Exploding the New York Times' Anti-American 1619 Project

In what should prove to be the most embarrassing endeavor ever undertaken by a prominent periodical, the New York Times is publishing a series of essays called the "1619 Project," which argues that "out of slavery grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional," citing first and foremost its "economic might" and "industrial power."

Not surprisingly, this project wasn't the brainchild of a historian, but of a staff writer named Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose introductory essay "provides the intellectual framework for the project," according to the Times.  Lacking any credibility to spearhead a discussion on the subject at hand, Hannah-Jones engaged Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University and author of In the Shadow of Slavery, African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, among other books on slavery. 

Writing at Politico, Harris recalls that Hannah-Jones had reached out looking for academic confirmation of the primary contentions of the 1619 Project's introductory essay, which were:

One critical reason that the colonists declared their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery in the colonies, which had produced tremendous wealth.  At the time there were growing calls to abolish slavery throughout the British empire, which would have badly damaged the economies in both North and South.

"I vigorously disputed the claim," writes Harris.  Hannah-Jones and the Times published the provocative lies anyway, though, because if there's anything we've learned from the dedicated "journalists" at the Times in recent years, it's that truth should always take a back seat to good story if it stokes the "woke."

And as leftist propaganda goes, this one's a doozy.  The "framework" of the series is predicated on the two central arguments that Hannah-Jones lays out.  The first is the contention that the Founders revolted against Britain in order to protect the institution of slavery from potential British efforts to abolish it.  The second is the contention that slavery is not only what made the colonies rich, but that America's historical association with slavery cobbled the path to America's "economic might" and "industrial power."

Both arguments are absurdly false, of course, and I'll leave it to two famous historians to explain why.

After the publication of the 1619 Project, some historians were signatories to a letter asking the Times to correct the "factual errors" present in the series which amounted to "a displacement of historical understanding by ideology."  Among them was Gordon Wood, noted historian and author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution.  When the New York Times refused to make any of the historians' recommended corrections, Wood sent a letter which can be best described as an intellectual bludgeoning. 

Wood's letter kindly begins by saying that he has no problem with "demonstrating the importance of slavery in the history of our country," but is concerned that such a "worthy goal will be seriously harmed if the facts turn out to be wrong" and the "interpretations of the events are deemed to be perverse and distorted."  He then goes on to ruthlessly decimate the first of the Project's central contentions with facts. 

Now, please remember that Hannah-Jones has spent just under two decades as an investigative journalist, and is making the radical argument that the American colonials revolted against the British Empire because it represented a threat to the institution of slavery in the colonies.  Gordon Wood, who earned his Ph.D. in history from Harvard over a decade before Ms. Hannah-Jones was even born, thoroughly shatters that contention, writing:

I have spent my career studying the American Revolution and cannot accept the view that "one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery." I don't know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves. No colonist expressed alarm that the mother country was out to abolish slavery in 1776.

Furthermore, he writes:

There is no evidence in 1776 of a rising movement to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, as the 1619 Project erroneously asserts, nor is there any evidence the British government was eager to do so. But even if either were the case, ending the Atlantic slave trade would have been welcomed by the Virginia planters, who already had more slaves than they needed. Indeed, the Virginians in the years following independence took the lead in moving to abolish the despicable international slave trade.

This is more than a simple misunderstanding of historical facts.  The Times is telling a malicious lie that does little to veil the subversive attempt at delegitimizing America and its Founding.  If this alone doesn't completely destroy the credibility of the 1619 Project, perhaps we should address its other central argument, which is that America's "economic might" and "industrial power" derives from its association with slavery.

Consider this. Throughout the history of human civilization, slavery was a common and fundamental feature of economic production.  What makes the West African slave trade in the Americas unique is not that it existed.  It was unique only because, in the land to which the slaves were brought, there was a relatively new, competing economic model emerging alongside slavery.

In 1836's Democracy in America, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville observes the history and practical outcomes of this conflict of economic visions.  Discussing the history of slavery in America, he notes that slavery existed in 1621, "as well in the rest of the globe," largely in the South, and "diminished towards the Northern states."

However, "a century had scarcely elapsed" when the "attention of the planters [in America] was struck by the extraordinary fact that the provinces which were comparatively destitute of slaves increased in population, in wealth, and in prosperity more rapidly than those which contained many of them."

No matter how far west you went, de Tocqueville writes, "the same result occurred at every step; in general, the colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and prosperous than those in which slavery flourished. The farther they went, the more it was shown that slavery, which is so cruel to the slave, is prejudicial to the master."

Clearly, by the time of the American Revolution, it had become obvious that slavery was inferior to a free market economic system.  This fact wasn't lost on the Southern planters, either.  Few among them, de Tocqueville observes, "regard slavery as necessary to the wealth of the planter; on this point many of them agree with their Northern countrymen, in freely admitting that slavery is prejudicial to their interests."

However, the Southern planters were also "convinced that the removal of this evil would imperil their own existence."  In other words, slavery didn't persist in America's colonial era or afterward because it created substantial wealth and prosperity in the places that inherited the institution, but because those living in such places saw no practical means of destroying it.

America's industrial and economic might doesn't exist because of its history of slavery.  Quite the contrary, that industrial and economic might exists in spite of its history of slavery, and this should be obvious when one considers that increases in wealth and industry greatly accelerated after slavery was abolished in America. 

A free market arrangement, with few economic interventions by government, was allowed to uniquely flourish in the America, creating a stark contrast which only served to highlight the economic and moral inferiority of slavery.  And as to that moral question, de Tocqueville couldn't be clearer or more correct (emphasis added):

The [harmful] influence of slavery upon the production of wealth must have been very imperfectly known in antiquity, as slavery then obtained throughout the civilized world… And, indeed, Christianity abolished slavery only by advocating the claims of the slave; at the present time it may be attacked in the name of the master, and upon this point interest is reconciled with morality.

America not only allowed for that reconciliation, but its foundational doctrine -- that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights -- necessitated its urgency.  As Berkeley professor Steven Hayward has remarked, the American Founding had an "indispensable role in making slavery a central political problem for the first time in human history."

All of this used to be common knowledge, imparted to our children in grade school.  These blatant and malicious lies spread by the 1619 Project are a new low for American progressives, and the fact that "woke" fiction is now masquerading as history on the pages of the New York Times is a sad testament to just how far the once-reputable Gray Lady has fallen.

Image: Adam Jones via Flickr.

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