Tim Barton’s Misleading Effort to Claim the Declaration of Independence Condemned Slavery

Tim Barton, son of Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton and president of his WallBuilders organization, shares his father’s penchant for spreading lies and misinformation about the founding of this nation.

Earlier this week, Barton spoke at an “Awakening Night” event in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he engaged in a misleading effort to prove that the Founding Fathers were not all “racist, bigoted slaveholders.”

“How do you explain when they said that we were all created equal?” Barton asked. “Literally, I’ve heard professors, I’ve heard elected officials say, ‘Well, they only believe in equality for white people.'”

“Here’s the problem with making statements and accusations that you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Barton then asserted, without a hint of irony. “I would encourage everybody go back and read the original draft of the Declaration [of Independence]. … There are 24 grievances in the original draft of the Declaration. The last grievance is the longest grievance of the original draft—it’s nearly half of the page.”

Barton then read a passage from the draft that faulted King George III for the slave trade:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

“They’re saying one of the biggest problems they have with the King is what he’s doing with the slave trade,” Barton declared. “Now, that seems a little odd from what we hear about the Founding Fathers. Let’s keep going. They said, ‘This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers’—pause; this is important history that gets left out all the time. What is piratical warfare mean? It’s pirates. And the opprobrium of infidel powers? Infidel powers, that is non-believers. So powerful non-believers. And who were the powerful, non-believing pirates? They were the Muslims of North Africa who were the ones who actually started the African slave trade, exporting the slaves off of Africa. So the Founding Fathers are identifying the slave trade that the King is promoting is what these Muslim pirates are doing. He continued, ‘This is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain.’ The word Christian is the first word that is printed, it’s not in cursive. It’s printed and underlined. Why? Because he’s drawing your attention to it. This Christian King is doing what the Muslim pirates are doing. He continued, ‘Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold.’ The word ‘men’ in the original draft is printed and fully capitalized.”

“When they wrote in the second paragraph that ‘all men are created equal,’ you know who they included? Everybody,” Barton proclaimed.

The reason that most people are likely unfamiliar with this passage of the Declaration of Independence is because it only appeared in the draft version of the document that was written by Thomas Jefferson, edited by the Committee of Five, and delivered to the Continental Congress.

The passage condemning the slave trade was subsequently removed by the delegates before the Declaration received final approval.

As historian Richard Beeman explained in his book, “Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776,” Jefferson’s effort to blame King George III for the slave-trade was “inaccurate and unfair” and was ultimately removed “because of political pressure from slave-owing or slave-trading colonies.”

It is wildly misleading for Barton to assert that the Founding Fathers opposed slavery and the slave trade by citing a passage condemning them when that passage was deliberately removed from and does not appear in the final version of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, what does appear in the final version of the Declaration in an attack on King George III for having “excited domestic insurrections amongst us,” which is a reference to the British promise to grant freedom to any enslaved person who escaped and fought for England.

It seems that Tim Barton, like his father, is less interested in presenting accurate history to his right-wing Christian audiences than he is in misusing and misrepresenting history to bolster his own right-wing political agenda.

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