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First Principles

‘Through All the Gloom, I Can See the Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory’

Why this American Founder believed July 2, 1776, would be “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia after a lengthy debate adopted a resolution in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain. The language of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, which Americans have celebrated ever since as Independence Day. But John Adams, who sat on the committee appointed to draft the document and encouraged Thomas Jefferson to be the principal author, had a slightly different idea about which day his countrymen would remember. In two letters dated July 3 to his beloved wife, Abigail, Adams explained why he believed July 2 would be celebrated as “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”

Here is an excerpt from Adams’ letters. Happy Independence Day!

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of this controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period, from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. At least, this is my judgment. Time must determine. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have the good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies and vices which duces refinement, in States as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.

Had a declaration of Independency been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliances with foreign States . . .

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and well-meaning, though weak and mistaken people, have been gradually and, at last, totally extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

***

Watch American Greatness Managing Editor Ben Boychuk read from Adams’ letters and briefly discuss their importance on a recent episode of the 4Esoterics podcast. Subscribe to the 4Esoterics on iTunes and follow the show on Twitter @4Esoterics.

Bonus 4Estoterics from Judah Friedman on Vimeo.

First Principles

The “1619 Project” Learns from Mussolini

The “1619 Project” is a genuine and instructive exercise in “fascist attitudes and activity” as described by Mussolini.

Contrary to what many think, fascism is not based on the belief in absolute truth. Fascism is based on the belief that there is no truth; that is, on relativism, or nihilism. This position is actually built on a fatal contradiction: a relativist says there is no truth, but in so doing, he is asserting a truth which then becomes the basis for what he intends to impose on everybody else. 

Everybody else has been so polite as to let the relativists go on instead of pointing out that they are proceeding from a premise that contradicts their own premise and therefore they don’t deserve to be listened to. But that’s where we are and where we’ve been for some time in the relativistic postmodern worldview.  

Take the “1619 Project”—a group of essays pushing the thesis that American ideals were false when they were written and that the American Revolution was fought to protect and perpetuate slavery.  

Prominent historians, liberals and conservatives alike, including Gordon Wood, James McPherson, James Oakes, Victoria Bynum, Clayborne Carson, Allen Guelzo, and Sean Wilentz have enumerated the many factual errors in the essays (including at the 1620 Project of the National Association of Scholars). Yet the lead essayist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has responded mainly by mocking the idea of objective history altogether, as when she tweeted, with irony, “LOL. Right, because white historians have produced truly objective history.” She and her defenders fall back on the idea that they are offering a different “interpretation” or “re-framing” of the facts, or that they are simply generating debate. 

“I think my point was that history is not objective,” she has said. “And that people who write history are not simply objective arbiters of facts, and that white scholars are no more objective than any other scholars, and that they can object to the framing and we can object to their framing as well.”

This can fairly be described as a fascist attitude. As Benito Mussolini helpfully explained, “If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective, immortal truth . . . then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity . . . From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.” 

The historians who protest “1619,” however, resist the “framing” idea and take issue with the project’s clear misrepresentation of well-established facts

“These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing,’’’ some of them declared in an open letter. “They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” 

Sweeping aside such objections, Hannah-Jones is energetically enforcing her “interpretation,” as Mussolini directed, in her case with the help of institutions that also have been corrupted by ideological thinking—the New York Times, the Pulitzer Committee, and the public school systems that teach the “1619” curricula designed for K-12.

While the historians were waiting for some accountability, Hannah-Jones won journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize. Her prize was in commentary, not history. Was that a backhanded way for the Pulitzer Committee to admit that the “1619 Project” cannot be dignified as history? 

But if that is so, why have professional educators accepted curricula based on the “1619 Project” for teaching in public schools, despite its being faulted by experts and scholars and exposed as mainly ideological? 

Which is the worst wound inflicted on the body politic by the “1619 Project?” 

  • The original compiling of a malicious pack of falsehoods about our country’s founding?
  • Snubbing the demand for historical accuracy and by extension rebuffing any concept of reasoned deliberation as the basis of our common life?
  • Piping this poison into the schools, goading children through misinformation to hate their country? Encouraging minority children to hate their white classmates and white children to hate themselves? 
  • Seeing Hannah-Jones awarded the Pulitzer without any effort on her part to correct her work?   
  • Using white guilt to extort reparations? Hannah-Jones has said, “When my editor asks me, like, what’s your ultimate goal for the project, my ultimate goal is that there’ll be a reparations bill passed.” “I write to try to get liberal white people to do what they say they believe in. I’m making a moral argument. My method is guilt.”

 The “1619 Project” is a genuine and instructive exercise in the “fascist attitudes and activity” Mussolini described—how a false ideology created by modern relativists can be advanced by force of will and contempt for truth on a populace deprived of reason.

Thanks, Duce, for making that clear.

First Principles

This essay is part of RealClearPublicAffairs‘s 1776 Series, which explains the major themes that define the American mind. It is republished here with the permission of RealClearPolitics.

Started in Slavery, Founded in Freedom: 1619 vs. 1776

The United States of America was indeed started in slavery, but it was founded in freedom.

Now that everyone with a computer and an opinion has had his or her say on the merits and shortcomings of the “1619 Project,” we are now in a position to step back and ask ourselves: What is really at stake here?

The most controversial aspect of the project has not been its content—apart from one important, mistaken historical claim in Nikole Hannah-Jones’s introductory essay, which has since been corrected—but its framing. No one is talking about the excellent and inspiring articles on Howard Law School graduates, black music, or the “pecan pioneer” (yes, it’s in there!). Even Hannah-Jones’s essay hasn’t been subjected to comprehensive commentary and analysis in the manner that it deserves. Instead, the focus of critics has been concentrated on the title page of Hannah-Jones’s essay—“Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written”—and Jake Silverstein’s “editor’s note” introducing the project. And then, of course, there is the title: 1619.

. . . as Bob Woodson and others have pointed out, subtracting 1776 from 1619 renders the American story depressing and perhaps irredeemable.

What do these parts of the project jointly convey? That American identity—stated in terms of “true birth date” or “origin”—is an either/or and that 1776 must be rejected as a legitimate competitor to 1619 in this determination. The year 1619, in other words, preempts and nullifies 1776. Critics have, after all, complained not so much about the addition of 1619 as the explicit subtraction of 1776 in Silverstein’s (and, to a lesser extent, Hannah-Jones’s) framing. And as anyone with a calculator can work out, 1619 minus 1776 is a negative number; as Bob Woodson and others have pointed out, subtracting 1776 from 1619 renders the American story depressing and perhaps irredeemable. According to John McWhorter, this operation makes American civic education into an education “in studied despair over events far in the past, and a sense that it is more enlightened to think of yourself as a victim than as an actor.”

If we have to jettison 1776 to take 1619 on board, the question famously raised by Martin Luther King, Jr., and quoted by Clarence Page in a recent article for the 1776 Project, “Where do we go from here?” seems difficult to answer. It is certainly important to know where we’ve been in order to understand where we are now, and it is certainly important to understand where we are now in order to determine where we should go from here, but we can’t chart a course for the future based only on where we’ve been in the past. We have to have a goal in mind, something to shoot for, a target at which to aim. We have to have somewhere we are going to, not just somewhere we are coming from.

The question is whether the undeniable historical fact of the preexistence of American slavery tainted or invalidated entirely the ideas and arguments about natural human rights that motivated and justified the American Revolution . . .

So what’s really at stake in the 1619 vs. 1776 debate is whether the revolutionary principles of 1776 are capable of providing such a goal or target. The question is whether the undeniable historical fact of the preexistence of American slavery tainted or invalidated entirely the ideas and arguments about natural human rights that motivated and justified the American Revolution—and that, presumably, have continued to motivate and justify the American experiment in self-government from that time to ours. The question is not about what happened in 1619 but about what happened in 1776.

So what happened in 1776? In the main quad at the University of Missouri, just outside the building where Jefferson’s tombstone is currently housed, there is a statue of Jefferson sitting at a writing desk, pen in hand, and the Declaration of Independence on the paper in front of him. This expresses much of the significance of 1776 in the popular imagination: not unlike Moses going up Mount Sinai and coming back with the Ten Commandments, Thomas Jefferson went into his study and emerged with the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson himself helps solidify this view by literally etching his authorship of the Declaration of Independence in a stone tablet (his tombstone). The man, the moment, and the document are forever conjoined.

If this is what really happened in 1776, Silverstein’s either/or sounds plausible. We know that Jefferson lived far downstream of 1619. His livelihood and self-image depended squarely on his status as a slaveholder. In his well-known 1820 letter to John Holmes, Jefferson almost makes Silverstein’s either/or argument for him, saying about the predicament of Southern slaveholders such as himself: “Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” Though many of us would like to think that 1776 weighs on the justice side of this scale, it is not clear whether Jefferson would agree. According to the author of the Declaration, 1776’s promise of “self-government and happiness” for himself and those like him was under threat during the Missouri crisis by devotees of the “abstract principle” dictating the geographic restriction of slavery.

If 1776 is inextricably bound up with the historical Thomas Jefferson, and the historical Thomas Jefferson is hopelessly bound up with the consequences of 1619, Silverstein’s argument seems right. The year 1776 is not a true alternative to 1619 but a mere diversion from an acknowledgment of the latter’s unjust and harmful effects. The either/or falls away as the antislavery Jefferson of the Declaration collapses into the apparently pro-slavery Jefferson of the Missouri Compromise and 1776 collapses into 1619. American history, as Wilfred McClay put it in a recent article, becomes “little more than the lengthened shadow of slavery.”

The more one reads of the public documents, pamphlets, sermons, and letters of the decades preceding and the years immediately following the Declaration of Independence, the more one realizes that Jefferson was really more stenographer than author.

This is not, however, what happened in 1776. Contrary to Jefferson’s proud claim on his tombstone, there were many joint authors of the Declaration of Independence. It was adopted (after alteration) by the entire Continental Congress and largely expressed what Thomas Paine had called the American “common sense” and what Jefferson would later call “the American mind.” The more one reads of the public documents, pamphlets, sermons, and letters of the decades preceding and the years immediately following the Declaration of Independence, the more one realizes that Jefferson was really more stenographer than author. Jefferson was an original thinker, but the later accusation that he had plagiarized the Declaration contained more than a grain of truth.

The candidacy of 1776 as a meaningful and valuable constituent of American identity cannot, then, be buried along with Jefferson himself. The ideas of 1776 that were expressed in the Declaration—natural human rights, limited government by consent, the right of revolution—were shared equally by Jefferson and countless other individuals at his time, many of whom were not as clearly implicated by association with the evils really and symbolically unleashed in 1619. These ideas are something apart from any of the individuals at the time who espoused them.

But are the ideas of 1776 themselves vitiated by their embeddedness in a time and place affected so deeply by 1619? Can these ideas provide enlightenment despite being spoken under the shadow of the terrible injustice of slavery and by some of its most famous beneficiaries? And are the ideas of 1776 merely one of the “multiple traditions” out of which the tapestry of American identity has been woven since?

These are not easy questions to answer, but they are answerable. There is, first, the historical fact that ideas of natural human rights, limited government, and the right of revolution were not invented by American colonists. The scholarly consensus of at least the last thirty years has been that early American political ideas were outgrowths of much earlier political and religious ideas, forming a distinctive “amalgam” of these preexisting materials. The political thought of John Locke, Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, and others was combined with Protestant theology in Europe, as well as in the New England colonies, in order to form the basis of what would become the revolutionary ideas of 1776. According to eminent intellectual historians like Brian Tierney and Richard Tuck, the roots of these ideas extend all the way back to medieval times, some 500 years before 1619. These ideas may be mistaken or undesirable for other reasons, but it is safe to say that their origins are innocent of entanglement with the practice of enslavement.

There is also the fact that the core revolutionary idea that “all men are created equal” does not in any conceivable way support the interests of slaveholders, or even the interests of the non-slaveholding American revolutionaries at the time.

There is also the fact that the core revolutionary idea that “all men are created equal” does not in any conceivable way support the interests of slaveholders, or even the interests of the non-slaveholding American revolutionaries at the time. While it is true that the progress of equality among whites has long been supported by a parallel dynamic of inequality between whites and nonwhites, a clear declaration of human (or even of male) equality could only run counter to this dynamic of reinforcement. A declaration that “all white men are created equal” or, better yet, that “white men are created superior to nonwhite men,” would have fit the bill much better.

Then there is Lincoln’s point in his speech on the Dred Scott decision in 1857: “The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain.” This idea of equality in natural human rights did not, in other words, even support the general interests of the American colonists in their argument for independence at the time. While the related ideas of government by consent and the right of revolution did clearly support the cause of American political independence, these could have been derived from narrower, more conservative, starting points than human equality. There was, for example, the long-standing “rights of Englishmen” argument that had been widely used by the American colonists throughout the 1760s and early 1770s. But this was not the argument that the colonists used in 1776. Just as the argument of 1776 could not conceivably support the interests of slaveholders, so it was not well tailored to the material interests of the American colonists in their conflict with Great Britain.

The United States of America was indeed started in slavery, but it was founded in freedom.

If the ideas of 1776 were neither a mere feature of the historical moment, nor supportive of the concrete, material interests of those who held them, why were they “held to be self-evident” at all? The shocking answer is that they were held simply because they were believed to be “truths.” And this distinguishes them in a crucial way from most of the other “traditions” that were held at the time, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, or class distinctions. Most, if not all, of these other traditions supported the status quo and those in positions of power in society. Though they were often buttressed by rational and religious arguments as well, these arguments were, in most cases, recognizable as weak rationalizations of material interest—like the “positive good” argument that would later be given in support of race-based enslavement. The ideas of 1776, by contrast, were justified by the force of a logic that defied the needs of the immediate moment and the concrete interests of those who enunciated them. As much as any human ideas could, they leaped off their page in history.

The men of 1776 should be considered “founders” not because of any personal greatness that they may have exhibited but because they embraced ideas worthy of serving as a foundation for political society. The personal reputations of the American founders are not what’s at stake in the 1619 vs. 1776 debate; the reputations of these ideas are. American identity is not an either/or, as Silverstein would have us believe. It is a both/and, deeply troubling in its contradictions but equally illuminating in its promise to overcome them. The United States of America was indeed started in slavery, but it was founded in freedom.

First Principles

The Pulitzer Prize for Tabloid History

Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times peddled bogus history as fact. Instead of being repudiated, they just won the most prestigious award in journalism.

The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Like the “suicide” of Jeffrey Epstein, the outcome is stunning but not surprising. On its face, the project is completely undeserving of journalism’s highest prize. It is not journalism, but history in tabloid form.

Are we to believe that after American historians have been investigating themes related to race and slavery for nearly two centuries, the New York Times has only now somehow found a secret source that gives them a scoop?

The simple fact is that the Times is neither prepared nor qualified to write history. Neither is Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project’s director whose introductory essay for the magazine won the Pultizer for commentary. We should not be surprised that the project offers particularly bad history. This is the frank conclusion of our nation’s most eminent historians—including several who have themselves won Pulitzer Prizes, in actual history. 

Gordon Wood called it “so wrong in so many ways.” James McPherson said, “It does not make very much sense to me.” Pulitzer Prize finalist Sean Wilentz led a group of historians who were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project” related to “matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism.”

One would at least think that the winner of journalism’s highest prize should represent “honest” journalism, but the Times went out of its way to present a knowingly dishonest account of American history. One of the magazine’s hand-picked fact-checkers, a historian at Northwestern University, flatly refuted one of the project’s central and most damning claims—that the American Revolution was fought explicitly to protect slavery. The Times printed this claim anyway. The editor who allowed the claim to be printed, Jake Silverstein, was rightly forced to print a retraction.

This should have been a big enough embarrassment to disqualify the 1619 Project from consideration for any journalistic award. So, if you are wondering how inaccurate, dishonest, non-journalism can win journalism’s top prize, well, the fix was in from the start. The administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, Dana Canady, is a 20-year veteran of the Times. Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins is also a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. At least three other current members of the Pulitzer board have written for the Times.

For the Pulitzer Prize, this kind of self-dealing is par for the course. More troublesome than these shadowy backroom deals, though, is the appearance of coordination by a network of unaccountable organizations, resting on massive tax-advantaged endowments, to magnify the influence of this inaccurate and incendiary view of American history. The MacArthur Foundation gave Hannah-Jones its “genius grant” in 2017, helping her build the foundation for her project. Then the Pulitzer Center (which has no official connection to the Pulitzer Prize, which is administered by Columbia University) announced plans immediately after the publication of the 1619 Project to push its content into K-12 schools and colleges.

The success of the 1619 Project in wresting control of our historical narrative is not an accident. It is the outcome of a detailed and deliberate public relations strategy. Inquiring minds may want to know: Who is behind the unaccountable organizations driving this strategy, and why have they orchestrated an elaborate strategy to teach us to hate America?

In a healthy journalistic profession, inquiring minds would ask such questions, and be awarded for it. But the profession of journalism is shaped now, more than ever, by the “yellow journalism” perfected by the namesake of the profession’s highest award. Indeed, even his biography on the Pulitzer Prize website admits that Joseph Pulitzer recognized “no apparent restraints on sensationalism or fabrication of news.” The New York Times has discovered that sensationalist journalism, and tabloid history, spark the passions that power newspaper sales and hate clicks.

Greedy capitalists (i.e., greedy corporate leftists)—including the holders of Class A and Class B shares in the New York Times Company—have long known that there is profit in exploiting the people’s vices. But who cultivates the virtues that hold a people together?

In America, we have relied on the teaching of our history to inculcate these civic virtues. Students have been taught about the marginal figures from our nation’s history who claimed that some groups are incapable of sharing in the responsibilities of self-government or are unworthy of the blessings of liberty.

But students have also learned what the historians critical of the 1619 Project emphasize—that the vast American center, going back to our founding, repeatedly has rejected these sentiments. The deliberate sense of Americans over time has been to deny the legitimacy of any kind of racial caste system, and to embrace an American citizenship that requires all to be respected equally under the law and to respect the law equally.

This kind of education emphasized the development of an American consensus on the meaning of our founding ideals and brought young people into that consensus. It is being driven out by the tabloid history of the New York Times 1619 Project which is organized around the sinister claim, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written.”

At a time when our nation is forgetting the men who authored those ideals, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and those who helped us more fully to realize them, like Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, the New York Times is resurrecting and amplifying the same argument voiced by notorious and discredited characters like John C. Calhoun, Roger Taney, and Alexander Stephens—that America’s founders did not believe what they said about equality.

We should not forget the United States fought a bitter Civil War to repudiate the ideas of Calhoun, Taney, and Stephens. Why should the leadership of the New York Times go unchallenged as it allows the stoking of these fratricidal passions just to further enrich its chief shareholders, the Sulzberger family and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim? And why should the leadership of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Pulitzer Center, and the other unaccountable organizations peddling these pernicious ideas not be scrutinized?

A nation that has no single racial, ethnic, or religious identity, but has only its history and principles to unite it, must guard that history and those principles jealously. Both are too important to be entrusted to writers of tabloid history or practitioners of yellow journalism, regardless of the prizes they give themselves.

First Principles

The Real Goals of ‘The 1619 Project’

Teaching young people they have no country, that there is neither God nor justice, but only their own anger to right wrongs leads not to civilized self-rule but to fanaticism and self-destruction.

From Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King Jr., many Americans have tried to bridge America’s racial divide. America’s newspaper of record believes it has discovered a new way.

No longer preaching faith in the Constitution or civic brotherhood, the New York Times hopes that—by creating enough hatred for the nation’s founding, its ideals, and for America’s majority group—justice and harmony will somehow emerge. This, anyway, is the idea behind its “1619 Project.”

Its lead essay, written by activist Nicole Hannah-Jones, falsifies important parts of American history with a view to engineering this new approach. While it has been roundly debunked by a chorus of renowned academics for gross factual and thematic inaccuracies, its most outlandish claim is that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery. The preeminent historian of the American Revolution, Gordon Wood, points out that he does not know “of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves.” Nor does anyone else. There is no historical record.

After months of embarrassing criticism, the Times finally issued a non-apology apology, which it comically calls an “Update.” What looks like a redaction is really a hardening of their original position—for they “still stand behind the basic point.”

Had the Times simply admitted its many errors, it could have begun to claw back what remains of its reputation for honest journalism. But it will not retract or apologize.

No longer really a newspaper, the Times more and more represents the postmodern age of propaganda; its goals of moral and political transformation, distinct from honest reporting, are barely hidden. And the 1619 Project seems to have at least three such goals.

Get Them When They’re Young

For at least a generation, many colleges and universities have taught students that America fundamentally is a white supremacist regime in need of deconstruction. By offering an accompanying school curricula, the 1619 Project explicitly targets middle- and high-schoolers, so far largely untouched by this propaganda. But since the 1619 Project’s publication last August, tens of thousands of students in all 50 states have been taught parts of its curriculum.

Last month, the administrators of Buffalo Public Schools announced their district will “infuse 1619 Project resources into the mainstream English and Social Studies . . . at grades 7-12.” Montgomery County, Maryland, and Chicago Public Schools have followed. Others will join them soon.

The overriding lesson is clear: young people must learn to despise their nation—its Constitution, ideals, economic system, and its Founders. They must resent and reject their past; possess an aggressive, contemptuous, and disobedient attitude toward the present; and strive forcefully to create a triumphant future where the enemies of old are punished, and the innocent finally rule. Teaching young people that they have no country, that there is neither God nor justice, but only their own anger to right wrongs leads not to civilized self-rule, but to fanaticism and self-destruction.

Hannah-Jones has spoken openly about the project’s second goal: “When my editor asks me, like, what’s your ultimate goal for the project, my ultimate goal is that there’ll be a reparations bill passed.”

In other words, as Americans learn to despise their country and their fellow citizens, they should demand a moral buyout, where moral debts are settled in cash. Of course, remaining unanswered is what will happen when neither equality nor moral wholeness emerges as a result of cash transfers?

Identity Politics Über Alles

But the real goal of the project, as Hannah-Jones explains, is to get “white people to give up whiteness.” This statement appears opaque at first, but follows the unmistakable logic of identity politics. Getting rid of “whiteness” means that whites must stop thinking of themselves as a group. To accomplish this, they must learn (or be compelled) to practice unreflective deference to the morally innocent—the marginalized. This means #believingher without facts, or taking the victim’s self-styled narrative (like the 1619 Project) as sacred and beyond rational scrutiny. As “whiteness” dissolves, however, all other marginalized groups must adhere even more strongly to their own group identities.

Since this final goal will surely require more than just propaganda, Hannah-Jones settles for reparations as a second-best arrangement. Obtaining reparations, after all, is “more realistic than, like, can we get white Americans to stop being white,” she notes. Nevertheless, Hannah-Jones seems to think that both reparations and the dissolution of whiteness should be attempted, even if neither is likely to occur.

America’s liberal elites, represented by and educated in the moral fashions of the Times, are remarkably short-sighted. It is not difficult to see that a new spirit of vengeance created by such “journalism” will lead neither to political stability nor to justice. Nor is it difficult to see why mainstream journalism has rightly fallen out of public favor.

First Principles

The 1619 Project and its Critics

Nikole Hannah-Jones ought to step up, be courageous, and debate the historians with whom she disagrees. They’re waiting. All historical claims, particularly those with as wide-reaching and radical ramifications as these, must be discussed and scrutinized by trained scholars.

The 1619 Projectthe New York Times campaign launched in August 2019 to transform American history into a tale of racial oppression and nothing but for the last 400 years—has attracted a great deal of critical attention. Much of this attention has come from professional historians who are nonplussed by the numerous misstatements of fact, the disappearance of key historical events, and the forced march of polemical interpretation that the Times attempted to hang on American history.

The dissenting historians themselves have found various outlets to express their views. Among the most intriguing of these platforms has been the World Socialist Website, which has featured interviews with such luminaries as Gordon Wood, university professor at Brown University, and James McPherson, professor emeritus of U.S. history at Princeton University.

The socialists, upset with the Times for preferring racial grievance to class grievance, rounded up other prominent historians, including Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, Dolores Janiewski, Richard Carwardine, and Clayborne Carson, to express their critiques of the Times’ fanciful attempt to rewrite history.

The socialists’ foray is welcome as it demonstrates that scholars who by no means can be classified as conservatives are eager to point out where the Times went wrong. But the field of Times critics isn’t limited to those who have sat for interviews with the World Socialist Website. Others include Sean Wilentz of Princeton, who took to the pages of The Atlantic to explain how the 1619 Project “has been undermined by some of its claims;” and Lucas Morel, who explains that “America Wasn’t Founded on White Supremacy,” on The American Mind.

In fact, a small industry has grown up consisting of historians and historically minded social scientists who are, one by one, refuting all of the serious claims of the 1619 Project.

I’ve been printing these out and my stack is several inches thick. The reader who wishes to wade in deeper to these waters will get an assist from Philip Magness’s bibliography on “The 1619 Project Debate,” at least as it stood on January 3. Still more assistance can be found on John Fea’s website, “The Way of Improvement Leads Home,” which has been tracking “The 1619 Project: Debate Continues.” And one shouldn’t miss the efforts of Robert Woodson and the Woodson Center to counter the 1619 Project with its own “1776 Project.”

For my part, I am working with my colleagues at the National Association of Scholars on what we call the “1620 Project,” which suggests that if we are going to look for the founding of America in early years of the 17th century, the 1620 Mayflower Compact may have a better claim to our attention than the arrival of a pirate ship in Jamestown, Virginia with a handful of African captives in August 1619. I am working on a book about that right now—which has taken me deeper into the details of the Times’ roll-out of its project than I expected to go.

The following adds nothing of substance to the scholarly critique of The 1619 Project, but it illuminates the attitudes of the Times towards its critics. Those attitudes were prominently displayed in late December when five prominent historians—Victoria Bynum, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, Sean Wilentz, and Gordon S. Wood—wrote a letter to the Times to “express our strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project.” The Times printed the letter and added a snarky rebuttal by editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, who explained that the Times would be making no corrections, because—well, because it is all a matter of interpretation.

“Historical understanding is not fixed,” and the Times was succeeding in what it really wants to do, which is to “expand the reader’s sense of the American past.” Expanding that sense in the direction of fictions and fabrications is, apparently, a worthwhile undertaking.

The Times has continued to promote The 1619 Project in this spirit, with full-page self-glorifying advertisements that explain that the project “sparks important dialogue.”

Well, I am all for dialogue, though there hasn’t been much visible response from the project’s progenitors to those who have found fault with its methods and its conclusions. But I didn’t want to rest on a mere impression. The key figure in The 1619 Project is Nikole Hannah-Jones, who leads it and who penned its lead manifesto, “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought to Make Them True.” In this essay, Hannah-Jones contends that the Founding Fathers did not actually believe that “All men are created equal,” because they wrote these words as slave owners.

Since the launch of The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones has booked at least 40 speaking engagements at colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations. At these events, she presents the “1619 Project-view” of history on her own or as part of a panel, often followed by a Q&A with the audience. Dialogue? Yes, but not with critics.

According to Hannah-Jones’ personal website, at the scheduled 40 speaking engagements since The 1619 Project’s launch, 18 of these featured her speaking solo. The other 22 events featured other speakers and were often marketed as a “dialogue” or a “conversation.” These 22 events included a total of 49 interlocutors.

Exactly three of her interlocutors have been trained historians who hold a doctoral degree in the field. None of those three are known critics of the project. Speakers have received advanced, post-bachelor academic training in nonhistorical fields, including journalism, English, comparative literature, law, the arts, and public policy. If you squint hard, you can see the small slice labeled “history” representing a mere 6.1 percent of the total.

The interlocutors described above only appeared in a fraction of Hannah-Jones’ speaking engagements. In the remaining 18 events, constituting nearly half of her talks, she speaks on her own. Figure 2 shows that over 90 percent of Hannah-Jones’ events lack a single historian. The result is a series of overwhelmingly nonhistorical monologues and dialogues designed to achieve an overtly historical end.

This is not to imply that nonhistorians cannot contribute to the historical discourse, but rather that an unambiguously historical project ought prominently to feature historians. Hannah-Jones, trained as a journalist, founded a project designed to reframe all of American history. She then goes on to engage with fewer historians than I can count on one hand. This is a mockery of authentic historical scholarship and exposes Hannah-Jones’ ulterior motives.

To clarify, while the National Association of Scholars maintains that The 1619 Project’s depiction of history is blatantly incorrect, we do not oppose Hannah-Jones’ speaking engagements on these grounds. She and the New York Times have a right to propagate the views they choose to support, however wrong we believe they are.

Rather, our problem with Hannah-Jones’ 1619 events is the combination of a nonhistorian founding a campaign with the explicit aim of “recasting all of American history;” and her demonstrated refusal to engage substantively with any of the myriad historians who criticize this recasting.

Nikole Hannah-Jones clearly has no interest in engaging with historians or having her historical arguments challenged. The 1619 Project’s claims are unorthodox and controversial but are presented as unquestionable truths. A bevy of accomplished historians have come out against these ideas and have been all but entirely ignored by Hannah-Jones and the New York Times. Why are they so afraid?

If the writers of The 1619 Project are concerned with earnestly presenting a new historical theory, then they should gladly accept scrutiny and critique from credible sources. This is how history works, to separate truth from falsehood. Instead, Hannah-Jones leapfrogs straight from historical theory to established fact. The 1619 Project is not concerned with uncovering historical truths, but instead uses pseudo-history as a means to undermine rational, non-partisan historical inquiry.

After all, what is the ultimate implication of the “1619 view” of history? All of America was built upon a lie. Freedom, liberty, and natural rights are swept away with a broad brush. The real founding principles of America are oppression, inequality, and suffering. The country, therefore, needs to be torn down and rebuilt. By whom? The New York Times, their sympathizers, and the future generation indoctrinated with these ideas during their schooling. Only then can the true America be realized.

This is the endgame of The 1619 Project, a radical, political campaign thinly veiled behind a façade of dubious pseudo-scholarship.

Nikole Hannah-Jones should step up, be courageous, and debate the historians with whom she disagrees. They’re waiting. All historical claims, particularly those with as wide-reaching and radical ramifications as these, must be discussed and scrutinized by trained scholars. The failure to  engage in this way will result in the widespread proliferation of lies that have disastrous consequences for the future of our country.