The United States of America began in 1776, not 1619declares Wilfred Reilly in Quillette with regards to the 1619 Project, which has now won a Pulitzer Prize (showing exactly, if it is still necessary, how much — or, rather, how little — that prize is worth).
That one sentence is the thesis statement of “1776”—a non-partisan black-led response to the New York Times’s “1619 Project” initiative, which launched last week at D.C.’s National Press Club. I am pleased and proud to be a part of 1776, along with founder Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Coleman Hughes, Jason Hill, Carol Swain, John Wood, Taleeb Starkes, Robert Cherry, and many others. From my perspective as a member, 1776 has three core goals: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
(1) rebutting some outright historical inaccuracies in the 1619 Project;
(2) discussing tragedies like slavery and segregation honestly while clarifying that these were not the most important historical foundations of the United States; and
(3) presenting an alternative inspirational view of the lessons of our nation’s history to Americans of all races.
… I will note that my recent book Taboo: Ten Facts You Can’t Talk About makes this same point at some length, pointing out that quite a few contemporary Black problems have very little to do with slavery. For example, the Black rate of “illegitimate” out-of-wedlock childbirths was 11 percent in 1938, barely 70 years after slavery ended, but today hovers around 74 percent—and the illegitimacy rate today is approximately 35 percent for American whites. The welfare policies of the 1960s frankly have been a greater cause of this multi-colored social issue than racialized oppression 150 years ago.
The same could be said of a dozen other issues, from opioid and cocaine abuse to high rates of local incarceration, which seem to bedevil our poor white countrymen roughly as much as blacks, while having little effect on West Indian immigrants who are also almost entirely descended from slaves.
A third—at the very least—strategic omission that is consistent throughout almost all the 1619 Project essays is a focus on American slavery in isolation, to the frequent exclusion of both
(1) narratives about the successful American anti-slavery movement and
(2) narratives about the far harsher slave trades conducted around the globe for most of history.
As yet another internationally famous professor, Princeton University’s James McPherson, has pointed out, slavery in the U.S. was not unique, but rather “only a small part of a larger world process that unfolded over many centuries.” In all likelihood, human beings have been capturing and trading slaves since the first Neolithic battle leaders progressed past simply killing and eating their war captives. Slavery was common in ancient Greece—where Aristotle famously described the unhappy life of a slave as being composed of “work,” “beatings,” and possibly “feedings”—universal in Republican and Imperial Rome, and (under the guise of “chattel serfdom”) not abolished in Russia until 1866.
If this even needs to be said, beautiful people of colour kept slaves as well. In fact, one of the world’s most significant slave trades, the Barbary Slave Trade, was focused almost entirely around the sale of white European slaves to Moorish and Black purchasers in North Africa. The Barbary Trade operated from the 16th century to the late 18th century, inspired a verse in the U.S. Marine Corps Hymn (“to the shores of Trip-o-li”), and even helped add the word “slave” to English-language dictionaries: The term comes from “Slav,” an ethnic descriptor for the residents of chaotic Eastern European states (today’s Bosnia, etc.) who were frequently sold into slavery to masters of all shades. While some desire on the part of 1619 participants to focus on the evils of our own society is understandable, it is hardly honest to attribute the unique characteristics of American society to slavery, when essentially all societies had slavery historically and only one became the USA. As the 1776 bossman Bob Woodson has noted, lies and omissions are not effective tools with which to fight racism.
All that said, it is not enough merely to critique an opponent’s worldview: A successful movement must provide a worldview of its own. Three core elements of my view of slavery—and, I think it is fair to say, 1776’s as well—are:
(1) recognizing that an anti-slavery movement led by white and Black people of goodwill existed in this country as long as slavery did, and won in the end;
(2) recognizing that slavery did not “build the USA,” but rather made the pre-bellum South into something of a backwater, due largely to the proud if subtle resistance of the slaves themselves; and
(3) recognizing that America paid a diverse butcher’s bill of hundreds of thousands of lives, during the Civil War, in order to FREE the slaves.
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. Finally, in 1865 all slavery was declared illegal, at the Constitutional level, in the United States. Since that last milestone, 154 years ago, it is worth noting that the population of the country has grown 874 percent (38,000,000 to 333,000,000) and our GDP has increased 11,796 percent ($15 billion to $18.638 trillion), with both increases driven largely by modern-era foreign immigration.
Even within the South, when slavery legally existed, there is little evidence that reliance on feudal serfdom made American slave states richer than their free counterparts. In fact, historian Mark Schulman points out that before the Civil War, “the vast majority of industrial manufacturing” and other competitive industrial work took place in the U.S. North. In 1860, the South had about 25 percent of the USA’s free population, but “only 10 percent of the country’s capital.” The same was true for physical plant: the North had five times as many modern factories, and at least 10 times as many trained factory workers. Overall, 90 percent or more of the nation’s skilled-trades workers were based in the North. In his magisterial Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Thomas Sowell goes a step beyond Schulman, arguing that the prevalence of slavery in the antebellum South actually led to a mocking attitude toward hard work that continues to plague both “white trash” and inner-city Black communities today.
Finally, any cost-benefit analysis of the impact of slavery on the USA would be incomplete without including the costs of freeing the slaves. In fiscal terms alone, the price tag for the Civil War was a high one. Between 1861 and 1865, the U.S. national debt surged from $65 million to $2.77 billion, an increase of many tens of billions in today’s dollars. And, even this pales in comparison to the great conflict’s human toll. According to History.com’s Jennie Cohen, the generally accepted figure for Union Army battle deaths during the Civil War is 360,222. The equivalent figure for Confederate deaths, which many historians consider a low-ball, is 258,000. All told, about one in 10 American men of military age in 1860 died as a direct result of the Civil War. Among Southern white men in their early 20s, 22.6 percent—nearly one in four—died during the war. It seems no exaggeration to estimate that more than one Union soldier died for every 10 slaves freed. If the USA owed a bill for slavery, we have, arguably, already paid it.
The vision of 1776 goes far beyond disagreement with the political Left about questions of historical slavery. When I talked to the project’s founder founder Bob Woodson on February 3rd, he described the broader vision behind 1619 as “just more of the same.” Sounding quite similar to Dr. Oakes, Bob pointed out that the thesis underlying many 1619 Project essays—and, arguably, most arguments on the identitarian Left—can be summed up as “You do not control your own life.” This claim might be dismissed as an exaggeration, but it is not: in what sense can one be said to have free will, if the true cause of (say) the individual decision to father a child out of wedlock was a lost race war back in 1856? Modern ideas of miasmatic racism make the radical argument seem stronger and more tempting: If the REAL reason young brothers struggle with the SAT is “the subtle institutional structural racism of the white gaze,” and not the fact that we study a bit less for the exam, then why ever bother to study more?
• 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