Debunking the 1619 Project
by Mary Grabar
Regnery History (2021)
Mary Grabar has authored a serious, mature book that should be in every American household and classroom. Its message is so critical to understand that it might usefully serve as required reading in a test and qualification for American citizenship. There were a couple of sections I found demandingly granular, but they stem from her determination to get the story re-assembled factually, as much historical detail was falsified or ignored by the 1619 project members.
Ms. Grabar “debunks,” either directly or by implication, at least four primary objects:
- the asserted significance of the date 1619;
- the asserted unique culpability of Jefferson and other Founders in American slave-labor perpetuation;
- the assertion of unique colonial and early Republic promotion of slave markets and slave trading and;
- the asserted educational value of such historical revisionism that also rests on a modern policy narrative of unresolved racial discrimination and harm in legal and financial dimensions.
Ms. Grabar doesn’t merely "debunk” the 1619 Project, she devastates it, by a relentless, professional marshaling of facts and data, and with thoughtful argumentation, choice sourcing, and careful footnotes. For its depth in historical research, the book reads very smoothly. I found it a “page-turner” as the case she makes unfolds with surprise, pleasure, and wisdom, concerning not only the facts of colonial slavery, but its larger context in American history, and indeed in a larger context still, of world history.
It is fearless in standing up for the integrity of fact, and in challenging the coercive moralism of her object. It is the work of someone who knows America in its strength and complexity, and even by her own experiences of coming to this country. She effectively brings the maturity and wisdom of a wise mother correcting aberrant children. It is not in that regard patronizing or belittling; it merely sets the record straight.
But this is also not merely an ideological riposte to the 1619 program; it is the work of a mature scholar who knows what it means to handle, with respect and professionalism, the responsibility of presenting to a large public audience (and potentially to millions of young students) a vital portrayal of their country so that emotionally and psychologically, they are able to better establish an accurate historical baseline from which to reason and judge.
For example, her probing into Thomas Jefferson's psychology, and his careful, strategic planning in ways that would first emancipate the American mind, is riveting to read and makes me admire Jefferson even more (with his kind of leadership, one has to wonder if the Civil War could have been avoided altogether). Ms. Grabar is able to discern and communicate Jefferson’s character -- along with President Lincoln’s -- because she brings a more experienced mind to the fuller contours of his concerns and responsibilities as, not merely a “radical abolitionist,” but as a statesman and leader whose dedication to his country’s stability and gradual transformation, along the ethical and moral lines he clearly delineated and championed, would evolve in such a way that slavery of all kinds would finally extinguish itself through a combination of persuasion, incentives, and learning. Emancipation itself would come forth organically and from a “bottom-up” social dynamic, rather than a contentious top-down recklessness (and what he and others feared) that could result in an overtly violent, or perhaps worse, passive-aggressive resistance and undermining, that could rupture the country, or work to retard its necessary competitive economic development and stability.
But more, both Jefferson and Lincoln had a pragmatic, if “Whig” regard for what could happen after emancipation: how would slaves and indentured servants adapt to employment, entrepreneurship, education, and citizenship? And more, how could a productive relationship among the entirety of society be advanced, one that works toward a single unified country?
Jefferson had a true globalist perspective, from his knowledge of, or association with, other statesmen, writers, and intellectuals. After considering the evidence that Ms. Grabar presents, the nature of slavery is elevated to its proper characterization and context, not merely as an “American” practice, but a deeply embedded, worldwide human tradition: indeed, the human race has consisted more of the enslaved than the free. Bondage, servitude, oppression, and slavery nearly defined the inherent nature of human societies.
Jefferson, especially, sought not only to advocate for a new country that finally broke free of those cultural practices, but that helped establish the model for slavery’s systematic and institutional eradication -- and for a durability, in constitutional and legal standards, against its ability to re-emerge. As Gordon Wood states, “The Revolution created the first antislavery movement in the history of the world.”
But that doesn’t stop the 1619 syndicate and its objectives; facts don’t stand in its way. Indeed, facts are transformed, re-shaped, invented, or ignored. And this not only demands an accounting necessary for the integrity of history, and for the responsibility and credibility demanded of scholars and teachers of historical narrative, but also against the hidden objectives of the entire 1619 agenda. It ultimately has no regard for truth, history, the American project, or especially the minds of our youth. It is a program of mere political opportunism that seeks to pit one group against another. But it doesn’t do so to “set the record straight,” or stand up for oppression: it seeks itself to oppress.
Mary Grabar’s book will help you understand the 1619 problem in its full flowering and encourage your appreciation of the traditions and reasons for standing tall and proud as an American, with an American mind; one that is aware of the full spectrum of its history, and its promise.
Matthew G. Andersson is a former technology CEO, and author. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, Yale University, and the University of Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book "Legally Blind: How Ideology Has Captured the Law School, the Judiciary, and the Constitution,” and has written regularly in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times.
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