Competing and divergent reviews by The Washington Post and the NYT of the 1619 Project book

November 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

As you probably know, the 1619 Project has produced a book (below), which is an expansion and supplementation of the original essays in the New York Times magazine. It’s selling like hotcakes, too: #4 on Amazon.  Click on the image below to go to the Amazon site:

I haven’t read it yet, and am not sure that I will given the queue of books by my bed, but I did read two reviews of it. The first, in the Washington Post below, is quite critical. The reviewer is Carlos Lazada, identified as “the Post’s nonfiction book critic and the author of “What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.”

The second review appears in the NYT itself, and the paper has a long history of reviewing books by its own writers favorably. That review is at the second screenshot below (you can access the reviews by clicking on the screenshots), and the reviewer is Adam Hochschild, author, journalist, and historian, who wrote a book I read not long ago and liked very much: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial AfricaI would have bet a lot of money in advance that the NYT review would be highly positive, given their history of printing only positive reviews by their bigwig writers and the fact that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the main force behind the book, won a Pulitzer Prize for her first 1619 essay.

The contrasting titles of the reviews show their differential assessments. While both authors like parts of the book, Lazada is unwilling to excuse major claims in the book that are erroneous, misleading, or distorted, while Hochschild largely ignores or minimizes them. More important, Lazada emphasizes that the book pushes an ideological program, especially in a new essay contributed by Ibram X. Kendi.

I’ve always objected to the 1619 Project’s aim to inculcate schoolchildren with distorted and “progressive” Leftist views. It is propaganda and is not counteracted in schools by requiring other books giving other views. It’s the first time I know of that a newspaper has deliberately inserted itself into the school curriculum to push a set of ideological values and dubious “truth” statements.

Hochschild, on the other hand, gives a very laudatory review, picks out a few perfunctory problems, barely mentions Kendi’s essay, which he agrees with, and says it’s the book is a valuable and necessary corrective for racism. It might well be in bits, but if the assertions of Lazada be correct, there’s a considerable amount of distortion and cherrypicking going on. It’s amazing how the two reviews have such different takes on the same contentions of the 1619 Project.

 

First, Lazado’s review. I’ll concentrate on a few issues historians had with the book, and also on its propagandistic aims. Both reviewers’ words are indented:

Together these elements form a powerful and memorable work, one that launched a seismic national debate over the legacy of slavery and enduring racial injustice in American life. It is also a work with a variety of competing impulses, ones that can at times confuse and conflict. This is evident in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” a book that softens some of the edges of the prior magazine collection but also transcends its original mission as a historical corrective, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told.

This is Kendi’s view, but more later. I doubt readers will appreciate being deemed racist if they’re not doing something, which includes paying reparations to the black community. (I favor a form of reparations, but in terms of social benefits, better schools, and affirmative action, not direct payments to individuals who can prove some black heritage.)

One of the contentious assertions of the first 1619 Project was Hannah Nikole-Jones’s claim that 1619, the date that the first slaves arrived in the colonies, was the true founding date of America, for slavery conditioned, she said, every aspect of American life, even being a major cause of the American Revolution. The paper has walked that claim back a bit in the face of historians’ corrections, but the book still waffles on the issue.  From Lozada:

The elusiveness begins where the project begins — in 1619, with the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to reach the English American colonies, and that moment’s proper status in the history of the United States. In his note introducing the special issue, New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein first depicts the project as something of a thought experiment, counterfactual to the common notion of 1776 as the year of the nation’s birth. “What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?” Three sentences later, the question mark is gone, the tone more declarative. The barbaric system of slavery introduced that month is not just the United States’ “original sin,” Silverstein asserts; it is “the country’s very origin.” The project’s broadsheet supplement widens that perspective, declaring that “the goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history, making explicit that slavery is the foundation on which this country is built.” From what-if to no-matter-what, all on the same day.

This hardly settles matters. More than a year later, in an article titled “On Recent Criticism of The 1619 Project,” Silverstein indicated that the notion of 1619 as the country’s birth year should be regarded as a “metaphor” and not read literally. This is why, he explained, the Times had deleted a description of 1619 as our “true founding” that previously appeared in the project’s online presentation. But then, in an essay this month titled “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History,” Silverstein wrote that the date indeed “could be considered” the moment of the United States’ “inception.”

In the new book version, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Times journalist who conceived of the overall effort and wrote its lead magazine essay, offers a few interpretations. In the preface, she cautions that the project is “not the only origin story of this country — there must be many.” Then, in the opening chapter, Hannah-Jones repeats the text of her original magazine essay and refers to Black Americans as the country’s “true ‘founding fathers,’” as deserving of that designation “as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital.” Some 400-plus pages later, in a concluding chapter, she writes that the origin story in the 1619 Project is “truer” than the one we’ve known.

What might an assiduous reader conclude from all this? That 1619 is a thought experiment, or a metaphor, or the nation’s true origin, but definitely not its founding, yet possibly its inception, or just one origin story among many — but still the truer one? For all the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itself.

Lozada finds the 18 essays “both constructive and uneven”. An example of the latter is the chapter on “Capitalism”, which seems to distort matters (note that Hochschild’s review below accepts the chapter’s contentions whole hog):

Lozada:

Consider sociologist Matthew Desmond’s chapter, “Capitalism.” In his original magazine essay, Desmond argued that many labor-management and record-keeping practices of modern American capitalism originated on plantations, with lasting consequences for the nation’s growth and industry. He indicated, for instance, that the vast increases in the productivity of America’s cotton fields — an average enslaved field worker in 1862 picked 400 percent more cotton than one had in 1801, he noted — flowed from the meticulous efforts to manage every detail and moment of those workers’ lives. “Bodies and tasks were aligned with rigorous exactitude,” Desmond wrote in the essay, describing the “uncompromising pursuit of measurement and scientific accounting displayed in slave plantations.”

Critics of this essay pointed out that some financial and management practices Desmond mentions, such as double-entry bookkeeping, predated the slave-plantation era. More consequentially, they argued that Desmond’s discussion of cotton productivity bypassed the real explanation for the increase. In the new book, Desmond addresses this, but only to a point. Following a detailed discussion of the management of enslaved labor, he again cites the boost in productivity. Then he adds this caveat: “Historians and economists have attributed this surge in productivity to several factors — for example, Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode found that improved cotton varieties enabled hands to pick more cotton per day — but advanced techniques that improved upon ways to manage land and labor surely played their part as well.”

Note what is happening: A different explanation is introduced for an important point of fact, but the overall narrative remains — because “surely” it still holds. Readers should always be open to new historical interpretations, but when revising history, “surely” does not reassure. When facts complicate a story, they shouldn’t be tucked in an aside but taken up as part of that dynamic and contested process of discovery that Silverstein so praised.

Finally, Lozada criticizes the narrative of Hannah-Jones that the maintenance of slavery was a major cause of the American Revolution, which is based almost solely on an offer from the British in Virginia that any slave who joined them fighting the colonists would be freed:

In the opening chapter of the book, titled “Democracy,” Hannah-Jones adds two explanations supporting her interpretation of colonial motives. One involves the Dunmore Proclamation of November 1775, in which the royal governor of Virginia offered freedom to enslaved people if they joined the British side of the fight. (The declaration went unmentioned in Hannah-Jones’s original essay and did not appear in the magazine’s timeline of important events in African American life; now, it is featured in the book’s expanded timeline.) She writes that the proclamation “would alter the course of the Revolution,” appropriate phrasing given that the revolution was well underway by the time of the proclamation.

How influential was this episode in the fight for independence? Here Hannah-Jones narrows the story. She stresses that the proclamation “infuriated white Virginians” and that when you think about it, the revolution was mainly a Virginia thing, anyway. “Schoolchildren learn that the Boston Tea Party sparked the Revolution and that Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress, the place where intrepid men penned the Declaration and Constitution,” she writes. “But while our nation’s founding documents were written in Philadelphia, they were mainly written by Virginians. . . . No place shaped the Revolution and the country it birthed more than Virginia.” It is a subtle but effective shift: Rather than expand history to encompass the range of the colonists’ rationales, Hannah-Jones limits the universe of colonists who matter. Now, Virginia is real colonial America.

This sounds a bit sleazy to me, but none of this is mentioned in the NYT’s own review. Lozada also criticizes the claim that the civil rights movement was fought almost completely without white allies, but I don’t have time to address that.

Finally—and I know I’m quoting too much, but readers may not have access to the story—Ibram Kendi writes the penultimate chapter with with his denial that American is making progress in racial relations (a claim I’ve always found totally ludicrous), so that the readers need to take antiracist action. Note the one fact Kendi adduces to deny the arc of progress (I’ve put it in bold):

In a chapter titled “Progress,” historian Ibram X. Kendi writes that the popular notion of America making steady, if slow, headway toward greater racial justice is “ahistorical, mythical, and incomplete.” The “mantra” of incremental improvement can undermine efforts to promote real equality. Kendi cites Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which held that the country’s progress against discrimination meant that certain states and counties no longer needed federal approval before amending their voting laws, as the Voting Rights Act required. (The decision unleashed a series of state-level initiatives creating obstacles to voting.) “Saying that the nation has progressed racially is usually a statement of ideology,” Kendi writes, “one that has been used all too often to obscure the opposite reality of racist progress.” The failures of the Reconstruction era led to the “Second Reconstruction” of the 20th-century civil rights movement, a cause and effect that Kendi says is too often “left out of the story.”

That is one action (there are some others, of course), but what we no longer have is blatant segregation (dual water fountains and restrooms, back-of-the-bus policies, segregated hotels), lynchinga, and mistreatment of and bigotry against blacks in every situation. What we do have are the Civil Right Act, the Voting Act, and a strident effort to hire blacks and provide affirmative action in college admissions and hiring. It appears, though, that the aim of both Kendi and Hannah-Jones is to deem all Americans as racists if they’re not antiracist by paying reparations. I favor reparations, but as a moral issue and not a duty (my ancestors, after all, came from eastern Europe around 1890), and not by dispensation of cash to individuals.

Lozada:

Kendi then introduces something else he says is left out of the story — that America requires a “Third Reconstruction” to address the unfulfilled promise of the second. Here the 1619 Project’s project becomes explicitly political. Hannah-Jones fills in the details in the book’s final chapter, “Justice,” where she identifies the racial wealth gap as the most serious challenge for Black Americans. “White Americans’ centuries-long economic head start,” she writes, is what “most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To narrow that gap, the country must embark on “a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

Among these are a slate of priorities such as “a livable wage; universal healthcare, childcare, and college; and student loan debt relief,” Hannah-Jones indicates. They also include cash reparations for Black Americans — specifically, for those who can document having identified as Black for at least 10 years prior to any reparations process and who can “trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery.” Also suggested is a commitment to enforce civil rights laws regarding housing, education and employment, as well as “targeted investments” in Black communities across the country.

And so the New York Times’s 1619 Project is now enlisted in the service of a policy agenda and political worldview. The book’s concluding chapter underscores that link. “It is one thing to say you do not support reparations because you did not know the history, that you did not understand how things done long ago helped create the conditions in which millions of Black Americans live today,” Hannah-Jones writes. “But you now have reached the end of this book, and nationalized amnesia can no longer provide the excuse. None of us can be held responsible for the wrongs of our ancestors. But if today we choose not to do the right and necessary thing, that burden we own.”

Is this the message that we want to convey to children—that if they aren’t antiracist, they are racist? That is Kendi-an to the bone.   I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s proper.

The NYT’s review:

Hochschild takes a diametrically opposed view, saying that his worries about historians’ concerns “largely melted away” when he read the book. He then lauds the book for showing connections between past racism and present-day acts.  Here’s one example:

Part of the book’s depth lies in the way it offers unexpected links between past and present. New Yorkers, for instance, have long protested that the city Police Department’s “stop and frisk” searches for contraband or guns disproportionally snag people of color. But how many had connected it, as Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander do here, to the slave patrols of the old South, in which groups of armed white men routinely barged into the cabins of enslaved men and women to hunt for stolen goods or “anything they judged could be used as a weapon”?

Is there a direct connection here, or merely an analogy? Connecting two things because they’re similar doesn’t show an ancestor-descendant relationship. And Hochschild accepts Desmond’s chapter without quibbles:

Another contributor, Matthew Desmond, points out that the cotton plantation “was America’s first big business.” On the eve of the Civil War the monetary value “of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation.” That fact alone should silence anyone who claims that slavery is not central to American history.

No, that’s best shown in other ways, not by comparative value.

Hochschild continues:

Moreover, controlling those workers “helped mold modern management techniques.” The plantations’ size allowed for economies of scale. And “like today’s titans of industry, planters understood that their profits climbed when they extracted maximum effort out of each worker. So they paid close attention to inputs and outputs” — easy to do when you compared harvesters according to how far each had progressed down parallel rows of cotton plants. Every fieldworker’s yield was carefully recorded, and rewards or whippings administered accordingly. Spreadsheets tabulated the depreciating value of human property over time. Trade magazines for planters carried management tips on getting the most out of enslaved workers: the best diet, clothing and even the proper tone of voice to use when giving orders.

Does Hochschild, a historian, not realize that many modern management techniques were afoot independently in the North, not copied from slaveholders? And, of course, modern managers don’t dictate the diets of their employees nor whip them. He also buys Kendi’s assertion that Justice Roberts’s comment shows that racism has not waned a bit since the antebellum era.

To be fair, Hochschild does have some beefs about the book. He calls the claim that the Founding Fathers created the American system, and fomented revolution, all to preserve the institution of slavery “going out on a shaky limb.” He bemoans the lack of discussion of slavery in countries outside the U.S., and wishes that there were more about white allies of slavery. (Here he’s really admitting that the main criticisms of historians are correct.) But in the end, he sees the book as a necessary corrective—part of “The Reckoning.”

Despite what demagogues claim, honoring the story told in “The 1619 Project” and rectifying the great wrongs in it need not threaten or diminish anyone else’s experience, for they are all strands of a larger American story. Whether that fragile cloth holds together today, in the face of blatant defiance of election results and the rule of law, depends on our respect for every strand in the weave.

Yes, we do need a corrective to counteract the glossing-over of slavery and racism taught in many American history courses. But I’m not down with distortions of that history, and I’m opposed to calls for action and reparations in a book that will be used widely in schools.  They should have left Kendi out, and also had the book reviewed not by self-picked reviewers but, like science papers, by anonymous but qualified reviewers picked by someone other than the authors.

h/t: Paul

31 thoughts on “Competing and divergent reviews by The Washington Post and the NYT of the 1619 Project book

  1. “Yes, we do need a corrective to counteract the glossing-over of slavery and racism taught in many American history courses. ”

    The same can be said of mathematics and other subjects as well in the United States public education system – mile-wide, inch-thick – unless students can seek out challenging courses early enough and – importantly – seek out challenging teachers.

      1. A lack of depth is not unique to American history courses – depth being an antidote to superficial treatment of specific topics, be it slavery in the United States or compound interest.

        1. No, I took those courses years ago as a kid. They simply glossed over the bad parts of America’s past. That is not “lack of depth” but deliberate attempts to show that US history was uniformly glorious.

          1. Yes, that is true, and “gloss” captures that idea well.

            Greater depth – either in one class or across the grades – it seems to me, should help with this topic – will leave no room for any ideologies to creep in. Maybe that’s how it got that way in the first place.

  2. At a time when, despite large amounts spent on our public schools, America’s schoolchildren are performing poorly in relation to those in many other developed countries, there can be no rational argument for inculcating them with any ideological views. The goal should be to render them literate and numerate with a basic understanding of geography, literature, math, and science, without politicized commentary on current events and without tendentious accounts of the past. Children in K-12 cannot be expected to have attained the kind of knowledge of or understanding about the world which would allow for a nuanced view of complex and contentious issues.

  3. What happens in this whole story is the making of an agenda. If we can convince enough people that slavery is the reason for revolution and it was a major cause driving our institutions and commerce it then becomes easier to sell the racial corrections needed today. This is simply the wrong way to get there and I think today’s racism can be explained and talked about without going back and making up a whole new history. Yes, the history we were taught back in the day was wrong and covered up both slavery and what took place with the people who lived here first. Thousands of American Indians were killed and pushed aside as this country expanded and grew. At first we killed most of them with our diseases and then slaughtered the rest. That story was left out and covered up for many years. Much of what is wrong with slavery was also covered up and left out. It does not make good movies.

    I do not get my history from journalist and I don’t get it from the old text books. The best we can do is read our American history from true historians. I would stick to their writings in the most current times for several reasons. Primarily because so much more has been learned and uncovered in the past 40 years than we knew before. The true and real story is not trying to cover up anything and has no agenda.

    The idea that slavery was the driving and primary force behind our revolution or departure from Britain does not hold water. It also has little to do with the reasons several guys met in Philadelphia in 1787 to create a constitution and government. Slavery certainly played a part during this meeting and you can read about it in some good books on the subject. Some of the decisions made in this constitution greatly assisted the slave states for many years to come and some of the people were not happy about this but they compromised because they wanted a government more than they wanted to end slavery.

    States like North and South Carolina and Georgia would not have joined if these advantages for slavery were not in the document.

    1.  “If we can convince enough people that slavery is the reason for revolution and it was a major cause driving our institutions and commerce it then becomes easier to sell the racial corrections needed today.”
      Boy oh boy. So I guess it doesn’t matter if it is TRUE or not. Only what may happen if you can sell it. Because ends justifies means.
      And since the empire did not abolish slavery until 1830s-maybe you can find an actual quote from leaders of Southern states mentioning this as their motive? I doubt this would make them very popular among their followers, because they would be telling them they needed to fight and die-for something that they didn’t need to fight for anyways!

  4. “,,, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told.”

    This reminds me of the famous National Lampoon cover message, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog”. Of course, the magazine was joking and these “anti-racists” are not.

  5. “He [Hochschild] bemoans the lack of discussion of slavery in countries outside the U.S., and wishes that there were more about white allies of slavery” – should that be “white allies of abolition”?

  6. As I expected, the publication of the book has reignited the controversy over the “truthfulness” of the 1619 Project. As such, I will present briefly my views on the value or lack thereof of the Project in regard to its historical interpretations of slavery.

    1. Most reviews, such as these two, are worthless in regard to the historical arguments of the Projec. Why? The reviewers, Lozada and Hochschild, as far as I can tell, have no expertise in the areas of American slavery or race. They are merely regurgitating the viewpoints of others that they tend to agree with. People seem to get very worked up as to the extent that the protection of slavery was a cause of the American Revolution. Apparently, there are many that are not satisfied with the Project’s backtracking from its original claim that the protection of slavery was the main cause of the revolution. They will not be content until slavery is removed entirely as a cause. Indeed, they will only rest easy until the traditional interpretation is restored – the revolutionaries were the noblest men fighting for the noblest cause. But, as with our attempt to understand most great historical events, historians differ as to the cause, meaning, and significance of these events. Historians differ as to the role of slavery in the coming of the Revolution. Likewise, there has been a parallel debate among historians as to whether the Constitution, was or was not a pro-slavery document. This debate has preceded the 1619 Project by many decades. My conclusion is that I ignore absolutist statements about historical events uttered by people that know nothing about them.

    Here is an article that discusses how historians differ in their understanding of the role of slavery in precipitating the Revolution.

    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/10/1619-project-historians-controversy-gordon-wood-woody-holton.html

    2. Hannah-Jones made a big mistake in claiming that the true founding of the United States was in 1619. It provided fodder to those keen on discrediting the entire Project. It’s akin to trying to name the exact date that a true human appeared. It is equally foolish to claim that 1776 is the true founding as if nothing before that date should count.

    In essence, the brouhaha over the 1619 Project’s interpretation of the cause of the Revolution is between those ardent supporters who argue that there was nothing good or noble about it and its ardent critics who say that it was nothing but good or noble. The motives were in-between. The value of the 1619 Project it that it debunks the fairy tale version taught in schools for so long. The motives of the men that precipitated the Revolution arose from a combination of self-interest (not only about slavery- there were others) and noble ideas. The real debate should be on how much weight to give to each factor. We all learned about the noble ideas, but less how noble ideas provided an effective smokescreen for the less than noble motivations.

    1. Bullshit.
      The Revolution started in New England-and that was were the flame glowed the brightest.Where slavery was already out the door.
      Which of the men associated with the Boston Tea Party owned slaves?
      Even many states that did have slavery-like New York-gave it up by the time the British empire abolished it by the 1830s. As for the Southern states-they likely would have never joined the chorus if New England didn’t start it. Even in the South, if it weren’t for the invention of the cotton gin-a very unfortunate development that suddenly made slavery extremely profitable where cotton grew-likely would have given it up ultimately because you cannot transition from a feudal to industrial society if you hold on to slavery. No laborers wage can compete with zero.
      Associating the Revolutiona with slavery is a big lie. What it never was, was a “mistake”. The 1619 dishonesty is pure slander. Of course it would fabricate its way to respectability. And win a Pulitzer in the process.
      But most states are going to ban it come next November. The public are sick and fed up with this. Even among African Americans 49% oppose the teaching of CRT.

      1. What you are HL is an extremist. I am sure that Historian and certainly I do not need a history lesson from you. You are very fast to push slavery completely out of the cause when it was always around if not always in the conversation. Yes many of the northern states begin to eliminate slavery but primarily after the independence was achieved. But the facts are we had a terrible war to fight because of slavery and no one can sweep that under the rug.

        1. Oh, OK. Now I am an “extremist”.
          Got it. But while I am sure you do not need history lessons from me, I would very much appreciate substance rather than ad hominem. And you didn’t tell me, WHO exactly among New England patriots had slaves? The Adamses? Ethan Allen? Who? I am “very fast” to conclude New Englanders did not have slavery on their mind? It would actually stick better if you claimed they had witchcraft on their mind!
          And if you think we need to discuss the civil war (I assume that is what you mean by “terriblewar becauseof slavery”, rather than the revolutionary war, here, maybe you want to bring up the Barbary Wars as well?

        2. I do need to mention though, that the pro-1619 camp smells of humor just as much as it does of hypocrisy.
          “Yes many of the northern states begin to eliminate slavery but primarily after the independence was achieved.”
          So they fought the most atrocious war they had ever seen (1% of the entire population died in the revolutionary war). To protect slavery.
          Once they achieved their goal, they went right ahead and abolished it anyways.
          Is that what you are saying?

    2. Well said. I hate to see the extreme examples used to push history in either direction. This is what we get in this modern tribal world. Just look at the second amendment and what a mess it has become. It makes me sick. Before they departed Philly back in 1787 they voted against a bill of rights. I think the argument from Madison at that time was it was not necessary and what about the stuff they might leave out. The funny thing is, he also thought the product they had creating was lacking in at least two important things that were badly needed – equal representation in both houses of congress and federal veto over the states. He later changed his mind of course but that does not mean he wasn’t right the first time.

    3. The reviewers, Lozada and Hochschild, as far as I can tell, have no expertise in the areas of American slavery or race. They are merely regurgitating the viewpoints of others that they tend to agree with.

      Lozada complains about the movement’s shiftiness. I don’t think one needs to be a historian to see that or criticize it. Is it one way to look at history, or the way?

      there are many that are not satisfied with the Project’s backtracking from its original claim that the protection of slavery was the main cause of the revolution. They will not be content until slavery is removed entirely as a cause. Indeed, they will only rest easy until the traditional interpretation is restored

      I think this is a complete straw man and you are again ignoring the shiftiness. I have no problem with (the continuation of) slavery being considered a cause of the revolutionary war. I suspect most people don’t. The problem is that the 1619’s walkback of their more contentious claim of it being the cause sounds quite insincere. The Virginia claim is a good example of this sort of double speak; okay so maybe H-J agreed in a past response that slavery wasn’t the primary driver, but here she is again, making an argument that it was the primary driver in Virginia and that Virginia was the key place that mattered. Which sounds an awful lot like saying slavery was the primary driver.

      the brouhaha over the 1619 Project’s interpretation of the cause of the Revolution is between those ardent supporters who argue that there was nothing good or noble about it and its ardent critics who say that it was nothing but good or noble. The motives were in-between.

      I think you’re seeing it through your own rose-tinted glasses. Yes, saying there were lots of motives and that slavery and monied self-interest were part of that is a good thing. But you’re extracting that message from the 1619 writing because that’s the message you want to extract, and you’re ignoring the parts of it that go beyond history to polemic.

      My kid probably knows more about the slave trade than I ever learned. I get that the 1619 project strives to be a corrective, but it seems to be correcting the history taught in the ’60s or maybe in Texas. It’s worthwhile asking if the early US history being taught in most of the country needs such a corrective.

  7. I’ve actually been looking at the Founding more, spurred by the 1619 Project. That just goes to show the value of the free-marketplace of ideas. Thus far, the only evidence I have found relating to slavery and Independence is Dunmore’s proclamation. As the colonies moved towards independence, several of them made note of this along with the Crown’s use of Indians and foreign mercenaries. They did not cite it as an attempt to abolish slavery, and, indeed, Dunmore only promised freedom to slaves who took up arms on behalf of the Crown. I have not found any other evidence that the Crown planned to free the slaves, or that the Colonists thought it was going to. As a test case, one can look at the Caribbean colonies, which were far more dependent on slaves than the North American colonies. Had there been a threat to slavery, one could have expected that there would be trouble there as well, which there was not. (Indeed, it was not until the sugar islands declined in relative importance that Britain actually did free slaves in their colonies.) Nor did the Colonies cite it as a cause for separation, either in the national Declaration of Independence or local ones (see Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence).

    As for the 1619 Project, in general, countries are complex. There are many elements that make up a country’s History, and one could look at any of them (in the case of the US, for example, free enterprise, religious freedom, women’s rights, immigration, bee keeping), choose a date of beginning, and say that that is the moment the “true” history of American began. As is known to every schoolboy, the most enduring and meaningful element, the KEY element in American History, is Freedom of Religion (one might say). That is more like a polemic that it is like History. The complete History of the US would be all these things and more, and the importance of one to a particular group doesn’t mean that that is the one that defines American. (It may define their America, but that’s a personal issue.) As far as I can tell, the goal of the 1619 Project is to inject a particular interpretation of History into school curricula as the only correct way to interpret America, and the goal of its authors is to discredit America as a nation and a concept. I find that objectionable. Should there be more about slavery in schools? Probably. Should there be more about History in general in schools? Almost certainly. I think the lack of the latter is part of the problem with the former. Is it silly to be talking about this when kids can’t read or do math? Yes.

  8. I find it absolutely shocking-to myself-that as an immigrant from the middle east (and an atheist at that) I am now on the side of the conservatives. When where conservatives friendly to someone like me?
    What we are looking at these days is beyond insane. A once wonderful New York City that is canceling Thomas Jefferson, abolishing its Gifted and Talented programs, and ending school zoning that once guaranteed middle schoolers could find a high school near where they lived. A UC system dropping exam scores from its admission process. Statues of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt being vandalized in Portland because mad protesters can’t get even with Christopher Columbus.
    And the list goes on and on. Above all a 29% public confidence in the media, which the public correctly recognizes, are the ones responsible for this madness.
    As we drown deeper in this national self flagellation, we are only becoming the laughing stock of countries like China and India which, unlike us, try to foster their best talents, rather than attributing their existence to “racism”.
    It is not with pleasure that I anticipate the coming red wave, but I don’t disapprove of it, either. If that is what it takes to infuse us with some badly needed collective sanity, then so be it.

    1. If you are expecting sanity from the coming red wave you are going to be very disappointed. It will just be a different kind of crazy/stupid.

      1. Yes, crazy/stupid and infused with a good smattering of violence. Plus, HL is a self-described immigrant from the middle east; if he/she thinks the right will somehow restore sanity to his/her life, I have a bridge to sell…

  9. On the matter of reparations, three thoughts occur to me.
    (1) I believe that historians agree that the overwhelming majority of African slaves transported across the Atlantic were bought by the slave traders from their African owners—the ruling classes of states such as Dahomey, Bono, Khasso, etc., which grew rich on the slave trade. Should not the successor states in West Africa be assessed for reparations to the American descendants of the slaves they sold?
    (2)) Within Europe, cases exist where a reparations argument could be made analogous to the Hannah-Jones/Kendi line. Should not Germany and Denmark pay reparations to the descendants of the Baltic tribes converted to Christianity with appalling violence in the Livonian Crusades? Should France not owe reparations to England for the lamentable outcome of 1066?
    (3) The “white privilege” argument is that those who benefit from a historical process (even if their particular ancestors were not involved in it) incur a debt to those who suffered from it and to the descendants of those victims. Then, if inhabitants of Africa and Asia benefit from railroads, should they not pay reparations to the poor of Britain, where railroads were invented and first built? The same general argument could be applied to other technological exports of European civilization to the rest of the world, such as the the stern-mounted rudder, eyeglasses, the mechanical clock, bicycles, electricity, virtually all of modern medicine, and newspapers like the New York Times.

  10. If the 1619 Project did not challenge long-held and still current beliefs regarding the role of slavery and race in American history, the response to its publication would have been a big yawn. Instead, it incited a furor over a topic in American history that a significant portion of the population would rather downplay or forget. This group would have us believe that due to a miracle (perhaps under God’s direction), a group of the most noble men ever to trod upon the planet, only motivated by high-minded principles – personal interests be damned, led the country to a glorious victory, topped off by the God-blessed Constitution. Those people that reject this view are bordering on treason.
    The 1619 Project should not be taught in schools because it presents a tilted, but not totally false view of American history. I hope that it compels school districts that still teach the fairy tale version of American history to reconsider how American history is taught with a renewed emphasis that it cannot be understood without an emphasis on the role of slavery and race from 1619 to the present. To do this, many Americans will have to have their delusions shattered.

    It is interesting that those who deny the role of slavery in the coming of the Revolution rarely talk about what were the real causes. In brief, here is my take. In contrast to other major revolutions, the American Revolution was reactionary in nature. The colonial elites didn’t want things to change; it was the British did. Prior to the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the elites were pretty much in charge what went on in their colonies. London left them alone. After the war, London decided it needed to impose its will on the colonies in areas of trade, taxes, and western expansion. The elites could not abide this diminution in their power. Tensions escalated between the colonies and London, and after about a decade, the colonists decided to declare independence. For the southern slaveholding colonies, the threat of slave insurrection was never far from their minds. This why the Declaration of Independence says this of King George III: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us..” The many tracts on sovereignty and government that the colonists issued were propaganda of the highest order.

    So, the colonists revolted for many reasons. There wasn’t unanimity. Yes, many slaveholders hoped that slavery would disappear someday. But, really, who could tell when? Jefferson said this repeatedly. But, the thing was, just not that day.

    1. We learn that the British impediment to western expansion over the Alleghenies into the rich farmland of the Ohio Valley, vacated by France after the Seven Years War (French & Indian War) was a major precipitant of independence. Colonial troops had fought alongside British Army regulars and Native allies. They chafed at the King’s 1763 Royal Proclamation that put the interests of the Natives (and his own) ahead of theirs. The formalization of this in the Quebec Act of 1774 was one of the “intolerable Acts” that led to revolt. The colonists were upset also that a Parliament that suppressed Catholicism everywhere else in the Empire preserved the “viper of Popery” in what would become the Province of Quebec. There was also resentment at the King’s presumption to tax them for the cost of the War and to protect the now French-less frontier from Native raids.

      (The Royal Proclamation and the “Honour of the Crown” governed our own westward expansion. It and the preservation of French culture and institutions in Quebec are part of our constitutional law to this day. Independence freed the new United States of both these encumbrances.

      This could be all balderdash flowing from the Canadian propensity to teach about world history in the context of its largely incidental Canadian connections. But I like the land idea. When you look at a map of New France in 1763 with that large “empty” Native reserve taking up most of the arable land east of the Mississippi but off-limits, who wouldn’t lust after it?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_France#/media/File:NorthAmerica1762-83.png

      I will say the American Revolution worked out better for more people than any other revolution I can think of. Maybe reactionary is a good thing.

    2. Fun fact: there had been plenty of violence among patriots and loyalists before the Declaration. And the patriots (rightly or wrongly) blamed that on the Crown. Also, the Declaration was supposed about something ALL colonists had in common, not just the southerners. Hence, ““He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us..” wouldn’t be about slave revolts or at least entirely about slave revolts.
      Now, granted, the 1619 Slander has created more than a yawn. But about the direction it will push education (in the long run and outside deep blue major cities), the answer is one word: Virginia.
      (And with that, off I go, before I get my wrists slapped.)

  11. The Republic of Vermont was founded in 1777, declaring its independence from the British colonial provinces of New York, New Hampshire, and Quebec. The constitution declaring independence forbade slavery within the Republic’s borders. Its signers from 28 Vermont towns would have been puzzled by the notions that they were acting to defend slavery, and that they were really in some mysterious way actually Virginians. Vermont was not among the original 13 states of the US, joining only in 1791.

  12. Does anyone know of any other country, especially one that was among the leaders of abolition, whose founding is attributed to the arrival/instantiation of slavery?

    Want to share this essay by Princeton historian emerita Nell Irvin Painter. And a question about it: Should “1619 Project” recognized that what it calls “slaves” are disputed to be in fact indentured servants….a class, that included white people?

    And, if both Black and Whites shared the same identity as indentured, Doesn’t that throw a question mark on the critical antipode on which “1619” bases the distinction between black and white?

    Excerpt:

    “People were not enslaved in Virginia in 1619, they were indentured. The 20 or so Africans were sold and bought as “servants” for a term of years, and they joined a population consisting largely of European indentured servants, mainly poor people from the British Isles whom the Virginia Company of London had transported and sold into servitude.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/14/slavery-in-america-1619-first-ships-jamestown

  13. Several commenters, much more knowledgeable about the history of the US, have already pointed out that slavery was not the motivation for 1776 or 1787.
    To an informed layman that was already obvious, since the British only forbade the slave trade in 1801, and slavery itself only in 1833 . Maintaining slavery cannot have been a strong motive.
    I was stunned to learn the size of the compensation the British paid to the former slave owners, and that those payments were only fully redeemed in 2015.

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