The New York Times is like God, who, if Genesis reported Creation correctly, beheld His handiwork and decided “it was very good.” The Times is comparably pleased with itself concerning its creation, “The 1619 Project.”
The Times’s original splashy assertion – slightly fudged after the splash garnered a Pulitzer Prize – was that the American Revolution, the most important event in our history, was shameful because a primary reason it was fought was to preserve slavery. The war was supposedly ignited by a November 1775 British offer of freedom to Blacks who fled slavery and joined British forces. Well.
That offer came after increasingly volcanic American reactions to various British provocations: After the 1765 Stamp Act. After the 1770 Boston Massacre. After the 1773 Boston Tea Party. After the 1774 Coercive Acts (including closure of Boston’s port) and other events of “The Long Year of Revolution” (the subtitle of Mary Beth Norton’s “1774”). And after, in 1775, the April 19 battles of Lexington and Concord, the June 17 battle of Bunker Hill and George Washington on July 3 assuming command of the Continental Army.
Writing history is not like doing physics. But event A cannot have caused event B if B began before A.
Addressing the American Council of Trustees and Alumni last month, Gordon S. Wood, today’s foremost scholar of America’s Founding, dissected the 1619 Project’s contentions. When the Revolution erupted, Britain “was not threatening to abolish slavery in its empire,” which included lucrative, slavery-dependent sugar-producing colonies in the Caribbean. Wood added:
“If the Virginian slaveholders had been frightened of British abolitionism, why only eight years after the war ended would the board of visitors or the trustees of the College of William & Mary, wealthy slaveholders all, award an honorary degree to Granville Sharp, the leading British abolitionist at the time? Had they changed their minds so quickly? ... The New York Times has no accurate knowledge of Virginia’s Revolutionary culture and cannot begin to answer these questions.” The Times’s political agenda requires ignoring what Wood knows:
“It was the American colonists who were interested in abolitionism in 1776. ... Not only were the northern states the first slaveholding governments in the world to abolish slavery, but the United States became the first nation in the world to begin actively suppressing the despicable international slave trade. The New York Times has the history completely backwards.”
Wood’s doctoral dissertation adviser in 1960 to 1964 was Bernard Bailyn, the title of whose best-known book, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” conveys a refutation of the 1619 Project’s premise that the Revolution originated from base economic motives. When Bailyn died a year after the 1619 Project was launched, the Times’s obituary noted that he had challenged the “Progressive Era historians ... who saw the founders’ revolutionary rhetoric as a mask for economic interests.” Actually, the rhetoric gave momentum to ideas that were the Revolution.
The 1619 Project, which might already be embedded in school curricula near you, reinforces the racial monomania of those progressives who argue that the nation was founded on, and remains saturated by, “systemic racism.” This racial obsession is instrumental; it serves a radical agenda that sweeps beyond racial matters. It is the agenda of clearing away all impediments, intellectual and institutional, to — in progressivism’s vocabulary — the “transformation” of the nation. The United States will be built back better when it has been instructed to be ashamed of itself and is eager to discard its disreputable heritage.
The 1619 Project aims to erase (in Wood’s words) “the Revolution and the principles that it articulated – liberty, equality and the well-being of ordinary people.” These ideas are, as Wood says, the adhesives that bind our exceptional nation whose people have shared principles, not a shared ancestry.
The Times says “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional” flows from “slavery and the anti-black racism it required.” So, the 1619 Project’s historical illiteracy is not innocent ignorance. Rather, it is maliciousness in the service of progressivism’s agenda, which is to construct a thoroughly different nation on the deconstructed rubble of what progressives hope will be the nation’s thoroughly discredited past.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported the date of the battles of Lexington and Concord. This version has been corrected.