The 1776 Report v. the 1619 Project
The day Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, The 1776 Report by former Pres. Donald Trump’s Advisory 1776 Commission disappeared from the White House website. The 1776 Report was a needed response to the New York Times Magazine 1619 Project that claimed that slavery was the foundation upon which the United States was founded. The United States was unofficially founded in 1776 with the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence and formally established in 1791 when the states voted to adopt the United States Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights as their national governing document. There was no United States in 1619.
Some may see this as a technicality, but it’s an important point of historical accuracy. Bringing together 13 diverse colonies with their unique histories, constitutions, and operating governments was not an easy task. The past could not be changed but going forward a newly formed government could rectify some injustices and work toward laying the groundwork for resolving others.
Criticisms of the 1776 Commission were swift and harsh. “In a headline on its website, CNN labeled the report a ‘racist school curriculum.’ The New York Times called it a ‘sweeping attack on liberal thought and activism.’” They got one out of two right. There is no neutrality. It was a sweeping attack on liberal thought and activism, and it is not a school curriculum.
The criticisms were not left unanswered:
After Biden’s action … the 1776 Commission responded with a joint statement from its chairman, Dr. Larry P. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, prominent conservative African-American scholar Dr. Carol Swain, retired professor of Vanderbilt Law School, and Dr. Matthew Spalding, the vice president and dean of the school of government of Hillsdale’s D.C. campus.
They wrote, “The 1776 Report calls for a return to the unifying ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence. It quotes the greatest Americans, black and white, men and women, in devotion to these ideals. The Commission may be abolished, but these principles and our history cannot be. We will all continue to work together to teach and to defend them.” (Jerry Newcombe, “Won’t Know Much About History,” American Vision (January 28, 2021).)
One of the criticisms of The 1776 Project is that it was not produced by “professional historians.” This is a curious critique since the principal author of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, does not have a Ph.D. in history and yet she won a Pulitzer Prize for her work claiming that the nation’s founding began with the arrival of the first slave ship in North America. As a result of this singular act, she and others claim the United States has always been hopelessly racist and irredeemable given today’s political standards. The past must be obliterated to make way for a new future. But on what ultimate standard?
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The 1776 Project was not meant to be a history curriculum. Dr. Swain had this to say about some of the comments made by critics of the report:
They misunderstood the purpose of the Commission. We were not writing for academic scholars. It was never meant to be a comprehensive history report. We did want to address that part of today’s public debate as exemplified by the 1619 Project. (Quoted in Newcombe, “Won’t Know Much About History.”)
The 1619 Project has its share of criticisms. For example, Damon Linker, writing in The Week, “argued that the paper treated history ‘in a highly sensationalistic, reductionistic, and tendentious way, with the cumulative result resembling agitprop [Political propaganda] more than responsible journalism or scholarship.’” (Conor Friedersdorf, “1776 Honors America’s Diversity in a Way 1619 Does Not: Academic Historians, Conservatives, and Trotskyist Socialists Rightly Reject The New York Times’ Reframing of the Past,” The Atlantic (January 6, 2020): http://bit.ly/3qV5s85)
Nearly all those who worked on The 1776 Report have advanced degrees in history, law, philosophy, government, and classics. While the 1619 Project was mostly developed by a single person, The 1776 Report was a collaborative effort made up of people with varied educational and racial backgrounds, experience, and expertise. Again, this in itself does not absolve The 1776 Report from criticism, but it does mitigate some of the outrageous charges made against those who worked on the project.
There is a general ignorance of history and the Constitution even by elected officials. Describing it as a racist and misogynist document is baseless and goes counter to any reading of the document. For example, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat Representative from California, wrote the following:
Do you know how many times the word “Woman” is mentioned in the Constitution? Zero. That is unacceptable. Women must be equally represented and equally protected. #ERANow.
He’s right that the word “woman” is not mentioned in the Constitution, and neither are the words “man” and “men.” Even the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote doesn’t use the word “women”:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
It should be pointed out that the Constitution never denied women the right to vote.
In addition, the Constitution does not use the words “race,” “slavery,” “slave,” “white,” or “black.” An elected representative like Swalwell who is also a lawyer should know this since he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. It’s embarrassing to see an elected Representative get our nation’s governing document so wrong.
The word “slavery” did not enter the Constitution until after the Civil War in the Thirteenth Amendment.
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
The supposed racist intent of the Constitution is often seen in the “three-fifths clause” found in Article I, section 2, clause 3. Contrary to what some historians claim, the “three-fifths clause” is a clear indication that many of our constitutional founders wanted to end slavery through the legislative process. The three-fifths clause is not about personhood, that is, describing blacks as three-fifths of a white person, a common claim and misconception.
The Northern states did not want to count slaves for determining the number of representatives a state would have. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the enumeration to acquire additional representation and voting strength in Congress. The compromise was to count slaves (although the word is never used) as “three-fifths” of a person for representation purposes. The fewer slaves counted, the fewer number of representatives and the less legislative power the slave states would have.
The goal of the Northern delegates was to dilute Southern voting strength to outlaw slavery by constitutional means. “The struggle that took place in the convention was between the Southern delegates trying to strengthen the constitutional supports for slavery and the Northern delegates trying to weaken them.” (Robert A. Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” Commentary (May 1987), 29.)
There’s nothing new in the way politicians want to increase the number of people to vote. Today’s Democrats want to count non-citizens to bolster their legislative powers by giving them the right to vote.
If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as the pro-slave states wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes—as a compromise to establish the union—the slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position—47 percent. Robert L. Goldwin concludes:
[T]he point is that the “three-fifths clause” had nothing at all to do with measuring the human worth of blacks. Northern delegates did not want black slaves included, not because they thought them unworthy of being counted, but because they wanted to weaken the slaveholding power in Congress. Southern delegates wanted every slave to count “equally with the Whites,” not because they wanted to proclaim that black slaves were human beings on an equal footing with free white persons, but because they wanted to increase the pro-slavery voting power in Congress. The humanity of blacks was not the subject of the three-fifths clause; voting power in Congress was the subject. (Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” 30.)
It’s been said that whoever controls the schools rules the world. But it’s more fundamental than this. Whoever writes the textbooks supplies the information that’s used by teachers who teach the students in the schools. It’s the books and the teachers that teach them who control the schools. The content of the history books makes or breaks a curriculum. Leftists want and have controlled public school textbooks for decades, and it shows in the general ignorance of the American public. They don’t know about history, and what they do know is cherry-picked to establish a political and cultural agenda.
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