Posted by: ushistoryfiles | April 28, 2009

Faiths of Our Fathers



Today I want to address one of my pet peeves: books by well respected authors that contain glaring errors.  A perfect example of this it Alf Mapp’s Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed.  Now it’s not really a new book (2003 or so) but it was new to me when I pick it up at Colonial Williamsburg last winter.  A casual reading of the text revealed to me the following errors:

PG 8.  Here Mapp is speaking about the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.  Mapp claims that Jefferson wrote it with “bold originality” citing the following quote as an example.  Mapp writes:  “Our civil rights,” Jefferson wrote, “have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry…. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Now nowhere in the Statute could I find such a quote.  See for yourself:

What Mapp has done here is confused the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.  Ah, simple mistake you might say.  Perhaps, however the first part of Mapp’s quote DOES come from the Statute, the part after the “….” doesn’t.  That seems to me to be pretty careless to mix the two.

PG 35.  Here the books credits Benjamin Franklin with inventing the glass Harmonica.  truth be told he initially named it the “glassychord” but switched it to “Armonica”.  I concede that today some call it the glass Harmonica (there is a Wikipedia entry for it) but Franklin didn’t.  More info here:

PG 73.  “In 1775 following Braddock’s defeat and the experience of remaining unharmed when several bullets pierced his coat, Washington exclaimed in a personal letter: “See the wonderous works of Providence!”  He was a twenty-three-year-old junior officer when he wrote that,”

WHAT??  Washington 23 in 1775?  I don’t think so.  OK, simple typo you say.  Sure, but one that should have been caught since Mapp continues, “but his attitude was the same after the Battle of Monmouth when the forty-six-year-old…”  the battle of Monmouth took place in 1778.  So in the same sentence Mapp has Washington 23 in 1775 and 46 in 1778…talk about War aging people!

Overall Faiths of Our Fathers was an interesting read, however, and this is a big however, a casual reading discovered sloppiness and carelessness that causes this reader to wonder about mistakes that I didn’t catch.  One would think with editors and reviewers these mistakes would have been caught.  They definately should have.

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