The 1619 Project: Historians versus the New York Times

There’s no doubt that America has been marked in a big way, with many people still marginalized, by the presence of slavery in our history. I see this every week in Chicago, America’s most segregated city, where (except for Hyde Park, where I live), white and black communities are largely separated, with the latter having poorer schools, deficient government services, and, of course, lower incomes. This cannot be understood without apprehending the context in which black people came to America: as slaves.

And so I applaud the New York Times‘s “1619 Project”, described in Wikipedia and whose contents are at the NYT link just below. Its goal is to educate Americans about the legacy of slavery in America, and to produce materials to supplement secondary school history curricula. This is timely and needed: for example, a Southern Poverty Law Center survey showed this:

Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Most didn’t know an amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery. Fewer than half (44 percent) correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

Clearly, a corrective is needed. And even the critics of the 1619 project applaud its aims and much of the material (essays, documents, and so on) used to set the historical record straight.

But the reception of the project by scholars and historians has not been unmixed. Scholars on both Right and Left have contested the project’s contention that virtually all American phenomena and institutions since 1619 (when the first African slaves arrived in America) have been profoundly shaped by slavery and racism. Particularly distressing to scholars is the Project’s notion that the American Revolutionary War was caused, in large part, by the colonist’s desire to preserve slavery, and the fear that continued subjugation by England would abolish it.

Another big bone of contention is the Project’s theme that racism is still “in America’s DNA”, and that progress in eliminating it, and bringing true equality to African-Americans, has not nearly been as profound as “progressivists” claim. (This criticism of progressivism is behind a lot of the opprobrium that Steve Pinker gets for his books Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature.) Further, scholars claim that many of the facts adduced in the 1619 Project are either wrong or distorted, though much of the criticism is based on how one interprets the facts. For instance, the paper’s view is that African-Americans fought their battle for equality almost completely alone, while others emphasize abolutionists and other white groups committed to equality and the end of slavery. (The North, after all, went to war to end slavery.)

Critics also claim that the New York Times is implicitly engaged in an ideological project that bends the truth to elevate minorities, while critics of the critics dismiss them as white historians whose judgment is clouded by their own race.

My own view is that both sides are partly right. Progress in freedom and rights for African Americans  has been palpable and huge, even since I was born (n.b., I don’t believe that anything like near equality has been reached, and I think that correctives like affirmative action are still needed). Further, as I’ve written before, the Times is indeed becoming more woke, which is apparent to anyone who has eyes to see. And that wokeness means sticking to a narrative that often slops over into its journalism.

On the other hand, one has to question those who criticize the Project on factual grounds when they don’t really adduce facts as much cherry-picked anecdotes (the Times is also guilty of this).  This is clear from the letter that five historians wrote to the paper nine days ago, questioning two aspects of the Project (the indictment as slavery as a major cause of the Revolutionary War and the contention that Lincoln wasn’t as much of an emancipationist as he was made out to be). The historians, as has been pointed out, are white, but they are also experts in the history of slavery and thus have historical credibility that many of the NYT writers don’t have.

The criticisms in the letter (which was apparently abridged) were answered by NYT editor Jake Silverstein, who basically bats them all aside. You can see the letter and the editor’s response by clicking on the link below:

It’s hard to know how to evaluate that exchange because the letter is short and anecdotal, and the paper’s response defensive and a bit arrogant. Fortunately, the to-and-fro has been evaluated at greater length in two fairly centrist places: the American Institute for Economic Research(AIER) and The Atlantic. Both evaluations conclude that the Times project is generally good but has problems, and that the difference between the paper and critical scholars are largely but not entirely unresolvable matters of interpretation. But the first piece, by historian Phillip Magness at the AIER, concludes that in general the critics are more right than the Times.

Magness evaluates the four criticisms of the historians against the Times‘s responses, giving a final judgment after each. I’ll present those contentions and Magness’s responses, which are indented below:

1.) Was the American Revolution fought in defense of slavery?

The [Magness’s] Verdict: The historians have a clear upper hand in disputing the portrayal of the American Revolution as an attempt to protect slavery from British-instigated abolitionism. Britain itself remained several decades away from abolition at the time of the revolution. Hannah-Jones’s argument nonetheless contains kernels of truth that complicate the historians’ assessment, without overturning it. Included among these are instances where Britain was involved in the emancipation of slaves during the course of the war. These events must also be balanced against the fact that American independence created new opportunities for the northern states to abolish slavery within their borders. In the end, slavery’s relationship with the American Revolution was fraught with complexities that cut across the political dimensions of both sides.

2.) Was Abraham Lincoln a racial colonizationist or exaggerated egalitarian?

The Verdict: Nikole Hannah-Jones [NYT writer] has the clear upper hand here. Her call to evaluate Lincoln’s record through problematic racial policies such as colonization reflects greater historical nuance and closer attention to the evidentiary record, including new developments in Lincoln scholarship. The historians’ counterarguments reflect a combination of outdated evidence and the construction of apocryphal exonerative narratives such as the lullaby thesis around colonization.

3.) Did slavery drive America’s economic growth and the emergence of American Capitalism?

The Verdict: This one goes conclusively to the five historians. Echoing other critics, the historians point to serious and substantive defects with Matthew Desmond’s thesis about the economics of slavery, and with the project’s overreliance on the contested New History of Capitalism literature. By contrast, the Times has completely failed to offer a convincing response to this criticism – or really any response at all.

4.) Did the 1619 Project seek adequate scholarly guidance in preparing its work?

The Verdict: The historians have a valid complaint about deficiencies of scholarly guidance for the 1619 Project’s treatment of the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. This comparative lack of scholarly input for the years between 1775 and 1865 stands in contrast with the Times’ heavy use of scholars who specialize in more recent dimensions of race in the United States. It is worth noting that the 1619 Project has received far less pushback on its materials about the 20th century and present day – areas that are more clearly within the scholarly competencies of the named consultants.

Overall, the critics come out looking better than the paper, and perhaps this is because the paper is recruiting mainly journalists and those historians whose views conform to the NYT’s ideological bent. But everyone, including the critics, still praises the Project. My own view is that if the paper were less defensive and more willing to listen to criticism, it would not only give the Project more credibility, but emphasize the messiness of history and the subjective nature of some of its judgments. Although the editor says that he’s always open to constructive criticism, it doesn’t show in his defensive response. And in the article below, even Nikole Hannah-Jones has backed off on her claim that protection of slavery was a major cause in fomenting the American Revolution; now she says it is a contributing factor, which of course is true for some people at some time, but isn’t a sweeping historical conclusion.

The second article, by Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer, is equally judicious though less knowledgable about history. Serwer is more concerned with the ideological battle between critics and the paper, though he comes to no conclusion about motivations, except to say, properly, that ideology has no place in this dispute, not to mention accusations of people of having this or that view only because they are black or white (both sides have been guilty of this).

What is most interesting in Serwer’s piece is his analysis of the idea that racial progress has been and will continue to be made, an issue that puts the two “sides” in stark contrast. (I note that this is one contention where, if you specify what you consider “progress” in advance, you can actually get quantiative data bearing on the issue.)

The most radical thread in the 1619 Project is not its contention that slavery’s legacy continues to shape American institutions; it’s the authors’ pessimism that a majority of white people will abandon racism and work with black Americans toward a more perfect union. Every essay tracing racial injustice from slavery to the present day speaks to the endurance of racial caste. And it is this profound pessimism about white America that many of the 1619 Project’s critics find most galling.

. . . The project’s pessimism has drawn criticism from the left as well as the right. Hannah-Jones’s contention that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country” drew a rebuke from James Oakes, one of the Wilentz letter’s signatories. In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site, Oakes said, “The function of those tropes is to deny change over time … The worst thing about it is that it leads to political paralysis. It’s always been here. There’s nothing we can do to get out of it. If it’s the DNA, there’s nothing you can do. What do you do? Alter your DNA?”

These are objections not to misstatements of historical fact, but to the argument that anti-black racism is a more intractable problem than most Americans are willing to admit. A major theme of the 1619 Project is that the progress that has been made has been fragile and reversible—and has been achieved in spite of the nation’s true founding principles, which are not the lofty ideals few Americans genuinely believe in. Chances are, what you think of the 1619 Project depends on whether you believe someone might reasonably come to such a despairing conclusion—whether you agree with it or not.

My own views are these. Yes, racism remains a tough problem, and is more pervasive than people realize. People may not consider themselves racists, but every time I drive through the ghettos of Chicago, or encounter the many black homeless people who sleep on the streets, I see the legacy of racism. There is work to be done.

That said, who can deny that there has been progress in race relations, even since I was a child. When I took the bus to college in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1967, the Greyhound station had two water fountains, two men’s rooms, and two women’s rooms. I didn’t realize until later why that was (the “white” and “colored” signs were removed three years earlier). Legal and moral progress has been made: it is no longer acceptable to act like George Wallace or usual racial slurs, and there are numerous legal strictures preventing discrimination. None of this was in place until the mid-1950s.

So yes, the Times should continue to emphasize the continuing effects of slavery, but it shouldn’t declare that civil rights are terribly fragile, when it’s pretty clear they aren’t. But the Times has apparently backed itself into a corner, to the point where the editor, acting like a scientist wedded to a defective theory, shows obvious confirmation bias in his response. The whole project would be better if the paper paid attention to its critics, and worked more closely with scholars of all stripes, of all colors, and of all ideologies.

75 Comments

  1. Chris G
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,
    This 65 minute conversation between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter (‘the black guys at BloggingHeads TV’) is worth a watch, presenting a less positive view of the 1619 project

    • mallardbrad
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      THANK YOU! I love these guys!

    • BJ
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      This was excellent! Thank you. They really demonstrated the difference between historical scholarship and agenda-driven media.

      It must be difficult for them and I hope that they won’t suffer any repercussions in their careers.

      • Chris G
        Posted December 30, 2019 at 4:57 am | Permalink

        Glad you value this conversation, and mallardbrad too.
        Glenn & John conversations have become a great ‘go to’ resource with a well-deserved growing audience: intelligent, witty, thoughtful, ridiculously well articulated opinions/reflections/views, particularly on race/racism-related matters.
        I know Jerry’s a little reluctant to listen to or watch long podcasts, but at only 65 minutes I think this one is well worth the time – and would be interested to hear his thoughts on it,
        Chris G.

        • BJ
          Posted December 30, 2019 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          I agree. Thank you for introducing me to these guys. They have an excellent chemistry and are extremely knowledgeable.

  2. Adam M.
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I suspect that the anti-white “anti-racism” project may cause the very deterioration in race relations that they claim already exists. As they go to ever more absurd lengths for “equity” – eliminating punishments for various crimes because black people are more likely to commit them, eliminating single-family zoning across entire states because white people are more likely to own single-family homes, blaming white people for every social ill, etc. – I expect more and more backlash.

    • pablo
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      That could solve the current problem of the demand for racial oppression exceeding the supply.

  3. Matt
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Typo
    4.) Did the 1619 Project week adequate scholarly guidance in preparing its work?
    “week” should be “seek”.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that such a subject and project would be full of argument and hot discussion. I would also wish that people with opinion had a lot of background and study of the subject but that would be wishful thinking.

    On the first question of slavery and it’s condition having influence on the revolutionary war, I do not see much of that. At times during the revolution the British did attempt to influence some slaves to join their side with promises of freedom, however I think their success was limited. We know that many African Americans fought on our side during the war and started not long after Washington took command of the army in Boston. George Washington at first apposed allowing this but soon gave in to more sensible minded in the military. Also there was no segregation thus the first and only integrated American army until Truman in the 1950s. That should tell us something about revolutionary times and all times since.

    • Chewy
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      “the British did attempt to influence some slaves to join their side with promises of freedom, however I think their success was limited.”

      So obviously a weapon in a war! Not a positive policy at all. And they would not have wanted a million slaves in England. If the NYT writers really believe this is a convincing bit of data, then they have no credibility at all.

      I’ve been reading the 1619 stuff along with the ignored no more obituaries with great interest an apreciation … up to a point.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 30, 2019 at 2:51 am | Permalink

        And they would not have wanted a million slaves in England.

        Is there a belief in America that, in suppressing the terrorist insurgency, the British government had some element of repatriation in mind? The entire point of suppressing the rebellion was to keep the subjects in their place (literally, in their place, not in someone else’s place) and paying taxes and dues to the central government. The only people with a right to repatriation would have been members of the armed forces deployed to the rebellious colony (but not locally-raised forces) and officers of the government similarly deployed there (which might extend as low on the greasy pole as customs officers and the like – because you wouldn’t want people with local sympathies doing that sort of job).
        Also, the government in question was not the government of England, but that of Great Britain. The current “United Kingdom” wasn’t established until the union of the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801. A government of England alone is within the foreseeable future now, as pressure for secession in the other kingdoms increases.

        • James Walker
          Posted December 30, 2019 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          The British did call on African American slaves to join their side in the Revolutionary War, in exchange for freedom, although no promise was made of patriation to England.

          After the British lost, they did resettle several thousand freed slaves in the Caribbean (where some ended up back in slavery), in Nova Scotia (where they co-existed uneasily with white Loyalists who had brought their slaves with them) and a small number in London (where they had trouble finding work).

          Because of these problems, the British founded Freetown (in what later became Sierra Leone), where they settled Black Loyalists from London and Nova Scotia as well as Jamacian Maroons.

          See James W. St. George Walker’s (no relation to me) excellent book on the topic, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Longman and Dalhousie University Press. 1976.

  5. another fred
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “This cannot be understood without apprehending the context in which black people came to America: as slaves.”

    I agree that CONTEXT is needed, but my context goes back a little farther.

    Professor James Scott in “Against the Grain” argues that slavery, as typified by the Jewish captivity in Babylon, was the norm and the basis of “civilization”. Others have noted that Athens was 80-90% populated by slaves, as were other “Great” civilizations.

    To fast forward to more recent history, estimates are that of some 15,000,000 blacks that were taken as slaves to the Americas less than 500,000 were sold into North America. A similar number (more or less) were taken to Muslim lands, most of whom were captured and enslaved by other Africans, and similar numbers of Europeans were taken by Muslim slavers from as deep into Europe as Iceland.

    Without extending the litany of civilization’s sins, I think we can conclude that civilization is not, and has never been, an UNALLOYED GOOD, but I would argue that it is yet preferred, certainly by me at least, to humans in a “state of nature”.

    I make no argument that society as it stands is “good” and should remain static (nor do I think the universe gives a damn about what I think).

    I think sentiments behind projects like the “1619 Project” bear an uncomfortable likeness to the sentiments behind Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” and are, for many, a naive belief that by tearing things down we can clear ground for some great flowering of true “justice”. I also think they bear a distinct resemblance to Micky Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.

    People who applaud the 1619 Project and its ilk should be careful what they wish for.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Hear! Hear! The historical norm of slavery is so little understood and even rarely said.

      • Chewy
        Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        One example is Pekka Hamalainen, The Comanche Empire (2008), a fascinating book with my oversimplified summary of his thesis (for this discussion) that the ultimate collapse of the Comancheria was due to the reliance on slavery (Mexican, other Indians, and whites) and the loss of cultural unity and military power as the percentage of slave population increased significantly. Of course the Comanche empire of the pre-1700-1800s was obviously doomed anyway, looking back, I was impressed by the author’s conclusion. That said, while they traded slaves, the institution was nothing like the chattel/labor slavery of the Africans in the South.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 30, 2019 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget to include “serfdom” in Russia as a form of slavery. And note the parallels of post-emancipation economic re-enslavement of blacks and serfs after their respective emancipations in the mid-1860s. Rise up and replace the shackles of enslavement with the shackles of money!

  6. phoffman56
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “..I don’t believe that anything like near equality has been reached, and that correctives like affirmative action are still needed..”

    I’m sure the 2nd half of the sentence has implicitly an ‘I do believe..’ preceding it.

  7. Robert Bray
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    ‘The North, after all, went to war to end slavery.’

    If we accept this statement as true, then it follows that presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln and the national Republican Party were–during the run-up to the election of 1860–lying to the electorate concerning their political motives. The Republican platform had little to say about slavery except to deprecate the African slave trade and denounce the ‘Lecompton constitution’ of Kansas as a fraud upon the people of that territory, part of the Democrats’ program of pushing slavery into the territorial lands of the American West.

    In his public statements, Lincoln the candidate steadfastly opposed slavery’s extension and wished the peculiar institution would dry up and blow away where it existed in the U.S. But he ran for president on the pledge that he would ‘preserve the Union;’ and after his election, and southern secession, he went to war in order to restore the Union, never for a moment accepting that the so-called Confederacy was anything more than one section of the U.S. in rebellion against the others.

    Privately, Lincoln wished for abolition (in addition to emancipation–which he justified as a ‘war measure’ and as an emergency executive power implied by the Constitution), at least in time and with compensation. As he famously wrote in a letter, ‘if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,’ and Abraham Lincoln did not want to conclude that ‘nothings wrong’! Still, over and against northern abolitionists, he and many moderate Republicans consistently recognized slavery’s constitutional right to exist–by virtue of where that founding document’s silently left it in 1789. This festering wound on the nation’s body could only be changed through a constitutional amendment. And it was: with the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      proofing error– ‘nothings’ : ‘nothing is’
      apologies!

    • EdwardM
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Lincoln always had high respect for the Constitution. Except when he didn’t. Like that time he suspended habeus corpus in order to silence media critics.

    • another fred
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I find this (link below) interesting when considering the issues with which Lincoln grappled. He wisely soft-pedaled morality, knowing that using such language only inflames passions and hardens positions. I wish we had such leaders today.

      “The President—Perhaps you have long been free, or all your lives. Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you.

      “I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would. It is a fact, about which we all think and feel alike, I and you. We look to our condition, owing to the existence of the two races on this continent. I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of Slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition—the country engaged in war!—our white men cutting one another’s throats, none knowing how far it will extend; and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.

      “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated…”

      https://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln5/1:812?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 30, 2019 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      it follows that presidential candidate […] and the national […] Party were–during the run-up to the […] election – lying to the electorate

      Never! Such a thing could never happen! The electorate would never allow the wool to be pulled over their communal eyes like that!

  8. dd
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    A couple of months before reading the “1619 Project”, by chance I had ordered Orlando Patterson’s “Slavery and Social Death”, totally unaware of his importance in this field and the high status accorded that book.

    One of the appendices to his book contains pages of listings showing where slavery has existed throughout history. Now, it’s one thing to know the bromide that slavery has existed everywhere, etc, and to actually see a detailed listing.

    So, it was a shock to me to see the degree to which the NYTimes’s project sought to fuse slavery to the foundation of the United States as something nearly proprietary. (Or understand why some people say it’s US’s “original sin”.)

    It seems to me, from other reading, that it’s almost the opposite: The United States was one of the few places in which slavery was in disrepute, and many wanted to see it abolished and were already acting to do so concretely, at nearly its inception. (In fact, I understand that slavery by the 17th century was already being deeply question throughout the West.)

    The “1619 Project” various claims strike me too often as significant overreach. And the work is riddled with certain factual errors, parsing of information, that even I could detect (not a good thing if I can see them!).

    BTW,I understand that there is a significant counter-argument/essays being prepared by the National Association of Scholars (or a group with a name close to that).

    • dd
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Correcting my comment:

      “at nearly its inception” should read closer to “even before its inception”.

    • AlTazim
      Posted December 30, 2019 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Orlando Patterson is a great scholar, liberal but with some moderate tendencies putting him closer to John McWhorter than Glenn Loury in the video above, he was a major name in debates on racial issues in the 90s, when racial issues like affirmative action, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, reparations, and the two very 90s peculiarities of race-based jury nullification and The Bell Curve were very much alive. He receded in prominence as racial issues themselves receded from public prominence at the end of the 90s and went dormant for about 15 years. It’s a shame his work isn’t more widely read, which speaks to the one of the problems of the current intellectual environment where the more recent a work is, especially if the author engages in heavy self-promotion on social media, the more worthy it is of intellectual discussion.

  9. EdwardM
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    With the rise of Trump, a symptom not a cause, I can understand the pessimism. Thanks for the links to the critics. I could use a different perspective.

  10. max blancke
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Clearly the 1619 project plays pretty loose with facts.

    I think a larger question is the agenda. The fact that they do not start in 1776 and address it as a problem with the USA might be a clue. They focus on English importation of Black slaves, and ignore the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese had, by 1619, been importing African slaves to the new world for nearly a century. Even the slaves that arrived in Virginia in 1619 were captured from a Portuguese ship off the coast of Mexico. It is not entirely clear what particular status was held by those 1619 Africans after arriving in Jamestown.

    From my viewpoint, the 1619 project is another in a continuing series of attempts to stoke racial division. They do not want young Black kids to believe that hard work, good choices, and self discipline can lead them to success. The message instead is that they are each personally oppressed, and that it is the unchanging nature of White people in particular to generate that oppression. More importantly, that they should see evidence of that oppression everywhere, and that they will not be permitted to thrive.
    Amplifying such a message does a terrible disservice to Black kids, and to society as a whole.

    I used the term “they”, but I don’t really know who they are, or even if they are deliberately trying to sow disorder and disharmony. It could be a strategy promoted by Maoists or something like that, or perhaps it is just Zinn-type leftism moving along under it’s own momentum.

    I do suspect that the increasing attacks on Jewish folks are a result, not particularly of the 1619 project, but of the philosophy which promotes it.

  11. DrBrydon
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The 1619 project strikes me as having two preeminent goals, both political. First, to redefine the United States as first and last a structurally racist country. Second, to implicate all white people as being guilty of racism, or of profiting from it by descent, and thus being racist. I don’t see either of those being true. To the authors America in 2019 is no different from America in 1619.

  12. JezGrove
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    As a Brit, I grew up believing that one (of many) causes of the War of Independence was the British insistence on curbing the colonies’ westward expansion in breach of agreements previously negotiated with the native Americans.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      As a NZer, that was something I understood too. NZ has far from a perfect record when it comes to how the Maori were treated, but there was a formal treaty with them and it was recognized this was their country. The treaty wasn’t always honoured (of course), and there’s been a commission in place for several decades in order to address that, but I’ve always thought that the Native Americans would have been a lot better off if the British had won the War of Independence/. There’d certainly be a lot more of them still alive, and they would have retained ownership of much more of their land.

      The slaves would have been better off too due to slavery being abolished much earlier in Britain. Also, it’s my understanding that only a tiny fraction (c. 1-5%) of southerners benefited from the institution of slavery. Others were basically tricked into believing that it would destroy them financially if it was abolished, but that wasn’t the case at all. It’s the same as these days where so many vote for those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

      • Filippo
        Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        Regarding Native Americans (both North and South), I look forward to the NY Times similarly presenting a “1492 Project.”

    • Historian
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the colonists did not like the Proclamation of 1763 that restricted westward expansion beyond the Appalachian mountains.

      See this Wikipedia article for details.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Proclamation_of_1763

  13. Posted December 29, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    There were many causes of the American revolution. The argument I find convincing is that the British victory in the Seven Years War (aka the French and Indian War)left the colonists less in need of military protection provided by Britain and at the same time resentful of the taxes levied on them for that protection. But this was mainly felt in the Northern colonies where the independence movement started. The Southern colonies were initially indifferent and perhaps worried about disruption of their export markets. It is entirely possible that the Southern colonies warmed to the independence idea because of the incidents mentioned that raised their fear that Britain would interfere with slavery in its colonies.

    I am prepared to be corrected by Historian. 🙂

    • DrBrydon
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      I’ve yet to see a challenge to slave-holding from the Crown in the 1770s, and, given the power of the Caribbean planters’ lobby, it seem unlikely. While not approved as part of the final Declaration, this was in the draft:

      he [the King] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

      • Posted December 29, 2019 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        That, of course, was Jefferson’s grievance directed at Dunmore’s proclamation. Translated it reads “first the evil Crown forced this immoral slavery system on us, and now it is trying to turn our slaves against us.” It was probably left out because the logic is so laughable.

        • Chewy
          Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          How laffable? It is a brilliant argument.

    • Historian
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Your comment raises the very big question of what caused the American Revolution. My view is as follows, understanding that there are other interpretations. As you note, the impetus to revolution began after the French and Indian War when the Crown tried to impose various taxes on the colonies to help pay for the war as well as the administration of the vast territory acquired from France. Up to this time, the colonial elites in most of the colonies, through the colonial assemblies, pretty much ran the show. Interference by the Crown was not onerous. The elites now viewed this as changing, and they didn’t like it one bit. Fearing that their power was being undermined, they at first resisted by producing a flood of propaganda, all extolling the virtues of liberty (for themselves of course, but still a radical notion for the time). When this didn’t work, they resorted to violence.

      My viewpoint is part of the debate as to whether the American Revolution was conservative or radical. Certainly, strong arguments can be made on both sides, particularly when the debaters take the time to define radical and conservative. I take the position that its essence was conservative because in contrast to most subsequent revolutions (French, Russian, and Chinese) the goal of the revolutionaries was not to overthrow the existing political and social structure, but rather to preserve it from outside attack. Also, in contrast to the other revolutions, the people who started the revolution maintained power to its conclusion. Of course, their continual spouting off about liberty did plant the seeds for the subsequent democratization of American society.

      I have not seen persuasive evidence for me to concur that the Revolution was fought primarily to preserve and defend slavery. But, I think it probable that the Southern slaveholders viewed it as a bonus when independence was achieved. Now they had more control over the institution with the removal of potential interference by an outside entity. Slaveholders lived in constant fear of slave revolts right up to emancipation, so they wanted to have control as to how they would be prevented and suppressed.

    • Filippo
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      IIRC reading, Britain was sympathetic to the South to the extent that, during the Civil War, it had eyes on the South’s cotton for its textile industry, a no-no in the Union’s eyes..

      • max blancke
        Posted December 29, 2019 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

        There was a major issue of tariffs. The tariffs on English manufactured goods imported to the southern US were expected to more than doubled in 1861. That would have primarily affected the purchase of English goods in the southern US. There was a pretty strong sentiment in the south that northern monopolists had enough control over the legislative system that they could charge whatever they wanted for manufactured goods to be shipped to the south, and prevent foreign competition by enforcing ever increasing tariffs.

        That is not to minimize the issue of slavery at all. But I am cynical enough to believe that both US and British industrialists were motivated more by financial reasons than by empathy for anyone in particular.

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Just a short comment on question 2 and 3. Lincoln as most agree was against slavery and made that clear during the campaign for office. Regarding additional freedoms, Lincoln was changing during his presidency but pushed the popular idea of sending the freed people back to Africa or some place such as the Dominican. The economics of slavery was fast becoming a loser. By the early 1800s in eastern Virginia many of the planter, slave owners were going broke. Jefferson was totally broke and in debt when he died. Madison was also broke and Monroe. In his younger days Jefferson hoped slaves could be freed but did not see a place in society for them. Ship them back was the thought. As he got older and more in debt he saw no way to free his slaves. He was in a catch 22 and owed so much on borrowed money he did not own his slaves any longer. After he died they were all sold to pay debt.

    • Posted December 29, 2019 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Jefferson went broke because he spent like a drunken sailor maintaining an extravagant lifestyle, not because slavery was not profitable. Robert Fogel in Time on the Cross provides convincing evidence that plantation slavery was a highly profitable for slaveowners, even during the war.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 29, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        So was Madison a drunken sailor and also Monroe. Many others in Jefferson’s area had gone under. Washington saw the economics of slavery going away. He begin planting grains and other crops attempting to find the secret. Tobacco was a looser with the price going down and down and it also ruined the land. You need to look much further than just saying Jefferson spent money. They all borrowed money against their property (slaves) to keep going. Also slavery was culturally ruining the south. It did not progress. The north was way ahead of them in every way. The planters in Virginia sold many of their slaves to farmers in the Mississippi and Alabama areas where cotton was the crop. You need to do a little more history. Don’t just take one guys story and go with it. The south by the time of the civil war was a one horse industry and that was cotton. Do I need to tell you how the one industry cities have done over the past 40 years?

        • Posted December 29, 2019 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          It isn’t a “story.” Read the book and see the evidence. And Fogel isn’t just a guy. He won the Nobel prize in economics for his work on quantifying American economic history.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted December 29, 2019 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            I did not have to search far to find problems with your guy. Such as many other historians do not agree with him. You might see controversial from the critics. Just a little googling. I see also he liked to attempt the idea that slaves in the south were better off than workers up north. You do know what that means??

            • Posted December 29, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

              Where did he say slaves were better off? He showed that field hands consumed a lot of calories. They had to because they worked so hard.

              Yes, historians who claimed slavery was moribund and would die in its own good time didn’t like Fogel showing them wrong, and more than a few, like you, got the wrong idea he was saying slavery was a good thing, which he wasn’t. The sub-title of the book is black achievement under slavery. He showed slavery was profitable for plantation owners and that the slaves were productive. Seems like a no brainer. If I had workers working for me for nothing, I could make a profit. Why do you think the planters expended so much energy on secession and maintaining slavery if it wasn’t profitable for them?

              • Jenny Hanniver
                Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

                Unfortunately, what Randall Schenk states is factual. I have not consulted the book directly but Fogel’s assertion is widely reported, such as here in the NY Times: “Rather, after studying medical records, cotton yields and other data, the authors argued that slavery had been highly efficient in utilizing economies of scale and that plantation owners had regarded workers as economic assets whom they were inclined to treat at least as well as livestock. This tended to limit exploitation, Professor Fogel and his colleague found, declaring, in fact, that slave life in the South was generally better than that of industrial workers in the North.” https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/business/robert-w-fogel-nobel-winning-economist-dies-at-86.html. The obit goes on to say “An intellectual firestorm resulted. Some critics accused Professor Fogel, who was married to an African-American woman, of being an apologist for slavery, though he and Professor Engerman had been explicit in acknowledging that slaves had been exploited in ways not captured by statistical data.”

                However he intended that remark to be taken, it sure comes off as if he was “apologist for slavery” It reproduces one of the slaveholders’ cheriched fictions that they treated their slaves well. Bullshit.

              • Jenny Haniver
                Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                I write “unfortunately” because it’s an unfortunate statement, whatever its import.

              • Posted December 29, 2019 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                As I said, Fogel was referring to nutrition and in some cases health treatment, NOT welfare and happiness. You had to feed your slaves ample nutrition to get 16 hours of hard labor out of them and you took care they didn’t die because they were your most valuable asset. And it is a fact that some house slaves were treated kindly. None of that means that slavery was not a monstrous system anymore than the fact slavery was a monstrous system means it was not economically viable.

              • Jenny Haniver
                Posted December 29, 2019 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                Yes, well they were chattel after all, regarded as little better than barnyard animals. Cattle and hogs consumed a lot of calories, too, and their feed and housing was calculated to satisfy that need. Many field slaves also ate out of troughs just like like the animals, perhaps but for a spoon or a piece of hard bread. This all boils down to economics and you justify it all because of that? That argument could be used re slave labor in the concentration camps.

                I’ve read quite a few slave narratives, especially the WPA collections, and a number of narratives and diaries written by the white aristocracy, and sure, some slaves said “Massa was kind to me,” and all that, and I could go on about what Massa’s kindness meant from Massa’s point of view and I find your argument reflective of Massa’s mercantile requisites. And please, spare me the ‘some house slaves were treated with kindness’ – that’s no argument, it’s a paternalistic justification. and an untenable inferential argument from the few to the many; and I can’t but think of “Gone With the Wind.” There were “Negro pets,” too, young children coddled and spoiled as long as they held the fancy of their owner. If you’re not familiar with “Out of the House of Bondage” The Transformation of the Plantation Household,” by Thaviola Glymph, I suggest you take a look at it; it’s a searing, eloquent, closely argued, scholarly impeccable indictment of the myths of the plantation mistresses, who could be more sadistic than most of the men, and a lot of the abuse was capricious and repetitive. Many parts of it almost too painful to read, yet so captivating that it’s difficult to put down.

                Description from the Amazon page: “This book views the plantation household as a site of production where competing visions of gender were wielded as weapons in class struggles between black and white women. Mistresses were powerful beings in the hierarchy of slavery rather than powerless victims of the same patriarchal system responsible for the oppression of the enslaved. Glymph challenges popular depictions of plantation mistresses as “friends” and “allies” of slaves and sheds light on the political importance of ostensible private struggles, and on the political agendas at work in framing the domestic as private and household relations as personal.”

              • Posted December 29, 2019 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

                Did you even read what I wrote? Where did I justify it? It was a horrible system that exploited human beings for profit. Maybe it would be even more horrible if it exploited human beings and the planters paid for it, but that is not the fact. Go view a plantation museum. How was that paid for?

                You want to believe that because slavery was wrong it could not have been profitable. Tell that to organized crime.

              • Posted December 29, 2019 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

                What really ticks me off about this unsupported claim that slavery was not profitable is that it supports the racist claim that the slaves and black people in general were shiftless and lazy. Yes, that is what the planters said. Slaves were lazy and shiftless, so the benevolent planters were doing a good thing keeping them. Fogel showed that this is bullshit. The slaves worked hard and long and contributed mightily to the economic development of the United States. But the fruits of their hard labor went to the slaveholders.

                Why is this so hard for people to understand?

              • Jenny Haniver
                Posted December 29, 2019 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

                Then I am reading too much into what you said
                — to me your words came off as if you yourself were giving approbation because of its economic value and so if I misread you in that regard, I sincerely apologize. Perhaps we’re both reading more into each other’s comments than is actually there because my comments had nothing to do with denying that slavery was profitable. Others took issue with you on that.

                I jumped into the thick of it because you questioned Randall Schenk’s assertion about what Foner had written, wherein he (Foner) came off sounding as if he was minimizing the evils of slavery by comparing it to the conditions and treatment of workers in the north, making a statement based on the economics of slavery without taking into consideration the human factor — which, according to my reading, he admitted doing but offered an explanation that I find completely unsatisfying, and the brouhaha arose precisely because at the time historians criticized him for that assertion, and it seemed that you were defending this way of looking at things; however, parsing his statement is not necessarily defending the sentiments in that statement, and Foner said that he was making an observation, not a personal justification. Problem is, I don’t know how he could have expressed himself without giving the impression that it constituted a personal justification. Some things, such as slavery, are just too fraught with emotion and significance to be considered dispassionately. I knew about Foner’s book and heard him interviewed a couple of times but haven’t read it. Now I have good reason to do so.

              • Posted December 30, 2019 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

                I am a tad sensitive because I sat at the feet of Bob Fogel, who was the kindest, most generous instructor I had at UChicago. The rest of the UChicago economics department instrctors were a bit arrogant.

                Fogel was an honest researcher motivated only by evidence. He shared a Nobel because he and Engerman were the first to bring sophisticated statistical analysis to issues in economic history. In his two books he sifted through countless plantation records of revenues and expenses to try and understand how the slave system worked. He discovered that contrary to the view that slavery was moribund because the slaves didn’t work hard, in fact they worked very hard but the fruits of their labor went to the slaveholders who profited mightily.

                Why this should be controversial, I will never know. But Fogel got vilified until his death by those who claimed he was “justifying” slavery. Fogel was a socialist jew married to a black woman with mixed race children at a time when this was very unusual. He never justified slavery—he was pointing out a record of black achievement under adversity.

                But Bob was too much of an economist. It didn’t make sense to him that slaveholders would work their most expensive capital to death, so he explored how the slaves were fed and kept in good working condition. This, more than anything, led to his vilification. An expensive slave was not worked to death Duh! This was presented by his detractors as supporting slavery, just as the woke misrepresent views they do not like today.

                I did not follow Bob Fogel into economic history because there were no jobs. But what I learned remains with me to this day, and I feel compelled to defend him against the unfair attacks he suffered.

                End of story.

      • Historian
        Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        I remember that the Fogel thesis was quite controversial when it first came out in 1974 and apparently still is. I am not an economic historian and can’t opine whether the various theses brought forth are valid. However, I would caution against relying on research carried out a half century ago. Undoubtedly, there has been much more research done since then.

        • Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          Until I see empirical evidence to the contrary, I will accept it. Its age is irrelevant. I am not aware of any such evidence, just a lot of ranting by non-empirical historians. If you have some refuting empirical evidence, please reference it. Plus, it makes common sense. The idea that the southern states ruined themselves to protect a non-profitable system is crazy, to me.

          • EdwardM
            Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

            It may seem crazy but history is replete with examples, Ye Olde USSR not the least.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

            You are welcome to believe whatever you want. Only thing I can tell you from many years of reading history is don’t fall in love with the first odd thing you see out there that fits your opinion. His stuff about the economics of the plantation is centered around the large cotton fields in the deep south. Without modern cotton picking machines they had no other choice. But everything depended on the price of cotton and that changed just like everything else. The slaves you owned 24 hours a day. When they got old you get rid of them because they are dragging you down.

            And besides, I was referring to Jefferson and the planters in eastern Virginia, not cotton in the south. It is a whole different thing. The economics of slavery in Virginia was doomed, long before the civil war.

            Good grief, look at the bankruptcies in the dairy industry or the grain farmers in the Midwest today. You have no control of price and if it goes down too far, you are done. You can sell the cows and the farm machinery and do something else. What are you going to do with 200 slaves and their families?

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted December 29, 2019 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

              One other thing I forgot to mention, and the South sure found out about this during the civil war. You cannot eat cotton.

              • Posted December 29, 2019 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                Wow, that is brilliant. Exactly how is it relevant? Maybe someone should tell Microsoft it is not profitable because you can’t eat software. Yeah, the Union blockade was effective. I am through arguing with you, Schenck.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted December 30, 2019 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                OKAY, till next time.

  15. Historian
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    There is so much to discuss here. Many, many volumes and articles have been written on the topics under debate. Therefore, to write a comment of manageable length, I will limit my remarks to Lincoln and his views on race.

    To understand Lincoln and race, one must recognize that Lincoln’s views on race evolved over time. Particularly in the last years of his presidency. For much of his political life, Lincoln belonged to the Whig party, which was led by the Kentuckian and slaveholder, Henry Clay until his death in 1852. It is no exaggeration to say that Lincoln idolized Clay. Also, Lincoln was a product of his time (the decades preceding the war) in which all white people were racist to a degree with only a handful of abolitionists being the exception. What is often lost in the discussion about slavery is that white people could have been both racist and anti-slavery. They were not mutually incompatible. Lincoln was such a person. For much of his career he endorsed the fantastical notion that colonization, i.e., the deportation of freed blacks to Africa, could “solve” the problem of slavery and the presence of African-Americans in the United States. Henry Clay was the founder of the American Colonization Society that managed to send a handful of former slaves to Liberia. What is little remembered today is that as late as December 1862, with the Emancipation Proclamation pending, in a message to Congress, Lincoln still endorsed colonization.

    I first became aware many decades ago of Lincoln’s attitudes toward race by reading an essay by the great mid-twentieth century historian Richard Hofstader in his book “The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It.” He noted that above all else Lincoln was a politician, hungering to win political office, often not very successfully. This was illustrated in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, with Lincoln trying to win Douglas’ Senate seat in Illinois. In the course of these debates, Hofstadter pointed out, Lincoln tailored his remarks to which part of the state he was in. One such debate was held in Charleston, Illinois, located in the southern part of the state where much of the population was sympathetic to the South. At this debate, Lincoln stated this:

    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    This is clearly a racist statement. It is undeniable, but it aligned with the views of many in the North. Simultaneously, Lincoln believed that slavery was a moral evil and that it would disappear someday, presumably through colonization. It is because he opposed slavery that he also opposed its extension in the federal territories. By the last year of his life, Lincoln began to consider the possibility of extending certain rights to freed blacks, such as voting, particularly if they had served in the Union army. It is a mere parlor game, nothing more than speculation, to assert what Lincoln would have done if he lived.

    I will stop here leaving much unsaid, but the gist of my views on Lincoln are stated above. To read the Charleston, IL debate go here:

    https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/debate4.htm

    • Filippo
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Re: Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.”

  16. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Often in modern times racism and social status are mixed together in such a way that one cannot be separated from the other. I was just reading about the worst military aviation disaster in Kansas history. In 1965 a KC-135 tanker aircraft out of McConnell AFB crashed in a residential area of Wichita. The area and people destroyed in this poor area of town was an African American community. Although big news it did not last long and the people got very little in settlement for their losses in life and property. It took three years or more for settlement to come. The question then is, how much of the poor treatment received was racial and how much was social status? I think we would tend to put nearly all of it in the racist column. After all, the poor nature of the residential area was created by a racism in the first place, without any air crash involved.

  17. dd
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Possibly the most contested article in the “1619 Project” is the one by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond on capitalism.

    Phillip W. Magness, whom Dr. Coyne links to in this entry, has written a reply to Desmond’s contentions. And it is really worth reading.

    “How Capitalist-Abolitionists Fought Slavery”

    https://www.aier.org/article/how-capitalist-abolitionists-fought-slavery/

  18. Posted December 29, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Had I to place bets on whether there was ever a “just war” or whether it’s possible to suspend a donkey in mid-air using only shoe creme, I would throw everything on the latter with no hesitation. Reality does not feature Just Wars. Lincoln said during his inauguration 1861:

    I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read: […]

    I’m not asserting the opposite, that slavery played no role at all, but that human rights concerns were not high on the list to begin with and when slavery enters the considerations, the interests were probably about other concerns than improving the well-being of slaves, such as perhaps economic ones.

    • Chewy
      Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      We aren’t talking much about it, but at the end of the day, it really is all money/power. Money = Power; Power = Money. All the rest is really just a way to one or the other. Not necessarily in each individual’s actions, but in collective, group, party, race, class action over time.

  19. Filippo
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    “He showed slavery was profitable for plantation owners and that the slaves were productive. Seems like a no brainer. If I had workers working for me for nothing, I could make a profit. Why do you think the planters expended so much energy on secession and maintaining slavery if it wasn’t profitable for them?”

    I’m reminded that there are zealots in the Land of Amuricun Exceptionalism, worshiping at the altar of Capitalism, who believe that there should be no minimum wage. Bless their good, pious, generous (Christian?) hearts. Payment of ones due for ones labor does not necessarily have to be in currency. It reasonably (?) could be in the form of necessities: food, clothing, shelter, of whatever quality. (Health care? Education?
    Certainly not for slaves.) And nothing much if any beyond that. In that situation, one is a servant, a serf.

    (Society easily-enough speaks of “public servants”; not so much of private servants – employees. In some retail and fast food, the moniker “service associate” obtains. In a very restricted domain, as reflected in the likes of “Downton Abbey,” “servants” obtains, with their providing direct services like scrubbing the toilets and washing the drawers of those too elevated and rarefied to accomplish those pedestrian tasks for themselves. Would that they, like the Foot-Washing Primitive Baptists, were inclined to that once a year, to show some outward token of humility by cleaning up their own messes.)

    It’s not a far stretch to go from employee (“human resource,” “human capital”) to servant to indentured servant/serf (?) to slave. Seems to be the difference between the de jure and the de facto ownership of a human primate by another. As contrasted with the indentured servant/slave, the (unindentured) servant/employee can go elsewhere – to another master who offers basically the same conditions of labor.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 30, 2019 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Payment of ones due for ones labor does not necessarily have to be in currency. It reasonably (?) could be in the form of necessities: food, clothing, shelter, of whatever quality. (Health care? Education?

      It may be worth noting that at around the same time as the US Civil War and the Russian Emancipation of the serfs, a series of laws was being passed and enforced in Britain aimed at restricting such payment systems (the “truck” acts). In addition to reducing the “company store” type abuses, there were also actos to restrict the charging of rental fees for the equipment necessary to do one’s job. That fight is still going on – at the union we’d often see small companies refusing to reimburse their employees for reasonable expenditures such as safety spectacles and hearing protection.
      I gather that such attempts at clawing back profit from staff are rising again – being required to buy uniforms, for an example. From the company store. At the company’s price. Flat out illegal ; becoming more common.

      It’s not a far stretch to go from employee (“human resource,” “human capital”) to servant to indentured servant/serf (?) to slave.

      Exit stage left, un-pursued by any bears, whistling “Money makes the World go around.”

  20. Posted December 30, 2019 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    The Times said they were not historians but agreed with project on the cause of the revolution. They are entitled to their opinion, but should not say they have no opinions and then say they have an opinion.

    Arguments about history will always be with us as long as we have free speech. But the question is where our beliefs take us as to our future policy.Policy results from our beliefs and concepts if right and wrong.

    My take us the woke wants to rewrite history to fit their ideology, resulting in policies they want to advance. And the Times has decided to help them. If they succeed, I doubt that we will still retain freedom of speech or many more of the rights we now enjoy

  21. Stevec
    Posted December 30, 2019 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    I was greatly influenced by Thomas Sowell’s book, “Wealth Poverty and Politics”.

    For those interested in testing the idea that current inequalities can only be explained by racism, slavery and the sad history of race relations in the US, I recommend his book.

  22. chrism
    Posted December 30, 2019 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering if the purpose of the 1619 project is to ameliorate current difficulties left over from the legacy of slavery, which would be laudable, or to wallow some more in self-castigation, which is pointless?
    Shall we try to agree on some starting points:
    1. Slavery was an indefensible moral wrong.
    2. Blame for it lies with those who organised and ran the institution, which is to say a tiny minority of Africans who captured and sold their fellows, and a larger minority of whites who bought and then benefited from slave labour.
    3. Those responsible are no longer with us to be held accountable.
    4. Present day whites have benefited indirectly by the historical economic growth it powered, even if that thought horrifies them. They feel some guilt, although they bear no responsibility for their ancestors’ crimes.
    5. Present day African Americans have suffered indirectly from it in that they do not enjoy actual equality, only theoretical. Despite that, they have lives of material wealth far greater than if their ancestors had remained free in Africa. They too may feel some guilt over that, again with no responsibility for their ancestors’ suffering.
    6. I am not asserting any moral equivalence between points 4 and 5, nor that they are of similar magnitude. Both are unfortunate, wretched historical facts we cannot now change.
    7. Cash reparations will make things worse, not better. Remember La Rochefoucauld’s wisdom that we hate those we harm, and hate those who oblige us.

    Feeling guilt about something you didn’t ask for and certainly didn’t do is a difficult thing. One needs someone to blame, and the tendency is to see a false equivalence between present day members of a group with past exemplars. This is where black and white as categories becomes unhelpful, or even destructive, as it encourages us to see each other in that light. Difficult as it may be for those invested in identity politics, the only solution I can see is to be that currently maligned thing: colour blind. If the legacy of slavery is an open sore shall we try to get it healed and live with the inevitable scar, or shall we pick at it and keep it open? It seems to me the 1619 project is made up of pickers rather than healers. I’m an atheist nearing the end of my days, and I shouldn’t have to point out that forgiveness and redemption are not just for the religious; they are a necessary part of humans being able to live together in a mutually beneficial way. It’s a huge thing to ask for, but it may be our only way of moving forward, sadder, wiser, but ultimately stronger for the painful lesson of our mistakes.

  23. AlTazim
    Posted December 30, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    The problem with the 1619 Project, and its what I believe chrism is trying to get to up above, is the same problem that the people who objected to critical race theory and Afrocentrism back in the 1990s, like Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Orlando Patterson, identified: they take “equality” to the very high level of social, psychological, and emotional abstraction, such that if you feel unequal and believe it is because of a particular thing, then that thing is per se a source of inequality. Which turns the quest for equality into a frankly zero-sum therapeutic ego contest for respect and psychic well-being.

    The 1619 Project talks about re-framing and re-centering American history around, ostensibly, “people of color”, but this quite clearly means black Americans, whether or not they are descendants of antebellum slaves. It might be psychologically edifying to view American history as the struggle for black Americans to achieve final liberation, but what about the more than 85%, roughly 7/8s, of Americans who don’t identify as black? Much like the slaves who weren’t freed after the Revolutionary War, 1776 and the Revolution itself didn’t mean anything of direct consequence to the tens millions of Europeans, whether Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, Poles, or others who arrived up through 1924, plus the several million Japanese and Chinese people who arrived prior to Chinese exclusion, not to mention the tens of millions of non-black immigrants who have arrived since 1965, but it worked well as a baseline from the New Deal era to the present day.

    The NYT project so clearly avoids anything that could challenge its conclusions because it views them as undermining the very goal of its project: producing “real” equality by boosting the self-esteem of black Americans. Even Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America, not particularly well-liked by the large bulk of academic historians but popular with educators, has a sense of solidarity, progress, and that “we’re all in this together as Americans” and “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” spirit. The 1619 Project doesn’t, it doesn’t even feel like “We Shall Overcome”, it’s predicated on a narrative of deep hostility and enmity between the racial majority and the small minority with no space for camaraderie or even hope, and they project this very spirit into their response to criticisms of the project.

    I agree that sentiments like this are not matters of fact to be easily adjudicated by a neutral observer, but this dispiriting position blinds them to what I guess we would call alternative facts that might mitigate their dark conclusions, the way a deeply depressed and angry person cannot see any evidence or believe that there are people who love them or behave kindly towards them and handwaves away any indications to the contrary, digging deeper into resentment.

  24. Hempenstein
    Posted January 1, 2020 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Re. Chicago being the most segregated city, the details of the at-least-well-known if not famous black medicinal chemist Percy Lavon Julian‘s move to Oak Park in 1950 might be of interest. The house he bought was firebombed before the family moved in, and then attacked with dynamite afterward. The community seems to have largely supported him at the time, but he also apparently kept watch over the house up in a tree with a shotgun at times.

    When I first read about that, the exact community wasn’t mentioned, and I had assumed that it was a relatively modest house. It’s anything but, as to be expected by the Oak Park location I suppose, and architecturally quite interesting, to boot.


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