Background: 1619 Project
The first battlefield is to rewrite history. — Karl Marx
The 1619 Project sparked controversy from the beginning. A progressive history curriculum created by New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, in conjunction with New York Times Magazine, it teaches children that United States history centers around two evils – racism and slavery. A group of well-respected historians (Gordon S. Wood, James M. McPherson, Sean Wilentz, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes) wrote a letter to the New York Times, stating that the 1619 Project had placed ideology above facts and historical reality, and they requested that the inaccuracies be corrected.
Two major fictions the project teaches to children are that slavery was introduced to America in 1619, and that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery.
The writers of the 1619 Project certainly seem to believe that students must be forced to leave behind cultural heritage in order to achieve “social justice.” The subservience of individual rights to the state, alongside anti-“white culture” and anti-Western, Marxist attitudes, are their answers to what they claim are the evils of the American system. In this process, voices not controlled by the progressive view – including those in favor of historical accuracy – have been ignored and dismissed.
The 1619 Project is currently being introduced in public schools across America. As one writer observes, “Incorporating The 1619 Project into K-12 curricula is another example of the politicization going on inside public school classrooms. Ideological claims should not replace historical analysis.”
Claim: Slavery was introduced to America in 1619.
This is false. Slavery had existed in the majority Native American tribes for centuries. Historian Dr. Susan Parker, who specializes in the studies of Colonial United States, and historian Paul Hoffman noted that slavery existed before any of the 13 colonies. Archaeologist Kathleen A. Deagan, a civil rights activist and historian, and David Nolan both agreed that slavery was present in America decades before the year 1619, and had been present in Native American tribes for centuries. In 1526, one hundred Africans were brought, as slaves, to the Americas by Spanish colonists to the settlement of San Miguel de Guadalupe. However, that settlement lasted only for about six weeks from September to November of 1526. The slaves at San Miguel rebelled and set fire to some homes of the Spaniards. Slavery at that time was prevalent around the globe.
A group of Africans landed in Virginia in August of 1619–brought by a Dutch man-of-war after being captured from San Juan Bautista, a Portuguese merchant-slaver that was making its way to Veracruz, Mexico.
Claim: The American Revolution was fought to protect slavery.
Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote a letter to the Times stating, “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.” Sean Wilentz also called out the Times in an article in The Atlantic, disputing the project’s factual accuracy:
“No effort to educate the public in order to advance social justice can afford to dispense with a respect for basic facts.”
Historian Leslie M. Harris, who was consulted for the Project, wrote in Politico that she had warned that the idea that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery was untrue, and that the Times made avoidable factual errors.
The New York Times defended their work and refused to make factual corrections. Later, they admitted that they had insinuated ideas, and had written in such a way as to lead people to believe things that were not historically factual. Nikole Hannah-Jones admitted the same about her introductory essay as well, and they deleted some statements in the online version, but without admitting to the errors. The 1619 Project seemingly remains in support of the belief that facts are subservient to “social justice” efforts.
Opinion columnist for The New York Times, Bret Stephens, although kinder toward the project at the beginning of his piece, nevertheless concludes that the 1619 Project is a failure because it is illogical, non-factual, and lacks transparency. He states:
In his introduction, Silverstein argues that America’s “defining contradictions” were born in August 1619, when a ship carrying 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from what is present-day Angola arrived in Point Comfort, in the English colony of Virginia. And the title page of Hannah-Jones’s essay for the project insists that “our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.”
Both points are illogical. A “defining contradiction” requires a powerful point of opposition or inconsistency, and in the year 1619 the points of opposition were few and far between. Slavery and the slave trade had been global phenomena for centuries by the early 17th century, involving Europeans and non-Europeans as slave traders and the enslaved. The Africans who arrived in Virginia that August got there only because they had been seized by English privateers from a Portuguese ship headed for the port of Veracruz in Mexico, then a part of the Spanish Empire.
In this sense, and for all of its horror, there was nothing particularly surprising in the fact that slavery made its way to the English colonies on the Eastern Seaboard, as it already had in the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
What was surprising was that in 1776 a politically formidable “defining contradiction” — “that all men are created equal” — came into existence through the Declaration of Independence. As Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1859, that foundational document would forever serve as a “rebuke and stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.” It’s why, at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, Lincoln would date the country’s founding to “four score and seven years ago.”
As for the notion that the Declaration’s principles were “false” in 1776, ideals aren’t false merely because they are unrealized, much less because many of the men who championed them, and the nation they created, hypocritically failed to live up to them. Most of us, at any given point in time, are falling short of some ideal we nonetheless hold to be true or good.
–Bret Stevens, New York Times. Read Bret Stephens’ piece here.
Lewis Morris writes in his article 1776 vs. 1619:
The 1619 Project took a lot of heat from the academic community for its fast and loose portrayal of history as written by a group of political writers and polemicists with an obvious ax to grind with the American Republic. This public drubbing forced project leader Nikole Hannah-Jones and company to quietly retool some essays behind the scenes, though not enough to remake the project into a respectable work of scholarship. Just the same, the Times received accolades from its pals in media and academia, and its work was ushered into classrooms around the country to indoctrinate our children.
It is an interesting point that the 1619 Project is long-form journalism, a branch of journalism which is used for longer pieces of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism, as opposed to fact-based journalism.
The 1776 Commission was founded in September 2020 by the Trump administration to teach the Western principles that form the foundation of a free republic. The 1776 Commission presents freedom and virtue in a positive light, and instills the belief that individual rights and religious freedom are inalienable. The 1776 Commission believes in preserving our heritage and our republic, wherever freedom is upheld.
According to the executive order establishing the Commission, its goal was to oppose the false claims of the 1619 Project that vilify the founding principles of freedom and individual liberty, and to instead teach historical facts as well as historical context, and to allow readers to consider the meaning of events without injecting misleading factual errors.
The 1776 Commission was made up of 16 members, with seven ex-officio members. The chair was Larry Arnn, an American educator, writer and philanthropist. He has served as the twelfth president of Hillsdale College in Michigan since May 2000. (Hillsdale College produced more solders for the Union Army during the Civil War than any other college.) The co-chair was Carol Swain, retired professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.
On January 18, 2021, the 1776 Commission released its report. On Biden’s first day of office, his administration abolished the 1776 Commission.
Lewis Morris writes about the 1776 Commission report:
There is more at stake here than just two competing schools of thought about America’s founding. The 1619 Project relies on an interpretation of history that is conjured up in the imagination of people who believe in the power of the state over the individual. It’s not the work of scholarship, but a propaganda narrative that rejects the basis for America as a nation of laws in which the power of the government rests with the consent of the governed. It magnifies sins and flaws to the point of false caricature.
Unlike the 1619 Project, the 1776 Report is not an attempt to rewrite history, and it does not pretend to be the last word on the subject. Instead, it recognizes that America’s founding was unique in world history at the time, and not all that common today. The report also examines the current divide in our country with regard to how we view our past and how we see our future. It warns against the forces that endanger our Republic like progressivism, radicalism, and identity politics — forces that happen to be at work in the 1619 Project.
The 1776 Report should not be allowed to drift into obscurity. People should read it and share it. At only 20 pages, with another 20 for appendices, it’s a relatively brief read. And unlike the 1619 Project, it doesn’t push lies to steer your thinking a certain way. But it does ask you to keep an open mind, which is not something the Left likes people to do.
When President Joe Biden terminated the 1776 Commission by executive order, it was assumed that was the sad end of a brief experiment in true historical reflection on America’s founding. The commission and its January 18, 2021, report were unceremoniously scrubbed from the White House website barely an hour after “Mr. Unity” took office.
The 1776 Commission isn’t dead yet, though — not if people continue to spread the word. The commission’s final report is still available around the internet, including on the Trump White House archives site and at other sites associated with commission members.
Where are the parents?
To summarize many detractors, the 1619 Project is “social justice” propaganda, written by a group of journalists, heralded by the mainstream media, and embraced by government teacher’s unions as a tool to more deeply empower the state by indoctrinating children in progressive perspectives. To put it simply: it is based on a lie. It is designed to teach children to hate the principles laid out in the founding documents of America, about which a former slave and one of the greatest abolitionists of the 19th century, Fredrick Douglass, said in his speech, “What to the Slave is The Fourth of July?”:
I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny … The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles . . . there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing [slavery]; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? … is it in the temple? It is neither . . . Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
The principles set forth in the 1776 Commission should not require a government order to uphold, nor should a commission be required to begin teaching what all schools should already teach. The most important question arising from the battle between the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission is this: Where are the parents?
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said about the goals of the 1776 Commission and report:
“We gather here with a mission as noble and important as it is right . . . our goal is to guarantee that our heroes will not be forgotten, our history will never be erased, and our children and grandchildren will be taught to love our great nation.”
Members of the 1776 Commission
Dr. Larry P. Arnn, Ph.D., 12th president of Hillsdale College as well as a professor of history and politics. He also studied at Worcester College, Oxford University, where he served as director of research for Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. Dr. Arnn is on the board of directors of The Heritage Foundation, the Henry Salvatori Center of Claremont McKenna College, the Philadelphia Society, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the Claremont Institute.
Dr. Carol Swain, Ph.D., a retired African American professor of political science and law for the last 30 years at Vanderbilt University and University of Princeton, an award-winning political scientist, and a lifetime member of the James Madison Society, an international community of scholars affiliated with the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.
Dr. Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., Professor in Constitutional Government at Hillsdale College and the Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College’s Washington, D.C., campus. As Vice President for Washington Operations, he also oversees the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship and the academic and educational programs of Hillsdale in the nation’s capital.
Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, Ph.D. (Stanford), military and classics historian and professor at California State University, Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, as well as visiting professorships at other academic institutions like Pepperdine University and UC Berkeley. Hanson has written or edited 24 books, and has authored hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian, and military history, to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture.
Dr. Charles R. Kesler, Ph.D., Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University with areas of expertise in American Constitutionalism, American Politics, Constitutional Law, Greek and Roman Political Thought, Idealism and Nihilism, Political Philosophy, etc.
Dr. Jerry Davis, Ph.D., President of College of the Ozarks, who, with four degrees to his name, has had a prestigious 44-year career as a college president (one of the longest in higher education). Davis has also served two terms as president of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities, served as a trustee or advisor of the Marine Military Academy and has been a featured speaker at the United States Air Force Academy and the United States Military Academy at West Point. U.S. News & World Report has ranked College of the Ozarks a top college in the Midwest since 1989.
Dr. Thomas Lindsay, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), is currently the Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education. Lindsay served as the President of Shimer College. Lindsay has also served as the Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Chief Academic Officer of the University of Dallas.
Dr. Phil Bryant, the eight-year governor of Mississippi (2012-2020), who earned a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Master’s degree and Honorary Doctorate in political science from Mississippi College, where he also served as an adjunct professor of Mississippi political history, both before and during his first term as governor.
Dr. Michael Farris, received his B.A. in political science from Western Washington University, an LL.M degree in public international law from the University of London, and a Juris Doctorate from the Gonzaga University School of Law. Farris is the founder of the Patrick Henry College as well as CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Gay Hart Gaines received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, where the Palm Beach Daily News reported: For 13 years, Gaines served the George Washington’s Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association as vice regent for Florida. Under her leadership, Mount Vernon completed building an orientation center, education center, and museum, as well as a George Washington Library, which opened in September 2013. As a Trustee for the Society of the Four Arts with 22 videos in the C-SPAN Video Library, Gaines has extensively hosted educational forums on America’s founders going back to 1993.
John Gibbs received his degrees from Stanford University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, then joined the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a political appointee and senior adviser to Ben Carson, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow in Heritage’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy and the Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum fellow. Fluent in four languages, Gonzales has an extensive history in editorial investigation and journalism domestically and abroad.
Peter N. Kirsanow received his B.A. from Cornell University and his J.D. with honors from Cleveland State University, where he served as articles editor of the Cleveland State Law Review, before taking the post as Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Kirsanow frequently testifies before and advises members of the U.S. Congress on various civil rights and labor related issues, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court.
Ned Ryun graduated with Highest Distinction (summa cum laude) with degrees in English and history from the University of Kansas. He is the founder and CEO of American Majority, a non-partisan political training institute whose mission is to identify and mold the next wave of liberty-minded candidates, grass-roots activists and community leaders.
Bob McEwen is the senior adviser with the nationally recognized law firm of Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald. McEwen has served in a myriad of government roles domestically and abroad going back four decades. Mr. McEwen was elected by his colleagues to the two most coveted positions in the U. S. Congress; the Select Committee on Intelligence which oversees all of our nation’s secrets, and the powerful House Committee on Rules which has jurisdiction over all legislation in Congress.
Julie Strauss Levin is an attorney providing federal intellectual property and related counseling. In 2019, she was appointed to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
- Michael Pompeo, former U.S. Secretary of State
- Christopher C. Miller, Acting Secretary of Defense
- David L. Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior
- Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- Mitchell M. Zais, Acting Secretary of Education
- Brooke Rollins, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
- Doug Hoelscher, Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs