No, Mr. Beck, John Adams Did Not Think Governments Must Be Administered by the Holy Ghost

This is the second installment in what will be an ongoing series debunking the American history lies being promoted by Glenn Beck on his new "Founders' Fridays" episodes and other shows. (If you missed the first one, you can find it here.) Beck has already had several guest "historians" on his show, but I still have quite a few lies to debunk from his April 8 show, which was a full hour featuring Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton, so I'm going to knock those off first.

This post is about another mainstay of Barton's presentations: an 1809 letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush that Barton butchers to make it appear that Adams thought that all governments, including, of course, the government of the United States, must be administered by the Holy Ghost in order to be legitimate.

On Beck's show, Barton also incorporated his other lie about this letter, claiming that this was the letter that magically reunited Jefferson and Adams, who had been on the outs since Jefferson got elected president in 1800. Why does Barton do this? Because it allows him to combine two completely unrelated parts of Adams's letter into a claim that it was really God, working through his "prophet" Benjamin Rush, who restored the friendship between Adams and Jefferson.

Unlike my last post, where I included an excerpt from my book in addition to a video debunking, I'm just going to use a video for this one.

Sources for the letters mentioned or quoted in video:

  • Rush to Adams, October 16, 1809, John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush 1805-1813, (Reprint, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 169-171.

  • Adams to Rush, October 25, 1809, ibid., 172-173.
  • Rush to Adams, December 5, 1809, L.H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, vol. 2, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), 1026.
  • Adams to Rush, December 21, 1809, Alexander Biddle, ed., Old Family Letters: Copied from the Originals for Alexander Biddle, Series A, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1892), 247-249.
  • This December 21, 1809 letter is the Adams letter butchered and lied about by Barton, who owns the original letter. Alexander Biddle, who was married to Benjamin Rush's granddaughter, was able to get someone to make copies of many of the letters between Adams and Rush. Biddle's book is now available on Google Books for anyone who wants to read the entire letter from an independent source and compare it to the edited and manipulated version as it appears in David Barton's article "The Dream of Dr. Benjamin Rush & God's Hand in Reconciling John Adams and Thomas Jefferson."

    Here's Barton's version:

    My friend, there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, Who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishop on the heads of candidates for the ministry. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious -- there can be no legitimate government -- but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it -- all without it is rebellion and perdition, or, in more orthodox words, damnation. . . Your prophecy, my dear friend, has not become history as yet. I have no resentment of animosity against the gentleman [Jefferson] and abhor the idea of blackening his character or transmitting him in odious colors to posterity. But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many correspondences. If I should receive a letter from him, however, I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it.

    And, here is the full, un-Bartonized letter:

    Quincy December 21. 1809.

    My Dear Sir, -- I thank you for the pleasing account of your Family in your favour of the 5th. As I take a lively interest in their Prosperity and Felicity, your relation of it gave me great Pleasure. We have Letters from our Colony navigating the Baltic, dated at Christiansand. They had been so far as prosperous, healthy and happy as such Travellers could expect to be.

    Pope said of my Friend General Oglethorpe

    Some driven by strong Benevolence of soul

    Shall fly like Oglethorpe from Pole to Pole.

    But what was a Trip to Georgia in Comparison with the Journeys and Voyages that J. Q. Adams has performed ? I do not believe that Admiral Nelson ever ran greater Risques at sea.

    Tell Richard that I hope Mrs. Rush will soon present him with a son that will do him as much honour in proportion, as the first born of his Genius has already done him in the opinion of the world. W. S. S. our Guardian of the Athenaeum has obtained it and proclaimed it loudly every where the best Pamphlet that ever he read. Be sure you do not hint this to Mrs. Rush Senr. It would allarm her Delicacy.

    I really do not know whether I do not envy your City of Philadelphia for its Reputation for Science, Arts and Letters and especially its Medical Professor. I know not either whether I do not envy you your Genius and Imagination. Why have not I some Fancy? some Invention? some Ingenuity? some discursive Faculty? Why has all my Life been consumed in searching for Facts and Principles and Proofs and Reasons to support them? Your Dreams and Fables have more Genius in them than all my Life. Your Fable of Dorcas would make a good Chapter or a good Appendix to The Tale of a Tub.

    But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a Baptism, not a Marriage not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishops on the heads of Candidates for the Ministry. In the same manner as the holy Ghost is transmitted from Monarch to Monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a Dove and by that other Phyal which I have seen in the Tower of London. There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All, without it is Rebellion and Perdition, or in more orthodox words Damnation. Although this is all Artifice and Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft, Gentlemens Craft, Peoples Craft, Doctors Craft, Lawyers Craft, Merchants Craft, Tradesmens Craft, Labourers Craft and Devils Craft in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it.

    Do you wonder that Voltaire and Paine have made Proselytes? Yet there was as much subtlety, Craft and Hypocrisy in Voltaire and Paine and more too than in Ignatius Loyola.

    This Letter is so much in the tone of my Friend the Abby Raynal and the Grumblers of the last age, that I pray you to burn it. I cannot copy it.

    Your Prophecy my dear Friend has not become History as yet. I have no Resentment or Animosity against the Gentleman and abhor the Idea of blackening his Character or transmitting him in odious Colours to Posterity.

    But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many Correspondences. If I should receive a Letter from him however I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it.

    The Auroras you sent me for which I thank you, are full of Momentous Matter.

    I am Dear Sir with every friendly sentiment yours

    J. Adams