Living Passionately

WEATHERFORD, TX — If David Barton had his way, he would be sitting in the middle of his Aledo property on his horse, talking to no one. “But that’s not an option,” David said. Instead, he teaches people a key he has discovered: “Just because you have rights and liberties that are guaranteed, doesn’t mean you have freedom. Fifty-six guys signed our Declaration of Independence, but 17 did not live to see the end of the Revolutionary War.”

David likes to remember John Adams’ statement about posterity: “You’ll never know how much it cost my generation to provide freedom to yours.”

Reigniting a sense of liberty, David, the researcher, steps out of his library every day to face Americans young and old. Through live and multimedia presentations, David and his staff teach American history under the auspices of WallBuilders. The organization he began building 25 years ago, with unflagging support from his wife, Cheryl, exists to spark interest in religious, moral and constitutional history by presenting the lives of forgotten heroes who fought for liberty. “Liberty is a much larger concept than freedom, which flows from liberty, which comes from understanding your rights,” David said. “Without knowledge of your rights, you will give away liberties and lose freedoms.”

When David was a bright, athletic freshman at Aledo High School, he enjoyed the freedom of riding a bicycle to school from his home five miles out of town. In 1968, there were 220 residents and the school was 1-A. “We didn’t have talented and gifted programs back then,” David said with a grin. “I graduated highest guy in my class. Two gals beat me.”

Surprisingly, David hated history throughout school and preferred math and science. He taught both those topics at Aledo Christian School, which he founded and where he served as principal. Cheryl taught special education in Aledo Junior High School before rearing their three children.

In 1987, David came across an original 1844 U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed his life. “It said if the government will run the school, it must teach the Bible in school. I saw that it did not say what my textbook had said it said,” David remembered, his eyes flashing with the same shock he felt at the revelation. Eventually, his knowledge of math and science combined with a drive to learn more about Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed rights. He decided to publish a book, America To Pray or Not to Pray.

“That first book we published was nothing but statistics,” David explained, and with it, his new career as a researcher, author, public speaker and consultant had been launched. Sales of his first book funded acquisition of new documents, which in turn inspired publication of new books whose sales funded further research. Sometimes he would ride to the WallBuilders office on his horse, tying him up to a tree outside while he wrote new books.

“Now we have 100,000 original documents, and that’s what we use to write textbooks today,” David said. The library overflows, as well, with artifacts from the Revolutionary War era, such as: swords, mailbags, cooking pots and medical instruments. David hosts researchers in his archives, gives school tours and has published over 40 books. In his textbooks and during tours, David emphasizes having children read the original documents. Likewise, he has watched The New York Times bestseller list and learned that American adults buy and read history and historical fiction. “People are paying money to learn what they are supposed to be able to learn in school. We’re publishing biographical history, placing a lot of emphasis on persons. We look through the eyes of participants, not at the sequence of battles.”

David prefers to teach facts by revealing the actual thoughts and experiences of personalities who lived our history. Through his experience as an educator, David knows that kindling an interest in the dramatic lives of the people in our past will bring to life the ideals they strived for. “A lot of the way I think has been shaped by reading writings of our founding fathers,” said David, referring to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. “A book we’ll release on the Fourth of July is called The Founders Bible, and is literally a Bible with the thoughts of the founding fathers.”

One quote from John Quincy Adams David uses to guide his life is: “Duty is ours, results are God’s.”

“I don’t have much emotion,” David said. “It’s the right thing to do, to share this knowledge and help teach the next generation. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it.” Yet clearly he is living passionately, telling stories of forgotten heroes: female spies in the Revolution, black and Hispanic soldiers and patriots, even Cuban ladies, who raised the funds for George Washington to keep the troops in the field.

Another quote that David never forgets was penned by another founding father, Benjamin Rush. “He basically said it’s pure selfishness to do what you want to do, but God has given you this life to spend and be spent for the good of mankind. Benjamin Rush demonstrated that in ways that blow our minds,” said David, who thrills to delve into his archives to show people sheepskin pages covered in flowing ink and revealing the hearts of men and women whom David considers heroic.

David repeats their stories and philosophies to professional groups around the country. Last year alone, he made 440 presentations. He serves as a consultant to state and federal legislators, participates in Supreme Court cases and helps develop social studies standards for numerous states. After 34 years of marriage, Cheryl enjoys accompanying him on every trip.

Earlier in their lives, their three children went with them — riding in their family van once to Alaska and at least three times to the other 49 states. “We counted and last year, we were probably on the road nine out of 10 days. It’s not necessarily a lot of fun to travel all the time, but that’s what God’s got me doing,” David said. “America’s history is awesome. We just didn’t know it!”

Written by Melissa Rawlins.