only rarely expressed questions about orthodox Christian doctrine?
  • Did Jefferson approve laws providing federal funds to evangelize Indians?
  • Did Jefferson edit the Gospels of the New Testament to remove sections he disagreed with?
  • Was Jefferson legally allowed to free his slaves?

To learn the answers to these questions, frequently discussed among evangelicals and social conservatives, get Throckmorton & Coulters book in mid-April on Amazon (exact URL to come)