Who Printed the First English Bible in America?
If you said Congress, read on. If you said Robert Aitken, give yourself a bonus point and read on anyway.
David Barton is certainly consistent. In his Capitol Tour, in the movie Monumental and now in the Founders’ Bible, Barton claims that Congress printed the first English language translation of the Bible. Here is the claim from page xiii of the Founders’ Bible:
America’s commitment to the Bible was unwavering and was demonstrated in many ways, one of which was evident at the conclusion of the American Revolution. With the victory at the Battle of Yorktown, America was finally free from British policies, including the longstanding one against printing a Bible in English in America.
Consequently, in 1781, a plan was advanced in Congress to print America’s first English-language Bible. On September 12, 1782, the full Congress approved that Bible, and it soon began rolling off the presses. Printed in the front of the Bible is a congressional endorsement declaring, in part:
Resolved, that the United States in Congress assembled… recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States. (emphasis in the original)
This claim is so easily checked that it is amazing to me that Barton persists in saying that Congress printed it. The truth is that Robert Aitken approached Congress for an endorsement after he had printed the Bible himself at his own expense. A committee of Congress passed the Bible over to the chaplains who vouched for the accuracy of the work. Congress then recommended the Bible as an accurate version to the people.
Here again are the pages from the Journals of Congress dated September 12, 1782 which detail what Congress did with Mr. Aitken’s Bible.
Note on page 572 that the Bible was published by Aitken at “great expence” and on page 573 that Aitken printed the Bible at “evident risk to private fortune” (in fact, he lost money on the project). Congress did not initiate, fund, or print the Bible. Congress told Aitken he did a good job and supplied a commendation.
Aitken petitioned Congress (see this post for Aitken’s petition) for permission to publish his Bible under the authority of Congress. He also wanted to be the official Bible printer. However, Congress did not grant all of Aitken’s requests.
In his introduction to the Founders’ Bible, publisher Brad Cummings said that “we have become a nation that has a tale of two histories.” He is correct but sadly his study Bible perpetuates the situation and not in the direction of accuracy.
More on the Founders’ Bible: