Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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


The New York Times wants to teach your kids and grandkids to be woke. Don’t let them.
In The American Spectator, Wilfred Reilly tells about watching the August 2019 launch of the New York Times’ “1619 Project” with "a mix of genuine scholarly interest, an occasional desire to critique, and mild amusement at some of the authors’ wilder claims" (thanks to Ed Driscoll). An Associate Professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University, Wilfred Reilly is proud to be one of the founding members (along with project leader Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Carol Swain, John Sibley Butler, Clarence Page, Coleman Hughes, Taleeb Starkes, LaTasha Fields, and more than two dozen others) of “1776.” 1776 is a pro-American, Black-led initiative intended partly as a response to 1619 (www.1776unites.com). He also sat recently for an interview (embedded below) with The Happy Warrior. Writing in Quillette (Sorry, New York Times, But America Began in 1776), Wilfred Reilly adds in the American Spectator that
I frankly expected to quickly forget the whole thing. … But, then, the 1619 Project refused to go away, muscling in on my turf of youth education and higher education. 1619 recently began working with the Pulitzer Center to market an educational curriculum — billed as suitable for “all grades” — to as many schools as possible.

 … Given the 1619 Project’s staying power and the extraordinary potential impact of an alliance between the New York Times, the Pulitzer Center, and leading leftist academics, it becomes essential to undertake a critical academic review of what 1619 actually says. Quite a few of the project’s claims flatly fail the truth test.

 … My own understanding, … has always been that the Intolerable Acts and other examples of taxation without representation, disputes over the colonies’ responsibility for British war debt, and actual armed conflicts like the Boston Massacre were the primary triggers for the American Revolution. This, in fact, appears to be the consensus view in the field. Regarding the facial plausibility of Hannah-Jones’ alternative argument, it is probably worth noting that slavery was legal in Britain in 1776, and it remained so in all overseas British colonies until 1833.

Another 1619 claim worth parsing is the assertion that “12.5 million Africans” were “kidnapped from their homes” during the Atlantic slave trade, which brought slavery to the United States. While not a direct lie, this figure appears to represent the total number of Black African slaves ever sold to anyone, anywhere, across the totality of time. As the essay containing this figure itself notes, a paragraph or so farther down the page, the total number of enslaved Africans sold into the future U.S. was perhaps 400,000. For all her flaws during this bloody era, our nation bears no blame for slaves sold to Spanish, Portuguese, Iroquois, or Arabic masters — a great many of whom would be considered “people of color” by the racial standards of today. And, while we are speaking frankly, it must further be said that virtually no African slaves were “kidnapped” in the traditional sense of that word made famous by Roots: trapped by whites who walked inland and threw nets over them, say. The vast majority of slaves sold were African battle captives and their families, brought to market by Black or Muslim masters such as Tippu Tipp and the Ashanti chiefs.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, as many leftists do, also claim that America’s remarkable wealth is largely a product of slavery. To quote directly: “[slavery] built vast fortunes for white people North and South” and “made New York City the financial capital of the world.” Much of this is again, politely put, debatable. While it is surely true that the slave trade enriched more than a few flint-hearted bankers and ship-owners, reliance on feudal peon agriculture also impoverished an entire region of the country. Social scientists such as Mark Schulman and Thomas Sowell have pointed out that, in 1860, the North had five to six times as many factories as the South and 10 to 12 times as many factory workers. In a conservative estimate from Schulman, 90 percent of the nation’s skilled workers were based in the North. In his magisterial Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Sowell goes so far as to argue that the Southern culture of unpaid slaves, “white trash” sharecroppers, and whip-wielding overseers resulted in a negative attitude toward the concept of hard work, the residue of which still plagues Black inner cities and poor white communities today.

Even such economic analyses as Sowell’s rarely factor in the cost of freeing the slaves. As I have noted elsewhere, the U.S. Civil War — the first truly modern war, in which brother fought brother — was an astonishingly costly and brutal undertaking. Analyzed simply in dollar terms, the conflict boosted the national debt of the young United States from $65 million to almost $3 billion (in 1865 dollars!) and cost far more money than that when state and private contributions are factored in. Far more important, the war claimed roughly 620,000 citizen lives, 360,000 from the Union Army, and 260,000 or more from the Confederate side. In the South, one of every four able-bodied men in their 20s was killed. Roughly one Union soldier died for every nine slaves freed. It is hard to stack this butcher’s bill up against virtually any measure of antebellum gains and conclude that the U.S. made a profit from her original sin.

Many more challenges to the scholarship of 1619 could be launched. The essays often lack any sense of internal domestic context, with Hannah-Jones arguing at one point that Blacks “made America a democracy,” while largely ignoring the contributions of the millions of whites and others who led the early anti-slavery movement and marched with Dr. King. The essays almost totally ignore international context, focusing intently on white English slave-masters 157 years before our country began, but never discussing the massive and globally influential Arab slave trade or the contemporary Barbary trade of mostly white Christian captives. By this point, however, and even without expanding upon those criticisms, it should be obvious that 1619 is not what advocates often claim it is: unbiased scholarship seeking an honest discussion of hard facts. The question now becomes: Why would the nation’s newspaper of record support a partisan, if skillfully written, project of racial advocacy?

To me, the answer is simple. Many Times journalists, and perhaps the majority of the paper’s readers, would like to fundamentally change America. To any ethical person, the implicit message of 1619 is fairly obvious: if our society is undeniably, perhaps inextricably, rooted in evil, it must change — or Blacks and others would be fully justified in hating our country. If the U.S. lacks a single-payer system of socialized health care not because only 31 percent of Americans favor “a single national government program” (Pew 2018) but rather because of the whip-marked legacy of slavery, establishing single-payer arguably becomes a moral imperative. Similarly, if our aggressive capitalism is due to slavery — although this claim is absurd; the most hyper-competitive economy in the world is Singapore’s — the country has no choice but to pursue racial justice by moving toward social democracy. Without engaging in conspiracy theories, I strongly suspect that the great majority of the staffers of the New York Times support these policy objectives and just might see the claim of historical original sin as a useful lever for achieving them.

In light of the methodological problems with the 1619 Project that have been discussed above, I propose an alternative vision of our country. I am proud to be a founding member, along with project leader Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Carol Swain, John Sibley Butler, Clarence Page, Coleman Hughes, Taleeb Starkes, LaTasha Fields, and more than two dozen others, of “1776.” 1776 is a pro-American, Black-led initiative intended partly as a response to 1619 (www.1776unites.com). From my perspective, our movement has three core theses.

First, intelligent citizens need to recognize that many of the core claims of 1619, and more broadly of negative and revisionist social science of the “Howard Zinn” variety, are empirically untrue.

Second, historical slavery, while a great and unforgettable evil, is simply not the main thing that defines America today. Virtually every human society included slaves and slaveholders until the modern West ended the practice of chattel slavery in the mid-19th century, and only one of them became the United States of America. A quick and practical way to compare the impact of slavery on America’s fortunes with that of immigration and technology is to note that the GDP of the U.S. has increased 11,796 percent since the last slave was freed.

Finally, and most importantly, 1776 offers an alternative, inspirational view of the United States: the U.S. is a flawed but very good society, where it is frankly not very hard to succeed, given hard work and personal responsibility. Life in America is not perfect, because human beings are not gods and are incapable of perfection. But the plain fact is that people regularly emigrate to the U.S. from developing countries such as Ethiopia and Vietnam and outperform many or most of our native-born white and Black citizens. In 2015, according to the Census Bureau, three of the five wealthiest income groups in the U.S. were Americans of Indian, Taiwanese, and Filipino heritage. While we Yanks quarrel about the ugly racial fights of a century ago, these sojourners to our shores are much more likely to be inspired by the country’s historic ideals, which still serve today as a light to the world. Teaching those same ideals anew to our own citizens seems to be the best way to illuminate a path forward together, for all of us.

Instead of taking the Times’ poison-pill offer to make your kids “woke,” I suggest instead working to make them bright.

In Quillette, Wilfred Reilly goes over some of the same material, adding that
A rock-ribbed anti-slavery movement dates back almost literally to the American founding. As early as the 1770s, Black New Englanders, thousands of whom were Revolutionary War veterans, began a petition-writing campaign that targeted Northern state legislatures and demanded an end to slavery. These petitions, essentially, worked. By the 1790s, 10 states and territories, containing more than 50 percent of the free population of the new nation—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, the North-West Territory, and the Indiana Territory—were free land by law. And the anti-slavery upswell continued. In 1794, Congress prohibited any participation by American ships in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1808, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves made any shipment of enslaved persons from abroad into the USA a crime.
Over at Real Clear Politics, Mark Hemingway notes the 1776 group in his description of the controversy:
Since the New York Times introduced its 1619 Project last summer, the paper has touched off a series of debates about the role of slavery in American history. Although the exchanges that followed haven’t revealed much about our nation’s past, they have told us a lot about state of modern U.S. journalism.

Named after the year that the first slave ship arrived in America, the 1619 Project aims to recontextualize slavery as the dominant factor in America’s founding, supplanting discussions more focused on American ideals such as freedom and natural rights. Obviously, not everyone is enamored of this approach -- there have been numerous critiques of the paper’s attempt to blame slavery for everything from America’s obesity epidemic to our lack of socialized medicine.

One interesting rebuttal is coming from the newly formed 1776 Project, which seeks to “uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery.” The group of predominantly black scholars and writers was organized by anti-poverty crusader and MacArthur “genius grant" winner Bob Woodson, and features thoughtful essays rebutting the 1619 Project from heavyweight intellectuals such as John McWhorter, Clarence Page, and Shelby Steele.

Earlier this week, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine staff writer and the driving force behind the 1619 project, took note of the rival effort. “I want to say this is my response to the 1776 project,” she tweeted, followed by a picture of her pointing at her bottom row of gold teeth with her pinky, a dismissive and deeply unserious hip-hop gesture. …

This is hardly the first time the 43-year-old Hannah-Jones has behaved immaturely in response to criticism. … it’s hard to top the fact that she calls herself “the Beyoncé of journalism.” It’s a ridiculous comparison …

 … as the 1776 Project shows, the opposition here can’t be said to be wholly the result of a racial divide, nor has it been driven by partisan worldviews, even though the 1619 Project obviously aims to further leftist political goals.

 … But the consequences of this debate are very real. The Times is partnering with the Pulitzer Center to produce classroom materials based on the 1619 Project. America’s kids may end up being forced to digest a version of events that America’s most respected historians say is riddled with errors and represents a “displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

Rather than being contrite or even responsive, the Times is embracing its flawed journalism in a big way.

  … The Times is all in on the 1619 Project despite the wide array of serious criticism. … In the end, the whole thing is a shame because the horrifying legacy of chattel slavery is still with us and the Times blew a prime opportunity by dispensing shoddy revisionist history on a topic that more Americans really should study.

Sometimes the events themselves tell you all you need to know. Earlier this month, the Navy Times reprinted the story of a fascinating and largely unknown Civil War episode. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s the short version: William Tillman, a free black man, was a steward on the Union schooner S.J. Waring, when Confederate privateers from the ship Jeff Davis boarded the Waring and took control on July 7, 1861. 

 … A lot of terrible things have been done in this country, but Tillman was a hero precisely because he believed that atrocities such as slavery were a perversion of American ideals, not their fulfillment. Unlike the “Beyonce of journalism” and the rest of the New York Times, Tillman was inspired by American ideals to make history -- he didn’t try and rewrite it. 


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

• "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

• Clayborne Carson: 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, "the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party"

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

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

• Leslie Harris on 1619: Far from being fought to preserve slavery, the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American 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 ’70s

• 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: 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"

Who, Exactly, Is It Who Should Apologize for Slavery and Make Reparations? America? The South? The Descendants of the Planters? …

 • 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

• 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"

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

• Anti-Americanism in the Age of the Coronavirus, the NBA, and 1619

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