Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sean Wilentz on 1619: the movement in London to abolish the slave trade formed only in 1787, largely inspired by… American (!) antislavery opinion that had arisen in the 1760s and ’70s


One of five historians who sent a letter to the New York Times requesting that the paper address factual errors in the 1619 project (Jake Silverstein published the letter along with a lengthy response denying that any corrections were necessary), reports Hot Air's John Sexton, (thanks to Glenn Reynolds), Princeton’s Sean Wilentz is the author of “No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding.” Furthermore, he is a leftist who has written a letter calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Princeton’s Sean Wilentz … has written a piece for the Atlantic in which he addresses three false claims in the 1619 Project in more detail. He begins with the claim by lead-author Nikole Hannah-Jones that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Not so, says Wilentz. In fact, he argues convincingly that British efforts to stop the international slave were inspired by prior colonial efforts:
The American Revolution of the 1770s
“By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere,” Hannah-Jones wrote. But apart from the activity of the pioneering abolitionist Granville Sharp, Britain was hardly conflicted at all in 1776 over its involvement in the slave system. Sharp played a key role in securing the 1772 Somerset v. Stewart ruling, which declared that chattel slavery was not recognized in English common law. That ruling did little, however, to reverse Britain’s devotion to human bondage, which lay almost entirely in its colonial slavery and its heavy involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. Nor did it generate a movement inside Britain in opposition to either slavery or the slave trade. As the historian Christopher Leslie Brown writes in his authoritative study of British abolitionism, Moral Capital, Sharp “worked tirelessly against the institution of slavery everywhere within the British Empire after 1772, but for many years in England he would stand nearly alone.” What Hannah-Jones described as a perceptible British threat to American slavery in 1776 in fact did not exist.
“In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade,” Hannah-Jones continued. But the movement in London to abolish the slave trade formed only in 1787, largely inspired, as Brown demonstrates in great detail, by […] American [!] antislavery opinion that had arisen in the 1760s and ’70s. There were no “growing calls” in London to abolish the trade as early as 1776.
“This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South,” Hannah-Jones wrote. But the colonists had themselves taken decisive steps to end the Atlantic slave trade from 1769 to 1774. During that time, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island either outlawed the trade or imposed prohibitive duties on it. Measures to abolish the trade also won approval in Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, and Virginia, but were denied by royal officials. The colonials’ motives were not always humanitarian: Virginia, for example, had more enslaved black people than it needed to sustain its economy and saw the further importation of Africans as a threat to social order. But the Americans who attempted to end the trade did not believe that they were committing economic suicide.
Assertions that a primary reason the Revolution was fought was to protect slavery are as inaccurate as the assertions, still current, that southern secession and the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
 … In addition to the Somerset ruling, [the New York Times Magazine editor in chief, Jake Silverstein] referred to a proclamation from 1775 by John Murray, the fourth earl of Dunmore and royal governor of Virginia, as further evidence that fears about British antislavery sentiment pushed the slaveholders to support independence. Unfortunately, his reference was inaccurate: Dunmore’s proclamation pointedly did not offer freedom “to any enslaved person who fled his plantation,” as Silverstein claimed. In declaring martial law in Virginia, the proclamation offered freedom only to those held by rebel slaveholders. Tory slaveholders could keep their enslaved people. This was a cold and calculated political move. The proclamation, far from fomenting an American rebellion, presumed a rebellion had already begun. Dunmore, himself an unapologetic slaveholder—he would end his career as the royal governor of the Bahamas, overseeing an attempt to establish a cotton slavery regime on the islands—aimed to alarm and disrupt the patriots, free their human property to bolster his army, and incite fears of a wider uprising by enslaved people. His proclamation was intended as an act of war, not a blow against the institution of slavery, and everyone understood it as such.

Dunmore’s proclamation (unlike the Somerset decision three years earlier) certainly touched off an intense panic among Virginia slaveholders, Tory and patriot alike, who were horror-struck that it might spark a general insurrection  …  The spectacle likely stiffened the resolve for independence among the rebel patriots whom Dunmore singled out, but they were already rebels. The proclamation may conceivably have persuaded some Tory slaveholders to switch sides, or some who remained on the fence. It would have done so, however, because Dunmore, exploiting the Achilles’ heel of any slaveholding society, posed a direct and immediate threat to lives and property (which included, under Virginia law, enslaved persons), not because he affirmed slaveholders’ fears of “growing antislavery sentiment in Britain.” The offer of freedom in a single colony to persons enslaved by men who had already joined the patriots’ ranks—after a decade of mounting sentiment for independence, and after the American rebellion had commenced—cannot be held up as evidence that the slaveholder colonists wanted to separate from Britain to protect the institution of slavery.
Lincoln and the Civil War
 … Only the Civil War surpasses the Revolution in its importance to American history with respect to slavery and racism. Yet here again, particularly with regard to the ideas and actions of Abraham Lincoln, Hannah-Jones’s argument is built on partial truths and misstatements of the facts, which combine to impart a fundamentally misleading impression.

 … Like the majority of white Americans of his time, including many radical abolitionists, Lincoln harbored the belief that white people were socially superior to black people. He insisted, however, that “in the right to eat the bread without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, [the Negro] is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man.” To state flatly, as Hannah-Jones’s essay does, that Lincoln “opposed black equality” is to deny the very basis of his opposition to slavery.

Nor was Lincoln, who had close relations with the free black people of Springfield, Illinois, and represented a number of them as clients, known to treat black people as inferior.  …  Far from agreeing with Taney and others that American democracy was intended to be for white people only, Lincoln rejected the claim, citing simple and unimpeachable facts.

As president, moreover, Lincoln acted on his beliefs, taking enormous political and, as it turned out, personal risks. 
Reconstruction
 … Moving beyond the Civil War, the essay briefly examined the history of Reconstruction, the long and bleak period of Jim Crow, and the resistance that led to the rise of the modern civil-rights movement. “For the most part,” Hannah-Jones wrote, “black Americans fought back alone.”

This is the third claim that my colleagues and I criticized, and although it covers the longest period of the three, it can be dealt with most directly. Before, during, and after the Civil War, some white people were always an integral part of the fight for racial equality. From lethal assaults on white southern “scalawags” for opposing white supremacy during Reconstruction through resistance to segregation led by the biracial NAACP through the murders of civil-rights workers, white and black, during the Freedom Summer, in 1964, and in Selma, Alabama, a year later, liberal and radical white people have stood up for racial equality. A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the modern civil-rights movement, stated in his speech at the March on Washington, in 1963,
“This civil-rights revolution is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights, for our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not.”
 … The specific criticisms of the 1619 Project that my colleagues and I raised in our letter, and the dispute that has ensued, are not about historical trajectories or the intractability of racism or anything other than the facts—the errors contained in the 1619 Project as well as, now, the errors in Silverstein’s response to our letter. We wholeheartedly support the stated goal to educate widely on slavery and its long-term consequences. Our letter attempted to advance that goal, one that, no matter how the history is interpreted and related, cannot be forwarded through falsehoods, distortions, and significant omissions.

… it is so important that lapses such as those pointed out in our letter receive attention and timely correction. When describing history, more is at stake than the past.
As Stephen Green points out, earlier in 2019 (in April, four months or so before the infamous 1619 project), Sean Wilentz wrote an op-ed for the very New York Times, saying that no, The Electoral College Was Not a Pro-Slavery Ploy:
Like many historians, I thought the evidence clearly showed the Electoral College arose from a calculated power play by the slaveholders. By the time the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated how the president ought to be chosen, they had already approved the three-fifths clause — the notorious provision that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to inflate the slave states’ apportionment in the new House of Representatives.

The Electoral College, as approved by the convention in its final form, in effect enshrined the three-fifths clause in the selection of the president. Instead of election by direct popular vote, each state would name electors (chosen however each state legislature approved), who would actually do the electing. The number of each state’s electoral votes would be the same as its combined representation in the House and the Senate.

By including the number of senators, two from each state, the formula leaned to making the apportionment fairer to the smaller states. Including the number of House members leaned in favor of the larger states. But the framers gave the slaveholding states the greatest reward: The more slaves they owned, the more representatives they got, and the more votes each would enjoy in choosing the president.

 … If you stop at this point in the record, as I once did, there would be no two ways about it. On further and closer inspection, however, the case against the framers begins to unravel.  …  the myth that the Electoral College began as a slaveholders’ instrument needs debunking — which I hope to help with in my book’s revised paperback.
RELATED: 1619, Mao, & 9-11: History According to the NYT — Plus, a Remarkable Issue of National Geographic Reveals the Leftists' "Blame America First" Approach to History

• Wilfred Reilly on 1619: quite a few contemporary Black problems have very little to do with slavery

• "Out of the Revolution came an anti-slavery ethos, which never disappeared": Pulitzer Prize Winner James McPherson Confirms that No Mainstream Historian Was Contacted by the NYT for Its 1619 History Project

• Gordon Wood: "The Revolution unleashed antislavery sentiments that led to the first abolition movements in the history of the world" — another Pulitzer-Winning Historian Had No Warning about the NYT's 1619 Project

• A Black Political Scientist "didn’t know about the 1619 Project until it came out"; "These people are kind of just making it up as they go"

• Clayborne Carson: Another Black Historian Kept in the Dark About 1619

• If historians did not hear of the NYT's history (sic) plan, chances are great that the 1619 Project was being deliberately kept a tight secret

• Oxford Historian Richard Carwardine: 1619 is “a preposterous and one-dimensional reading of the American past”

• World Socialists: "the 1619 Project is a politically motivated falsification of history" by the New York Times, aka "the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party"

• Dan Gainor on 1619 and rewriting history: "To the Left elite like the NY Times, there’s no narrative they want to destroy more than American exceptionalism"

• Utterly preposterous claims: The 1619 project is a cynical political ploy, aimed at piercing the heart of the American understanding of justice

• One of the Main Sources for the NYT's 1619 Project Is a Career Communist Propagandist who Defends Stalinism

• A Pulitzer Prize?! Among the 1619 Defenders Is "a Fringe Academic" with "a Fetish for Authoritarian Terror" and "a Soft Spot" for Mugabe, Castro, and Even Stalin

• Allen C Guelzo: The New York Times offers bitterness, fragility, and intellectual corruption—The 1619 Project is not history; it is conspiracy theory

• The 1619 Project is an exercise in religious indoctrination: Ignoring, downplaying, or rewriting the history of 1861 to 1865, the Left and the NYT must minimize, downplay, or ignore the deaths of 620,000 Americans

Fake But Accurate: The People Behind the NYT's 1619 Project Make a "Small" Clarification, But Only Begrudgingly and Half-Heartedly, Because Said Mistake Actually Undermines The 1619 Project's Entire Premise

• 1619 and The Collapse of the Fourth Estate by Peter Wood: No one has been able to identify a single leader, soldier, or supporter of the Revolution who wanted to protect his right to hold slaves (A declaration that slavery is the founding institution of America and the center of everything important in our history is a ground-breaking claim, of the same type as claims that America condones rape culture, that 9/11 was an inside job, that vaccinations cause autism, that the Moon landing was a hoax, or that ancient astronauts built the pyramids)

• Mary Beth Norton:  In 1774, a year before Dunmore's proclamation, Americans had already in fact become independent

• Most of the founders, including Thomas Jefferson, opposed slavery’s continued existence, writes Rick Atkinson, despite the fact that many of them owned slaves

• Leslie Harris: Far from being fought to preserve slavery, the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American Colonies (even the NYT's fact-checker on the 1619 Project disagrees with its "conclusions": "It took 60 more years for the British government to finally end slavery in its Caribbean colonies")

• Sean Wilentz on 1619: the movement in London to abolish the slave trade formed only in 1787, largely inspired by… American (!) antislavery opinion that had arisen in the 1760s and 1770s

• 1619 & Slavery's Fatal Lie: it is more accurate to say that what makes America unique isn't slavery but the effort to abolish it

• 1619 & 1772: Most of the founders, including Jefferson, opposed slavery’s continued existence, despite many of them owning slaves; And Britain would remain the world's foremost slave-trading nation into the nineteenth century

• Wilfred Reilly on 1619: Slavery was legal in Britain in 1776, and it remained so in all overseas British colonies until 1833

• James Oakes on 1619: "Slavery made the slaveholders rich; But it made the South poor; And it didn’t make the North rich — So the legacy of slavery is poverty, not wealth"

• 1619: No wonder this place is crawling with young socialists and America-haters — the utter failure of the U.S. educational system to teach the history of America’s founding

• 1619: Invariably Taking the Progressive Side — The Ratio of Democratic to Republican Voter Registration in History Departments is More than 33 to 1

• Denying the grandeur of the nation’s founding—Wilfred McClay on 1619: "Most of my students are shocked to learn that that slavery is not uniquely American"

• "Distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods": Where does the 1619 project state that Africans themselves were central players in the slave trade? That's right: Nowhere

• John Podhoretz on 1619: the idea of reducing US history to the fact that some people owned slaves is a reductio ad absurdum and the definition of bad faith

• The 1619 Africans in Virginia were not ‘enslaved’, a black historian points out; they were indentured servants — just like the majority of European whites were

"Two thirds of the people, white as well as black, who crossed the Atlantic in the first 200 years are indentured servants" notes Dolores Janiewski; "The poor people, black and white, share common interests"

Wondering Why Slavery Persisted for Almost 75 Years After the Founding of the USA? According to Lincoln, the Democrat Party's "Principled" Opposition to "Hate Speech"

• Victoria Bynum on 1619 and a NYT writer's "ignorance of history": "As dehumanizing and brutal as slavery was, the institution was not a giant concentration camp"

• The Confederate Flag: Another Brick in the Leftwing Activists' (Self-Serving) Demonization of America and Rewriting of History

Who, Exactly, Is It Who Should Apologize for Slavery and Make Reparations? America? The South? The Descendants of the Planters? …
 
• Anti-Americanism in the Age of the Coronavirus, the NBA, and 1619

No comments: