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Another Egregious Factual Error in the New York Times’ 1619 Project

As I mentioned yesterday, the New York Times has decided to declare the whole America experiment illegitimate with its “1619 Project” that it admits is an attempt to “reframe” American history. The purpose is to claim the whole of the nation is premised on slavery.

Its first essay, from Nikole Hannah-Jones, is here and contains an outright falsehood.

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact 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. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just 33, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

The problem with this is first factual — the abolitionist movement in London did not take off in any meaningful way until after 1776 and it still dragged out well into the new century. In fact, Massachusetts’ began considerations on abolishing the slave trade in 1767 and voted again in both 1771 and 1774 to end its practice altogether, though both times were overriden by the British governor’s veto.

Second is the statement about “one of the primary reasons.” Hannah-Jones claims preserving slavery was a primary reason for the revolution and that is a lie. Don’t take my word for it. The Continental Congress, in 1774, pledged to end the slave trade and in 1776 even southern states had agreed to abide by nonimportation of slaves from abroad. Take it also from the founders on words, who were writing before 1776 about slavery and the need to end it.

Few even of the most enlightened Virginians were willing to declare, as Jefferson did in the instructions he wrote for his colony’s delegation to the first Continental Congress, that “the rights of human nature [are] deeply wounded by this infamous practice” and that “the abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state” — Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

[I]n 1766, the Reverend Stephen Johnson of Lyme, Connecticut, preaching on “the general nature and consequences of enslaving measures” and dilating on the iniquity of slavery and on its “shocking ill effects and terrible consequences” to both enslavers and enslaved. — Id.

Samuel Cooke, in his Massachusetts election sermon of 1770, argued that in tolerating Negro slavery “we, the patrons of liberty, have dishonored the Christian name, and degraded human nature nearly to a level with the beasts that perish,” and he devoted most of his text to “the cause of our African slaves.” –Id.

And Benjamin Rush, in a sweeping condemnation of slavery, “On Slave-Keeping” (1773), begged “Ye advocates for American liberty” to rouse themselves and “espouse the cause of humanity and general liberty.” Bear a testimony, he wrote in the language of the Quakers, “against a vice which degrades human nature… The plant of liberty is of so tender a nature that it cannot thrive long in the neighborhood of slavery. Remember, the eyes of all Europe are fixed upon you, to preserve an asylum for freedom in this country after the last pillars of it are fallen in every other quarter of the globe.” –Id.

By 1774 this cry had become a commonplace in the pamphlet literature of the northern and middle colonies. How can we “reconcile the exercise of SLAVERY with our professions of freedom,” Richard Wells, “a citizen of Philadelphia,” demanded to know. There was no possible justification for the institution, he said. If, as some claimed, the slaves were bought from those who had a right to sell them, where are the titles to prove it? –Id.

Even Patrick Henry, while admitting the colonists could not immediately eradicate slavery, said he hoped “an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.”

Samuel Hopkins, in 1776, authored A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of Africans; Shewing It To Be the Duty and Interest of the American Colonies To Emancipate All the African Slaves, which was widely circulated among those who attended the Continental Congress.

The New York Times begins its 1619 Project with the claim that one of the primary reasons for the American Revolution was to preserve slavery. But the writings, sermons, and actions of the founders clearly show most of them already recognized slavery would have to be eradicated and many had begun, long before war on the horizon, to end slavery.

What the Times is doing is creating a fraudulent version of American history.


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