1776 Report ‘Plagiarized’?

Large chunks of a hackish report were lifted from previous works of Commission members.

Yesterday, I lampooned “The 1776 Report,” an incredibly slanted and hackish output from a commission appointed by President Trump. Now, a POLITICO report finds, much of the material was recycled.

President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission was supposed to be the definitive “patriotic” rejoinder to the academic left for what conservatives view as a slanderous rendering of U.S. history. But the report released by the commission on Monday has been mocked by historians as slapdash and slanted. And a good chunk appears lifted or recycled from other publications.

An entire page of the report suggesting classroom discussion topics for teachers appears to be copied nearly verbatim from an opinion piece published in 2008 by one of the commission’s members, Thomas Lindsay.

The similarities are pronounced enough to raise questions about how much original work actually went into the construction of the 1776 report. And it will undoubtedly fuel criticism that the final product was not meant to be an academic endeavor but, rather, a partisan effort to tilt the educational playing field.


Now a senior fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lindsay was one of 16 conservative academics tasked by the Trump administration to help craft the 1776 Commission report. And nearly the entirety of page 39 and page 40 of that report lifts from his 2008 article without attributionin an effort to offer prompts for teachers “to encourage civics discussion among students.”


The report goes on to lift at least five more paragraphs from Lindsay’s 2008 article as well as adding other paragraphs specifically questioning the ways that the works of progressive politicians “differ from the principles and structure of the Constitution.”


Dr. Matthew Spalding, the executive director of the 1776 Commission, did not dispute that he and Lindsay borrowed from past work. Instead, he framed the repurposing of material as part of the commission’s mission.

“Dr. Thomas K. Lindsay and I are both involved with the 1776 Commission and—as with other Commissioners—contributed our own work and writing, under our own names, to the 1776 Report, which was an advisory report to the President,” said Spalding.


The 1776 Commission was established last September as a counterpoint to The 1619 Project, a feature from the New York Times that sought to reenvision American history from the perspective of Black Americans and the institution of slavery.

In December, the commission named several professors and lawyers affiliated with right-wing organizations and conservative think tanks to its board. According to the Federal Register, the commission met just twice — on Jan. 5 and Jan. 15 in Washington — before publishing the 45-page document on Jan. 18. The report also acknowledges several current White House officials and assistants “who assisted with [its] preparation.”


The sourcing of the report’s material has come under scrutiny. Courtney Thompson, an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, ran the 1776 Report through TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection service used primarily by universities and colleges, and claimed that 26 percent of the content had been liftedin various waysfrom other sources without citing other sources.

Material from a 2002 Heritage Foundation article summarizing the founding fathers’ views against slavery appears to be recycled in Section Four of the 1776 reportwhich argues against viewing the founders as “hypocrites” for owning slaves.

Another section lifts sentences from an essay published on the website for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an educational nonprofit that focuses on promoting conservative values on college campuses


Both the Heritage Foundation article and the ISI essay were written by Spalding, who in addition to being the executive director of the commission is a professor of Constitutional Law at Hillsdale College.

While this strikes me as incredibly lazy, I’m not particularly concerned that members of the commission repurposed things they have previously written. While “self-plagiarism” is very much a thing in academic circles and would potentially get even an undergraduate in substantial trouble, I’m not sure that’s a standard we need to apply to a propaganda tract. [See my 2007 post making a detailed version of this argument on charges that the COIN manual was plagiarized.]

That the document is clearly that—an incredibly slanted take dispensing with all but the pretense of scholarly objectivity—is the issue here. That it comes with the imprimatur of the US Government and is intended to be used in teaching schoolchildren is just an embarrassment.

Reportedly, rescinding this travesty is going to be among President Biden’s first official acts after taking office this afternoon. It’s a rather silly thing for him to have to waste his energy on but there’s a lot of work to be done simply undoing the damage having an imbecile leading the country for four years has done.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Intellectual and academic laziness is something I would expect from Mr. Trump’s handpicked hacks. I’ll leave the ethical and moral laziness of these gentle beings to other’s discussions, or after I’ve had a chance to dilute my revulsion with caffeine.

    Oooh, edit button. Shiney!

  2. MarkedMan says:

    Many years ago I realized that an increasing number of papers coming out of the so called Conservative Think Tanks simply omitted any discussion or analysis of the main arguments raised against their findings, instead marshaling the language and style of legitimate intellectual debate into an epic battle against carefully chosen strawmen. At the time I didn’t realize just how much of this was because a handful of hobbyist billionaires were footing the bills and making it clear with nods and winks and back slaps and quick words over fine scotch in heavy rocks glasses just what it took to stay on the wing-nut dole.

    Is this plagiarism? Maybe to an academic but to anyone else it is just a pathetic rehashing of the kind of tripe the conservative “intelligentsia” has been dribbling out for decades.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Next we will find out that the Texas School Book Authority will require future history text books in the state conform to the 1776 Commissions conclusions. Given that text books that are adopted by Texas, receive wide distribution in other states it will further skew what students learn to the realm of fantasy.


    It is an inconvenient truth that facts support the liberal position.

  4. de stijl says:

    Being associated with such a project pretty much ends your academic career.

    This was not WPA for academics, it was designed to promote a certain viewpoint. Mercenaries for propaganda. You do not walk away from this blather unscathed.

    You reap what you sow.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s just lazy.

  6. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Not surprised… thats all these people are: Theater, tactics, optics, messages. There is never fire..only smoke.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl: Almost everyone associated is essentially retired from actual academic work. Most are elderly, indeed.

  8. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    I would hope so. It is lame as shit can be.

    No one active would involve themselves.

    Plus it’s propaganda bought and paid for by the sitting government.

    Any cred is whoosh gone.

  9. Kathy says:

    Well, if you already have a pack of lies, half truths, commissions, and distortions that make up a whitewash, why take the trouble to find new components for a new whitewash?

  10. mattbernius says:

    Honestly, like James (and as a recovering Academic), this particular line of attack is a big “Meh” from me. It’s common for lots of different folks to rework the same material over a career. Sometimes it results in brilliant stuff (for example Raymond Chandler worked through most of the major Marlowe plots in short story format before writing the novels). In other cases, it’s just because they are lazy or in a rush (most likely what happened here).

    Thankfully Biden is going to bury this little White Supremacy Culture Manifesto.

  11. de stijl says:

    We must not hurt Stephen Miller’s feelings.

  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Joke seen on Twitter:
    Michelle Obama’s book was entitled ” Becoming”.
    What will Melania’s be titled? “Becoming”

  13. gVOR08 says:

    The story isn’t that the “1776 Report” is lazy, hackish, propaganda. It’s that all conservative “scholarship” is lazy, hackish, propaganda. I occasionally waste time commenting to WAPO and NYT that the issue isn’t that Thiessen and Stephens (and several others) are hacks, the issue is that they hired the best conservative writers they could find, and they’re hacks. Maybe they should just say so.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @gVOR08: This. And to repeat myself in a previous but similar thread — how do I know? Victor Davis Hanson.

  15. JohnSF says:

    Ah, they should have subcontracted the job to me.
    Executive summary of the re-written conclusion:
    “And so, we call upon Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to accept our humble petition, and promise to behave this time.”
    “P.S. Dear Canada, our bad re. 1812. Sorree!”


  16. de stijl says:


    When How I Met Your Mother envisioned Robin Shrebotski’s (sp?) previous life as a Canadian pop-star they rhymed “sorry” with a girl named “Tori”. I plotzed. Would have been better with “Tory” imo.

    Let’s Go To The Mall (Today) was amazing and whoever wrote that should win all the Emmy’s forever.