Sunday, May 24, 2020

1619 and The Collapse of the Fourth Estate — 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


The 1619 Project has led to Peter Wood writing a Minding the Campus article entitled The Collapse of the Fourth Estate (thanks to Gail Heriot). He is also preparing a book about the 1619 Project (titled 1620, due out in November) "to which end I collected and analyzed several hundred essays by historians and others who called out the Times for countless errors, large and small, in the Project."
The Pulitzer Committee has awarded Nikole Hannah-Jones a prize for her lead essay in The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project.” The news doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. It was widely rumored that Hannah-Jones was under consideration, which raised the tantalizing question of how the Pulitzer Committee might find its way the past the evident obstacles. Those include her cavalier disregard of historical facts, her preposterous assertions conjured out of thin air, and her refusal to correct mistakes pointed out by dozens of reputable historians, some of whom have well-earned Pulitzer Prizes of their own.

Hannah-Jones’ essay eccentrically titled, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” is mainly remarkable in how much she manages to be wrong in a mere 7,700 or so words. She is wrong about Virginia being the first place that African slaves were brought to America, and wrong too about the status of the slaves whom a group of pirates brought to Virginia in 1619, many of whom gained their freedom. She is wrong that slavery was the founding institution of America and wrong about its importance in key events, including the American Revolution and the Civil War. Her mistakes about the American Revolution included the absurdity that the colonial Americans launched the Revolution to protect their right to hold slaves.

On this single point, The New York Times felt compelled to make a half-hearted correction to the effect that only some of the colonists harbored this motive. To date, no one has been able to identify a single Revolutionary leader, soldier, or supporter of the Revolution who held such a view. Even ardent supporters of slavery in the 1770s knew better because the British government at the time was stalwart in supporting slavery in the colonies. The meaningful opposition to slavery was among the revolutionary colonists, not the British. And this is no obscure historical fact. Historians working with primary sources have documented the slavery politics of the Revolutionary period in detail.

How could Hannah-Jones have gotten the facts so spectacularly wrong? There is no answer that reflects well on her. Did she know the facts and chose to suppress them to enhance the fable she was composing? Did she disregard the facts because she believed that the history as recorded was a tissue of falsehoods and that she alone had been vouchsafed a vision of what really happened? (Or she and a handful of zealous believers in Afro-centric conspiracy theories.) Or was she simply ignorant of the facts, having paid little or no attention to both the documentary record and the syntheses of historians who have spent their careers examining that record? Our choices seem to be liar, lunatic, or hustler. I don’t know Hannah-Jones and can offer no judgment, but I am hard-pressed to imagine a fourth, more honorable alternative.

 … By her own account, Hannah-Jones relied heavily on writings by a radical writer named Lerone Bennett Jr. (1928-2018). Bennett made up lots of pseudo-historical stories that seldom warrant more than a glance by serious historians, but Hannah-Jones seems never to have seen the need to question him. And personal also means self-indulgent or even solipsistic. The writer who specializes in the personal believes her own “truth” to the point of shrugging off all responsibility for ordinary accuracy.

The Pulitzer Committee, choosing its words carefully, managed to sound magnanimous in its praise but avoided any language that would commit to the claim that “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false,” is good writing, good journalism, or good history—let alone an essay that approaches excellence.

The best that the Pulitzer Committee can say is that the essay was part of “the ground-breaking 1619 Project.” Entirely true. That doesn’t say Hannah-Jones’ essay was itself “ground-breaking,” but it is meant to imply something like that. If by ground-breaking, we mean a dramatic break from the usual, both her essay and the whole 1619 Project warrant the adjective. 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. Breaking ground isn’t always a good thing. Every crank, peddler of tall tales, and herald of false tidings is a ground-breaker too.

 … But the Pulitzer Committee’s bland phrasing that the Project puts slavery at the “center of the American story,” disguises what the 1619 Project really does: it attempts to invalidate and discredit the whole of American history apart from slavery, as—to borrow Hannah-Jones’ phrase—false from the beginning. This is a warrant with some very odd consequences, including the erasure of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., the jettisoning of the ideals of the American Revolution, and the depiction of Lincoln as a racist who wanted nothing more than to exile American blacks.

The citation ends by declaring the beautiful outcome of Hannah-Jones’ labors, “prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.” If “conversation” includes letters to The New York Times from prominent historians strongly urging the paper to correct fundamental mistakes, yes, indeed, a conversation has opened. I have written a book about the 1619 Project (titled 1620, due out in November) to which end I collected and analyzed several hundred essays by historians and others who called out the Times for countless errors, large and small, in the Project. The other side of the “conversation” consists of Hannah-Jones quickly disappearing Tweets in which she venomously attacks her critics. (The Tweets, of course, are sweeping and personal.) The other side of the “conversation also includes the Times’ editorial replies to critics expressing its Olympian disdain for their views.)

The Pulitzer Committee no doubt had good reasons for giving Hannah-Jones this award, but I doubt they are the reasons expressed in the citation. The citation is no more than artful camouflage. The 1619 Project is a power play in which, at great expense in both money and reputation, The New York Times has attempted to intensify racial resentment and accelerate identity politics. The timing and the circumstances suggest the Times considered this a good move in rallying black opposition to President Trump, but it was also a move by the editors to appease its own increasingly belligerent faction of minority staff. These practical motives combine with the fundamental hostility to America of the Times and its core readership. Hannah-Jones has emerged as the public face of this “project,” and the Pulitzer Committee in granting the award to her is demonstrating its tribal loyalty to progressivism.
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

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