What do you think about this? The question referred to the multiple articles comprising the New York Times “1619 Project,” appearing mainly in the August 18th Magazine Section. In the following days, we noticed echos of the series in many other publications such as USA Today, other Gannet Papers, the Washington Post, and The Week magazine. To our mind they all sought to make two major points, Slavery is “Americas Original Sin” so all whites are still sinners and Slavery underpinned our Free Enterprise success. Matthew Desmond’s contribution to 1619 is titled “To Understand the Brutality of American Capitalism, you have to start on the plantation”, while the Week’s Briefing Section on 1619 is titled “America’s original sin.” Reading through the articles, we concluded the Project was a lot of effort to produce a pile of bad history. However, we felt others would see the obvious errors and therefore no reason for us to pile on. We were wrong. What we saw was a lot of people saying the project was right on but maybe we did better later. For instance, one would think Eric Erickson of the Resurgent would be one to take on the NY Times about almost anything. Instead, he agrees right off the bat,” Slavery is America’s Original Sin”. The Headline of Reason Magazine’s rebuttal is “The Founders Were Flawed. The Nation Is Imperfect. The Constitution Is Still a ‘Glorious Liberty Document.” If you confess you’re a sinner and the US was badly flawed from the onset, you’ve already lost the argument. We think America has a much better case. A simple timeline should help set the record straight:
- 3500 BC 1st record of slavery in Sumer Mesopotamia
- 73-71 BC Spartacus’s Slave Revolt
- 650 AD Arab African Slave Trade begins
- 1501 1st Enslaved African arrived in the New World
- 1619 1sr slaves sold in Virginia
- 1651 Hobbes “Leviathan” Published
- 1689 Locke’s 2nd Treatise on Government” published
- 1772 The Somerset Case helps launch British Abolitionism
- 1776 Declaration of Independence
- 1776 Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” published
- 1780-4 5 States abolish slavery (AS= Abolishes Slavery or serfdom)
- 1787 Constitutional Convention
- 1787 US bans slavery in NW Territory
- 1791 Bill of Rights ratified
- 1794 Cotton Gin Patented
- 1807 UK outlaws International Slave trade
- 1808 US outlaws International Slave trade
- 1839 UK AS takes effect
- 1846 UK Repeals Corn Laws
- 1848 Austria ,France & Denmark AS
- 1852 Argentina AS
- 1853 Peru & Venezuela AS
- 1860 British Raj Indian indenture System Abolished
- 1861 Russia AS
- 1864 Poland AS
- 1865 US passes 13th Amendment AS
- 1866 US Indian Territory Tribes AS
- 1874 Gold Coast AS
- 1888 Brazil AS
- 1895 Egypt AS
- 1896 China AS
- 1906 French West Africa AS
- 1922 Morocco AS
- 1924 Turkey AS
- 1936 British Bechuanaland (Modern Botswana) AS
- 1948 Kuwait AS
- 1962 Saudi Arabia &Yemen AS
- 1970 Oman AS
The first thing evident from the timeline, slavery is hardly an American original. In fact, slavery had been around for over 5,000 years before the first slave set foot in Virginia. Can you imagine asking for a patent on something in use worldwide for that length of time? Nor as we can plainly see, was it in any way unique to America.
Sin is defined as “a an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. ” Obviously sin is a religious term. Yet, as we can see on the timeline major religions such as Catholic or Muslim never assigned that term to slave holding at anytime before slavery was introduced in Virginia. In any case, using the figures quoted by 1619 Project contributor Nikole Hannah-Jones, we received less than 4% of the 12.5 million Africans sold for slavery in the new world. She tells us they were “kidnapped from their homes” but fails to mention it is well established other Africans did almost all the capturing and selling. She doesn’t even mention millions & millions of Africans sold across the Muslim world in the Arab slave trade. We were hardly any where near at the top of any list.
What was unique to the US was the enumeration of individual rights and limitations on the rule of those who would be our masters. Nowhere else in the world were these spelled out as they were in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. For the first time, some people in the world had the right to say their ruler(s) were jerks and keep your hands off my property or me or I’ll see you court. The door to liberty was finally ajar. We owe much to the Humanists and the enlightenment that followed David Hume and John Locke for changing how we look at “Life, Liberty, and Estate Property.” They and others formed the intellectual basis ‘to challenge the way humans from time immemorial were treated and move us in the direction to real freedom. It is wise to reflect their ideas hadn’t even been publicized before slavery was well established in the new world. It was the spread of these ideas that influenced people, mainly in the UK and our northern colonies, to begin to see human rights in a much different light. This encouraged some protestant denominations and free-thinkers to begin the abolitionist movement.
These ideas also laid the basis for free markets and trade. It was only in the same year as our Decoration of Independence Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” was published. It set forth the principles of what later many referred to as Capitalism. It was only with the repeal of the Grain Laws in the UK Free Market ascendancy was confirmed. As you can see this was in the same decade the UK Abolished Slavery. How the 1619 Project can link capitalism to the plantation economy doesn’t seem to conform to any actual timeline. Indeed, the followers of Spartacus wouldn’t see much difference in the estates they worked and the US South or plantations anywhere else in the world. That a relatively new concept underpinned plantation economies throughout the ages borders on the absurd. A more logical reading of the timeline would be Capitalism by ushering in labor-saving machinery sounded the death knell of the plantation system and forced servitude. It is significant the near-slavery of sharecropping continued well after slavery or serfdom were abolished where capital provided automation was late in replacing manual labor. This surely was the case in the US South where cotton-picking machines were adopted well after they came into use in the US West.
If applying the”the Original sin of Slavery” to the founding fathers and the whole nation makes no sense, why is the 1619 Project aimed in that direction? The idea Fore-founders were deeply flawed men as we can readily see lacks any context. Who in the World with any authority had a better record at the time on human rights? In fact, who else even had any enumerated rights? Maybe the UK but their constitution was largely unwritten and they actually fought to deny us rights. The diamond with the least flaws is generally the most valuable. Instead of treating them as heroes who risked their lives and fortunes to lead toward greater freedom, some want to pull down any monuments associated with them. If an association with slavery in any way makes you ineligible to be memorialized, we would have torn down most memorials and statues in the world. The idea they should’ve done everything immediately when they were inching across untried ground, brings to mind the French Revolution. It went forward at breakneck speed. The only thing the French got out of that was an overactive Guillotine and a short Emperor.
If unfairly tarring by hindsight doesn’t bring forth massive American guilt, the 1619 Project doesn’t hesitate to resort to using the horrors visited upon slaves. Massive and horrible mistreatment on our plantations is illustrated by photos of whipping scars and young children working in the cane fields. This is obviously aimed at bringing forth feelings of culpability. How did anyone survive the horrors brought on by forcing maxim output from each slave? Heavens, Southern overseers discovered bookkeeping and maintained tally sheets. Was Project 1619 unaware that many Sumerian cuneiform tablets found were in fact tallies? Further, history tells us for most of the human times harsh punishment and abuse were common across the world regardless of station. It is not for nothing we had to banish cruel and unusual punishment constitutionally. Further, such harsh treatment would seem inevitably to lead to high mortality rates among slaves. There would have to be constant replenishment from Africa. By Nikola Hannah Jones own figures only 400,000 slaves were brought to America from Africa. Yet, this population had grown 10X to approx. 4 million by the eve of the civil war. Obtaining new slaves from Africa or anywhere else internationally virtually ended in 1808. Still, the slave population growth far surpassed the world population growth, that by some estimates only little more than doubled in the same period. Between 1501 to 1866 Brazil received 4.9 million African slaves. Even today there are only 14.5 million black Brazilians. Compare this to 42 million blacks in the US. If survival rates are any indication of health and welfare, America wasn’t the worst place for blacks. Maybe they were treated more as valuable property rather than horribly mistreated disposables in America as the project insinuates.
This in no way implies forced servitude which for most of history involved a vast part of humanity. was anything but a mean marginal existence. It contained every race across the globe. These people whether called slaves, serfs, coolies, indentured servants, untouchables or anything else denoting those forced to do the hardest most demeaning work were always at the bottom.. They did the work the elites at the top wouldn’t do while the elites gained the most. The people at the top justified this by using the birth station, conquest of “enemies”, race, religion, or they’re just different people as an excuse for the system. If you followed our series “The Long Journey to More”you are well aware the changes needed for more than at best 10% of humanity to have a better life didn’t appear before the 15th century. The real continuing story is the progress since from servitude and poverty. A story our founding fathers and increasingly free markets. played a prominent role. Just how far we’ve come is indicated by a Brookings Institute Report by Homi Kharas, which predicts in two years over half of humanity will be middle class.
So why publish this ill-founded effort to shame America, destroy our faith in our the founders and guilt us into abandoning our history? Is it to further divide by us race by ignoring the world’s history? Was it to secure Black loyalty to a certain political persuasion by convincing them America has led them to a horrible present? Given the bleak picture it painted, one would think America is a place Blacks would want to to leave. If you’re black you would be well advised to stay away. Yet, black net immigration to the US is solidly positive. Our rule has always been if people desperately want out you’re doing something wrong. If they desperately want in you’re doing something right.
The Times might do well to remember dividing people by race is inherently racist. Shared values, not race should define a people. Hong Kong is overwhelming Chinese but the people there are choosing to be defined by their values, not by race. Most Americans can trace back to an unpleasant past. The point of the US is for all us to be able to continue our journey to an even more pleasant future. The Blacks in Africa and the Caribbean who share history with our our Black population understand this as they wait in line to come to America.
The problem with the 1619 project then is its total lack of context. It’s as if one wrote a definitive report on wine having only looked at wine production in the US, ignoring wine’s worldwide history and production. The report wouldn’t tell you much about wine, but it would give the reader a highly distorted view. In the last analysis, it simply failed even to ask the all-important question “compared to what?”