Reactions to 1619

In this case, Rich Lowry's.

As many readers are no doubt aware, the NYT has a feature called the 1619 Project that looks that the four hundredth anniversary of the first African slaves being brought to British colonies in what would become the United States of America.

The Project starts as follows:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

Now, I cannot as of this writing provide a full evaluation of the project, as I have not had the chance to read it all (and it is, as I understand it, an ongoing project including a recently launched podcast).*

While I cannot provide a review of all the material, I can say that I endorse the basic goal of highlighting the role, from the country’s beginning, of slavery to American development. I very much believe that we, as a country, have a habit of downplaying the negative aspects of our past and while we acknowledge slavery, we have a tendency of wanting to pretend like we have settled its legacy (when we clearly have not). Indeed, the lack of coming to grips with that past is part of the reason we continue to struggle with a host of issues from the abstract (CSA symbols) to the very concrete (police violence against African-American citizens).

I can see some resistance to the notion that 1619 was “our true founding” (although, I have no problems with noting its importance to our overall founding). Indeed, my initial reaction was that the statement was sufficiently provocative to distract from getting people to critically examine this history that needs far more attention than it deserves (that is, critics who don’t want to deal with these issues will find it too easy to gripe about this framing rather then engaging in the actual substance of the enterprise).

One example of this reaction, which is not atypical whenever the issue of slavery and race is raised in the context of US history, can be found in Rich Lowrey’s column: The left’s vile smear of America’s founding.

The New York Times has begun its so-called 1619 Project, marking the 400th anniversary of the importation of slaves from Africa.

The series seeks nothing less than “to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

It is certainly true that an American nation existed prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and slavery was its great sin, with permutations still felt today. But to pretend that racism is the essence of America and constituted one of the country’s founding principles is an odious and reductive lie.

I suppose we could argue over what the “essence of America” was and is, given that it is an extremely abstract notion. However, I don’t think one has to be a leftist, or really much of anything other than honest, to acknowledge that one of the country’s founding principles was, in fact, white supremacy.

What else would you say about a country that allowed at its founding white people to own black people like livestock. I know many people don’t like to confront this fact, but it is the hard truth.

Indeed, like the person who only thinks that a racists is someone who uses the n-word or joins the Klan, Lowry seems to think that the fact that the word “slavery” is not in the original text of the Constitution of 1789 somehow absolves it.

It doesn’t explain why any reference to slavery was kept out of the Constitution. James Madison, per his notes during the drafting convention, “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”

While it is well know that I am a great fan of Madison, the bottom line remains that his moral authority on this question is circumspect (to be kind), given that he died a slave owner.

Lowry tries, in an argument that I have pretty much heard all my life, especially from conservative defenders of the Constitution, that the lack of the word “slavery” should be considered moral high ground for the Framers and the document:

The careful avoidance of the term was subsequently used to buttress the position of opponents of slavery from John Quincy Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass. The great black abolitionist asked, “If the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument,” how could it be that “neither slavery, slaveholding nor slave . . . be anywhere found in it?”

All well and good, but making it the constitutional equivalent of He Who Must Not be Named didn’t make it any less in the document, any more than not naming Voldemort made him nonexistent.

Because of course, there are several oblique, but nonetheless quite clear (especially to those who wrote the document) references to slavery.

Article I, Section 2:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

We (and they) knew who the “other Person” were (emphasis mine).

Then, Article I, Section 9

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Again, it is not a mystery that this referred to the slave trade. It is worth noting that this passage was a way to kick the can down the road for future politicians to deal with. It was not some grand plan to stop slavery (and even stopping the legal slave trade would not, and did not, stop the practice itself). Note that it does not state the the importation of “such Persons” will cease in 1808. Rather, it states that such importations cannot be curtailed until such a time. There was no guarantee that such curtailing would take place.

Article IV, Section 2:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

This clause is not one we talk about a lot, but it established a constitutional right for slave owners to retrieve fugitive slaves.

For a document that does not mention the word slavery (until the addition of the Thirteenth Amendment), the document actually did have a lot to say on the subject (and was also silent on the issue in other key ways).

Lowry does admit:

Of course, in crucial respects the Constitution was indeed a compromise with slaveholders. It isn’t clear why it would be considered better if, in the absence of such a compromise, slave states had possibly gone their own way to create a rump nation-state wholly devoted to slavery and not yoked to a North that became more anti-slavery over time.

All well and good, but he says this like it gets the constitution off the hook. The reality is that the only way to keep the slave states in a constitutional union was to compromise heavily on the topic of slavery.

First, it is important to note that while, yes, the importation of slaves could be stopped after two decades, there is nothing in the original document to suggest the institution itself would be stopped overall (or that it could be).

Second, political power was afforded to the slave-holding states via the three-fifths compromise, and worse, the Fugitive Slave Clause guaranteed ownership of fleeing slaves.

One may quibble over whether racism and slavery were the “essence of America” but it is actually hard to argue that it wasn’t a founding principle, since maintenance of slavery was utterly necessary to reach the needed political deal to ratify the constitution.

To put it directly: acceptance of slavery was as essential to getting the constitution ratified as any of the other political compromises (such as federalism, the presidency, or equal representation in the Senate).

Can anyone argue, therefore, that we could have both abolished slavery and had the Constitution of 1789?

We might could have had the non-slave United States, but it would not have been the original 13 as we understand the concept.

To be fair to Lowry, he acknowledges this:

Of course, in crucial respects the Constitution was indeed a compromise with slaveholders. It isn’t clear why it would be considered better if, in the absence of such a compromise, slave states had possibly gone their own way to create a rump nation-state wholly devoted to slavery and not yoked to a North that became more anti-slavery over time.

Still, what does that say, logically, about the role slavery played?

Well, it makes it essential to the Founding.

And what do we gain by pretending otherwise?

One thing is for sure: pointing all of this out, as a matter of the historical record, is not some leftist attack on the Founders.


*After I had composed about 90% of this post I listened to the first episode, and I would very much recommend it.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    pointing all of this out, as a matter of the historical record, is not some leftist attack on the Founders

    Steven, you might as well argue that pointing out historical facts about the authors of the New Testament is not an atheist attack on Christianity. The people Rich Lowry is speaking to wouldn’t accept that argument either.

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  2. An Interested Party says:

    Most of the conservative criticism of this project suffers from this defect–that pointing out all the facts of something is some kind of negative criticism…of course the founding of this country is inextricably linked to slavery and racism, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad country…indeed, our history shows a country that gets better over time, with more people gaining freedom and rights which they should have had since birth…this constant, if uneven, drive to improve and get better is something to praise and it becomes ever more powerful when you realize how the country started…and this argument is especially odious coming from Lowry, someone who in the past seemed to present himself as some kind of conservative intellectual but who has become little more than a Trump fluffer…

  3. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The main problem of “1619” is that slavery in the United States could not be separated from slavery in the Caribbean and in Brazil. It began before 1619.

    Settlers brought slavery to the United States because that was profitable, even if unlike Barbados, Brazil, Colombia and Jamaica the United States had an industrial economy and a plantation economy in the same country.

    By the way, I live close to a city called “Americana”. It has that name because some slave owners in Alabama, after the Civil War, settled in Brazil so that they could own slaves. And the people that wrote the Constitution owned slaves.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Perhaps the most reasoned view of the 1619 Project by a conservative that I’ve seen was Bret Stevens’ in the NYT. Stevens didn’t try to deny the history of the project or wrap it up in 21st century culture wars, he simply noted that despite the failings of the founders they instilled the concept of liberty that has become a touch stone for all subsequent civil rights movements.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    One question that I’m too lazy to use my Google-fu on: there was this incorporation of slavery into the original Constitution, but I seem to remember (vaguely) that the idea “black == only good for slavery” concept and the large number of slaves really only got started after the invention of the cotton harvester and the increasing need of Southern plantations for manpower. At the founding of the US there were multiple methods of getting cheap labour, some nastier than others (slavery/indentured servants/whatever) and it was only later that slavery came so completely dominate the economy of the South. Are my beliefs correct or am I totally brain-bent?

    (One of the terrors that free blacks had everywhere–including Canada–was of being kidnapped and sold down South “as an escaped slave”. Quite a few instances of such occurring.)

  6. grumpy realist says:

    ….I’ve also just realised that it’s very easy even now to get your hands on material that was almost certainly created out of slave labour. Just get an old cotton patchwork quilt with pre-Civil War fabric. I probably have some.

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Like there needed to be a concept of ‘liberty’ to fall back on to explain why slavery or Jim Crow or de facto segregation in the North was wrong. This is akin to saying that Jefferson was of a different time, so he didn’t know that owning and torturing humans or raping Sally Hemmings when she was a child was wrong or that slaves on a plantation were inspired by the Declaration of Independence as they were being whipped. The Founders supplied nothing to further the cause of African-Americans in this country.

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  8. grumpy realist says:

    @Modulo Myself: Well….in fact, a lot of the concepts we call abstract like “liberty” or “human rights” in fact DO change over time. We didn’t used to have the concept of “marital rape” for the longest time because a woman, having married, was expected to be sexually available to her husband at all times, whether she wanted it or not.

    So yeah, I can see it quite possible that Thomas Jefferson was quite sincere when talking about “liberty”. He was a man of his time and his concept of liberty didn’t stretch beyond extending it to other white-men-with-property. St. Augustine and other Christian philosophers had already wrestled with the fact that slavery isn’t very equal nor ideal–but was then necessary to the economy–and had fallen back on the age-old excuse of our living in a “fallen world” so therefore slaves should just put up with their lot and hope for a reward in the afterlife.

    (Sometimes I think that religion has been nothing more than memes designed to keep the lower classes and slaves from revolting.)

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    WAPO had an article pointing out that African slavery in what is now the United States actually started almost a hundred years earlier when the Spanish brought African slaves to Florida in 1539.

  10. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @grumpy realist: The Portuguese brought African slaves to the Americas to produce sugar, that was extremely profitable. One of the reasons why the English lost the Thirteen Colonies was that they preferred to keep Barbados and Jamaica. I think that it would be very difficult to produce sugar in industrial scale without slaves in the 1700’s. In fact, the first settlers in many colonies in the South were landowners from the Barbados and Jamaica that brought their slaves with them.

    You can’t separate slavery in the Caribbean from slavery in the United States.

  11. Gustopher says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Well….in fact, a lot of the concepts we call abstract like “liberty” or “human rights” in fact DO change over time.

    If my increasingly faulty memory is to be trusted, “liberty” and “freedom” were not really synonyms at the time. “Liberty” had more to do with property rights, and was a more predominant notion in the South,l. The South tended to have a class system brought straight from England, while the Northeast tended to be weird religious castoffs, who were all equally despised in England. Social mobility was more a Northern thing.

    I am 90% sure this is covered in the book American Nations, which is about the different groups that settled what would become the United States, and how those groupings are still relevant today.

    It’s been a very long time since I read that book, though, so I may be misrepresenting that part.

    Part of the compromise in the constitution is that everyone agreed to the words, but not everyone agreed to what the words meant. Which puts lie to the originalist interpretations.

  12. Modulo Myself says:

    @grumpy realist:

    There’s no operative ‘we’ in what you are saying. Jefferson was not a man of his time. Slaves of Jefferson’s time were not on the same page as Thomas Jefferson. Religion did not keep slaves from revolting or from fleeing or recognizing the fact that they did not want to be slaves. Abolitionism existed in Jefferson’s time. It wasn’t made-up a posteriori by people who didn’t understand the truth of the times.

    At a certain level, I think conservatives might be right. Under inspection, maybe the founding fathers are just little weak mediocrities. They aren’t inspiring or interesting, really. What they accomplished was in the service of slavery and violence. Nothing more.

  13. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I’m not sure Spanish Florida really has a lot of impact on the US as a whole. (Or Spain’s Pacific Northwest adventures, where they named the San Juan Islands and did little else.)

  14. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Gustopher: “America” is named after a Italian guy that was sailing for the Portuguese Crown. You can’t really separate what was happening in the Thirteen Colonies and in the rest of the colonies at the time.

  15. Bruce Henry says:

    (Sometimes I think that religion has been nothing more than memes designed to keep the lower classes and slaves from revolting.)

    Gee, ya think?

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    If my increasingly faulty memory is to be trusted, “liberty” and “freedom” were not really synonyms at the time. “Liberty” had more to do with property rights, and was a more predominant notion in the South

    Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” was an evolution of John Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and Property.” So I don’t think liberty and property were seen as synonymous.

  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    It’s a beautiful late summers day and I have no interest in getting down into the weeds on this, I’d rather take the dog for a walk on the beach. So I’ll reference the Steven’s article and his reference to Frederick Douglass on the very subject we’re discussing and further reference to Martin Luther King.

    “The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham,” Frederick Douglass reproached a Rochester audience on July 5, 1852. But he also said, in the same speech, that “interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.” Martin Luther King Jr., made essentially the same case 111 years later from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

    No one here is denying that the Founders were not flawed, failed and traded the lives of human beings to settle political disputes. Despite this they developed and provided a limited implementation of liberty that has been the touch stone for subsequent civil rights and civil liberties movements.

    We can simply argue about the past or we can find common ground to go forward and build a society where in truth that not only are all persons created equal, they have the opportunity to succeed or fail based on their own efforts, unhindered by race, ethnicity or sex.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Abolitionism existed in Jefferson’s time. It wasn’t made-up a posteriori by people who didn’t understand the truth of the times.

    This is an important point that doesn’t get emphasized enough. Slavery at the time of the Founding was already forbidden on British home soil; the abolitionists had won that much. This was not a case of “it was just the way everyone thought back then” — western society had already recognized the ugliness of slavery, and taken steps to at least get it out of sight. The oh-so-revolutionary US was among its last bastions.

  19. @Sleeping Dog:

    We can simply argue about the past or we can find common ground to go forward and build a society where in truth that not only are all persons created equal, they have the opportunity to succeed or fail based on their own efforts, unhindered by race, ethnicity or sex.

    Speaking for myself, I certainly agree that we need to work towards living up to the idea that all are created equal.

    However, I would note that the reason we have to argue about the past is that that the past affects the present. Our current struggles to live up to these ideals are deeply rooted in the past.

    Consider the fact that the US didn’t really have true universal suffrage until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and we still struggle with making sure that all citizens have equal access to the ballot box (and, not coincidentally, the group of citizens who are more likely to have trouble with access are African-Americans).

    I don’t want to just dwell on the past, but the notion that we have already dealt with all of this is simply not true.

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  20. @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    “America” is named after a Italian guy that was sailing for the Portuguese Crown. You can’t really separate what was happening in the Thirteen Colonies and in the rest of the colonies at the time.

    Which is why I try to refer to the United States and not America when referring to the USA.

    And you are certainly correct that there is a broader, connected American experience and history.

    I will say that the context of the 1619 project is specifically about the USA.

  21. mattbernius says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    We can simply argue about the past or we can find common ground to go forward and build a society where in truth that not only are all persons created equal, they have the opportunity to succeed or fail based on their own efforts, unhindered by race, ethnicity or sex.

    This is a great sentiment, but the reality is it’s necessary to argue about that past in order to build that future. Again, the best example of this is making decisions about the removal of Confederate Memorials. Given the fact that so many of them were built not just to honor the confederacy but to also enshrine a racial hierarchy that put African Americans below Whites.

    The decision to keep those up as a monument to “our shared history” is also a reminder that they are still there because African American’s hold less cultural power (i.e. their feelings and hurt don’t matter as much as those of the descendants of people who fought a war to keep those people enslaved and then spend another century propping up institutions that kept them as second class citizens).

    That’s just one example of the necessity of address the past to create an equitable future.

    That’s before we get into stuff like the long term effects of things like red-lining to federal housing policies that actively created white flight and segregated populations to the sacking of various prosperous communities of color throughout the US.

  22. Tyrell says:

    I have not read this article. I have not touched a NYT paper in decades. When I was a child and teen I would search out the library, news stands, and paper boxes for the NYT. I felt like I was in with the big executives’ world when I had the Times. Their sports coverage and writers are legendary. But those days are gone and from what I have noticed over the last several years the Times has joined the other print news in total decline. I certainly am not against the print news. We subscribed to the morning and evening editions of the local paper (I used to wait on the porch for the evening edition, which ceased back in the ’80’s). Our magazines were Life, Time, Sports Illustrated, Readers Digest, Hot Rod, and the legendary National Geographic. We had NG’s that filled several book shelves. I still have dozens of Sports Illustrated covers from four decades. Now no one in the neighborhood subscribes to the paper. Some stores used to have 8 – 10 paper boxes. The schools no longer have magazines (periodicals they were called). Few kids have ever touched a newspaper. Well, enough of the old days.
    I hope this Times article is a good research piece, not political agenda driven. It could be part of an effort that has been going on to degrade and marginalize the early leaders of this country: Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Adams, Revere, Burr, Hamilton, Hancock, Jones, and others. There have already been some chatter about renaming streets, buildings, and removing monuments. On down the line will be Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Teddy Roosevelt.

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  23. mattbernius says:

    Color me completely surprised that the publication that opposed civil rights legislation, supported segregation in the 50’s, supported Apartheid in the 80’s — among many other awful stands on race related issues — and has had to let multiple writers and editors go for racist essays or comments in other media, would have a problem with the 1619 project.

    BTW, it’s also great to remember that they are so committed to accurate recountings of history that they keep Dinesh D’Souza on their masthead.

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  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist: The machine you are thinking of was the cotton gin which seperated the bolls from their seeds. They neede slaves to harvest the cotton even more with that invention.

    @grumpy realist: Even easier than that, just go to your local Walmart.

  25. @Tyrell:

    I have not read this article.

    I guess that makes it difficult for you to intelligently comment then, yes?

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  26. Teve says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: it seems he doesn’t even know that the 1619 project is more than one article.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I recall reading some Political Science prof, possibly you, but I recall otherwise, saying he tries to get his students to understand that stuff doesn’t just happen, there are reasons things are the way they are.

  28. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will say that the context of the 1619 project is specifically about the USA.

    I think that referring to slavery specifically in the USA paints slavery as some type of backward mistake that would be naturally corrected. But the Colonial Empires of the time relied on slave labor, I don’t know if sugar could have been produced in large scale without slave labor, and the Industrial Revolution would have been different without slave labor.

    Southern United States is the only former plantation economy(With Bahamas, and maybe Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados as the other exceptions) that is a high income economy, and obviously, without the North it would not be a high income economy.

    Slavery in the United States have more to do with slavery in the Caribbean than the slave ship that arrived in Virginia in 1619. That does not mean that the idea of the project is a bad idea, but it also shows how Conservatives that are opposed to the project are wrong.

  29. Chip Daniels says:

    The concept that underlies slavery, that all men are not in fact created equal, has shaped this nation just as much as its opposite.

    Everything from our fixation with guns, to our ideas about government assistance to popular music and athletics have been warped and influenced in someway by this idea.
    Even the physical form of our cities was shaped by the need to segregate others.

    Slavery itself may be gone but we are still struggling with the idea of equality today.

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:
    Bullshit. Those of us who actually read the NYT are impressed by how vibrant it is, how much fascinating long-form work they’re doing, how brilliantly they are adapting to the digital world. The NYT and WaPo are wonderful papers, as good as they’ve ever been if not better, and I’m in a position to comment because I do read both papers, and have at least since Watergate.

    I hope this Times article is a good research piece, not political agenda driven. It could be part of an effort that has been going on to degrade and marginalize the early leaders of this country: Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Adams, Revere, Burr, Hamilton, Hancock, Jones, and others. There have already been some chatter about renaming streets, buildings, and removing monuments. On down the line will be Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Teddy Roosevelt.

    There is no effort to tear down the founders, there is an effort to be honest about them. If you prefer lies that make you feel good, that’s not exactly atypical of people on the Right. Personally, I like truth.

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  31. @Andre Kenji de Sousa: I am not disagreeing with the broader point about slavery in the Americas (or slavery globally, etc).

    One can talk about slavery in the Americas. One can also talk about the specific effects of slavery on political development (and contemporary politics) in specific countries.

    I don’t understand the insistence that it can’t be talked about as it pertains to a specific country. One could certainly talk about the role slavery played in the development of Haiti and Brazil, to pick two obvious examples.

    I think that referring to slavery specifically in the USA paints slavery as some type of backward mistake that would be naturally corrected.

    I don’t understand why this would be the case.

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  32. @Steven L. Taylor: I would be seriously interested in why that comment received a down vote.

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  33. @gVOR08: It is possible that I said something along those lines.

    And whether I did or not, I endorse the sentiment.

  34. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Could have been a fat finger issue…

  35. Modulo Myself says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Despite this they developed and provided a limited implementation of liberty that has been the touch stone for subsequent civil rights and civil liberties movements.

    That’s just untrue. If you want to believe it, believe it. But the idea that black people living, say, in the segregated south needed the Founder’s version of liberty is just insulting to black people. They had their own lives which told them this. Nothing else matters. Part of me believes that the cruelty is the point. Or not part of me. A great deal of me.

    Telling black people that Thomas Jefferson, slaveowner, wrote some stuff which proved to be a touchstone for the civil rights movement 170 or so years later is just a way to put a black person in their place. Your treated like a second-class citizen? You can’t vote? You might get murdered for no reason? Without a bunch of slaveowners having created this idea of liberty, you might not really know that it’s a bad thing. Come to think of it, without white people, you might be happy in your place, just another smiling slave.

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  36. @mattbernius: Fair point.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    I wish people – especially in the South – could pull their little racist heads out of their asses long enough to recognize that slavery did not just harm blacks, it also crippled the economic potential of southern whites. To oversimplify: if a rich white man could get his slave to shoe horses for free, the white village blacksmith lost business and stayed poor.

    When these idiots run around waving their battle flags and yammering about heritage, they always imagine themselves in the role of plantation owners. They don’t seem to get the fact that slavery, in addition to being a horror visited upon black people, is a big part of the reason why a southern white man today is so far behind his northern or western counterpart.

    Why is the white south still so poor? Slavery and Jim Crow. Working class whites have been convinced that they somehow have common cause with the very white people who screwed blacks and in the same instance screwed whites. They identify with the people who victimized them. And to this day they remain to fkin stupid to figure out that they are still the witless tools of a party that makes their lives worse.

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  38. Teve says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would be seriously interested in why that comment received a down vote.

    there are always half a dozen or so trolls lurking like 95 South so if I get anything less than 5 or so downvotes I just assume it’s them. My favorite kind of downvote is when I get one on a single sentence that is just nothing but a simple provable factual statement. 😀

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  39. Kit says:

    I suppose we could argue over what the “essence of America” was and is, given that it is an extremely abstract notion. However, I don’t think one has to be a leftist, or really much of anything other than honest, to acknowledge that one of the country’s founding principles was, in fact, white supremacy.

    To my ears, white supremacy implies that the question of supremacy is not settled and thus a cause for anxiety. It would actually be a step up from a society which simply took the issue as being so obvious that no serious discussion was needed. As a rather fanciful example, human supremacy would have a very different take in a Planet of the Apes world.

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    Even the physical form of our cities was shaped by the need to segregate others.

    I saw an article a couple days ago talking about how local governments routed the Interstate highways to literally wall off minority neighborhoods.

  41. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: As an aside, the freeways were also routed through poor neighborhoods, black and white, simply because land costs would be lower. Kevin Drum has a theory that lead poisoning from leaded gasoline drove the rise of crime. It’s known that lead poisoning reduces impulse control. An infant exposed to lead would reach peak crime age around 18, which is roughly the lag from banning lead to the crime rate peaking. The freeways meet near inner cities and lead concentrations were therefore highest there. There is a strong geographic correlation between lead concentration and crime rate.

    It’s much more comfortable to believe those people were just prone to violence than to consider that our major corporations and our governments, albeit unknowingly, poisoned them in a way that drove violence.

  42. JohnMcC says:

    @gVOR08: The insightful phrase to describe the building process you’re referring to was – ‘urban renewal is negro removal.’

  43. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: you’re right, I’m mashing up several different things, and adding in the explicit property element…

    Luckily, I read this on the Kindle, and made a highlight, so I am able to look up what had stuck in my mind:

    From American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard

    For these new elites in both Chesapeake colonies, the overriding goal wasn’t to build a religious utopia (as in early Yankeedom or the Midlands) or a complex network of Indian alliances (as in New France). Whether highborn or self-made, the great planters had an extremely conservative vision for the future of their new country: they wished to re-create the genteel manor life of rural England in the New World. By a quirk of history, they succeeded beyond their imaginations.

    […]

    The Greek and Roman political philosophy embraced by Tidewater gentry assumed the opposite: most humans were born into bondage. Liberty was something that was granted and was thus a privilege, not a right. Some people were permitted many liberties, others had very few, and many had none at all. The Roman republic was one in which only a handful of people had the full privileges of speech (senators, magistrates), a minority had the right to vote on what their superiors had decided (citizens), and most people had no say at all (slaves). Liberties were valuable because most people did not have them and were thought meaningless without the presence of a hierarchy. For the Greeks and Romans there was no contradiction between republicanism and slavery, liberty and bondage. This was the political philosophy embraced and jealously guarded by Tidewater’s leaders, whose highborn families saw themselves as descendants not of the “common” Anglo-Saxons, but rather of their aristocratic Norman conquerors. It was a philosophical divide with racial overtones and one that would later drive America’s nations into all-out war with one another. 17 Tidewater’s leaders imposed libertas on their society in countless ways. They referred to themselves as “heads” of their respective manors, dictating duties to their “hands” and other subservient appendages. Finding Jamestown and St. Mary’s City too crude, they built new government campuses in Williamsburg and Annapolis from central plans inspired by Rome; Williamsburg featured a sumptuous formal “palace” for the governor (surrounded by Versailles-like formal gardens) and the elegant Capitol (not “state house”) decorated with a relief of Jupiter, the god whose temple stood at the center of Roman civic life. They named counties, cities, and colonies after their superiors: English royals (Prince George, Prince William, Princess Anne, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Annapolis, Georgetown, Virginia, Maryland) or high nobles (Albemarle, Baltimore, Beaufort, Calvert, Cecil, Cumberland, Caroline, Anne Arundel, Delaware). While they were passionate in defending their liberties, it would never have occurred to them that those liberties might be shared with their subjects. “I am an aristocrat,” Virginian John Randolph would explain decades after the American Revolution. “I love liberty; I hate equality.”

    Now, whether that is BS, I lack the background to say. Most of the book seems reasonable, though.

  44. SenyorDave says:

    Here is a link to a pdf containing the entire 1619 issue:

    http://pulitzercenter.org/sites/default/files/full_issue_of_the_1619_project.pdf

  45. Chip Daniels says:

    @Gustopher:
    I’m currently reading “Rubicon” by Tom Holland about the end of the Republic and he stresses similar points, that even as the Roman plebes battled the aristocrats for a share of liberty, they still saw liberty as a privilege that had to be fought for. It wasn’t something intrinsic to all persons and they certainly never thought it was opposed to the practice of slavery.

  46. Gustopher says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: You cannot separate US slavery from what was going on in the region, but Spanish Florida was pretty much a dead end.

    Slavery in the US and English colonies was influenced by slavery in the Caribbean, with the more brutal forms being adapted from sugar plantations, as there was a much greater English presence there. Florida was pretty much skipped over because it was a fetid swamp. US involvement with Florida was after the slave trade was set up.

    Slavery in the US was also not monolithic. Life as a slave sucked everywhere, but if you had to be a slave, life was better the further north you were — partly because of the work, and partly because the laws and customs in the northern colonies enforced some standards of behavior.

  47. michael reynolds says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: @Gustopher:
    Would it not be correct to simply say that any specific iteration of slavery was a function of the economics, particularly of the dominant crop? And crop was a function of climate?

    Hotter, wetter climates also tended to feature tropical diseases to which whites had no built-up immunity, hence a greater need for slaves – this is why South Carolina had the largest proportion of slaves, their crops were indigo and rice. Cotton became an industrialized crop after the gin, so in places like Alabama and Texas you had a combination of oppressions, slavery marrying up with the early industrial age. Tobacco cultivation doesn’t require fetid swamps, it could be grown in kinder climates and may have resulted in less brutal slavery.

    There was no difference in terms of moral culpability, slave owners in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia etc…, simply used their ‘property’ in ways they found most profitable without any regard for their humanity.

  48. Slugger says:

    The development of agriculture ~9000 years ago changed hunter-gatherers who were egalitarian into hierarchical societies with land-owners on one level and workers on a secondary level. A European serf was bound to the estate in a manner not much different than a slave. In Britain, the workers produced food for themselves and stuff to pay rent or taxes. The stuff for the landlord was not always the same as the stuff to sustain the workers as in Ireland where wheat was grown for the landlord and potatoes for the workers. The workers got barely enough to keep them alive, “the iron law of wages.” The slave trade allowed the landowners to pay the workers less than that. The sugar plantations of Jamaica simply worked people to death with the ships resupplying them. In the US this importation was stopped by law.
    My point is that slavery is an outgrowth of property. Historically, only a small proportion of the population could own property (land). If you can’t be an owner, you become property whether as a serf in Russia, a peasant in Ireland, or a slave in Mississippi. The kings, lords, and estate owners that we admire achieved their learning and wisdom by exploitation of people that they didn’t consider fully human.

  49. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: it’s not Drum’s theory but he’s a big popularizer of it.

    the lead-crime hypothesis

  50. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: There was slavery in New England, but it didn’t really catch on as much, or have the same cruelty.

    New England has a shorter growing season, but there were lots of crops that were grown there anyway, and cheap labor is cheap labor. Someone has to milk the cows and tend to the pigs. And that butter isn’t going to churn itself.

    Sojourner Truth was a slave in upstate New York. She had been promised freedom that never came, and just left the farm, and then sued her former owner who kept her children. Ponder everything that has to be there for that to happen — a legal system that didn’t just ship her back, etc. Now imagine that happening in the South… you can’t.

    New England was also dominated by religious immigrants who were encouraged to leave Old England, rather than the wastrel sons of English landowners off to make their killing.

    There was a difference in culture and morality, and that played as much of a part as the economics.

  51. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Not slavery-related, but go read “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady” for a sharp-eyed dissection of the South’s enshrinement of “heritage” (particularly any genealogy linking one’s family to English aristocracy.) The number of dotty little old Southern ladies convinced they are descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie is definitely not a small number….

    Also, can we really consider Texas as part of Tidewater culture? It seems to me that Texas has its own idiosyncratic culture which should be considered separately.

  52. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting article on the development of slavery on the Virginia plantations pre-Revolutionary War and attempts by the British to entice slaves to run away and take up with the British army in exchange for freedom. Interesting to think how if the Revolutionary War had failed slavery might have died away in the “colonies” much earlier. As it was, it lingered around coupled with the plantation economies of the South to the point that we had to have a bloody civil war over it!

    P.S. Above article points out how the local regulations governing slavery in Virginia were swiped from British Caribbean plantations, because there was in fact no Common Law allowing slavery in England by 1771.

    (What can I say? Slavery is crap, and we’re still dealing with the aftershocks of it in the U.S.)

  53. al Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:
    Your observation reminds me that in the post war period on up to the sixties, ‘urban renewal’ was often seen by the Black community as ‘negro removal’

    Even out here in (now progressive) San Francisco, under the auspices of city redevelopment, about 50+ years ago, about 40 square blocks of housing were razed and public housing towers constructed and a vibrant emerging Black middle class district (Fillmore) was nearly destroyed and setback for decades.

    We live with the consequences of 240 years of legal slavery, and about 100 years of Jim Crow, segregation and apartheid every single day.

  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Chip Daniels: I think Orwell put it better in Animal Farm.

    All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

  55. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Because there’s a RWNJ lurker who doesn’t want to say anything?

    ETA: Fat finger issue may explain it pretty well, too. Have to admit that. Never occurs to me because–no smartphone.

  56. @Modulo Myself:

    Abolitionism existed in Jefferson’s time.

    I had the idea that Jefferson himself was a kind of abolitionist, no (like modern millionaire socialists)?

  57. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger:

    My point is that slavery is an outgrowth of property.

    We (and I mean all interested parties by that “we”) make a serious mistake when we think of slavery as an outgrowth of western culture. Slavery, whatever it was called, was an outgrowth of virtually every major civilization the world has ever known. The Japanese farm workers in ancient times were slaves of the serf or villane variety prevalent throughout western . Most of the labor in Egypt were indistinguishable from slaves. The Aztecs and Incas practiced unusually cruel regimes of slavery involving the random torturing and hideous executions of captured slaves in bizarre religious ceremonies. The early Western explorers of North America documented the depredations of strong tribes on the weak. And of course capturing women and bringing them back to be sexual and domestic slaves existed in virtually every culture everywhere. Even African slavery has been White-washed. In the gold and Ivory Coast’s, given malaria and other diseases, as well as the military prowess and “take no sh*t” attitude of the locals, the whites did not go into the interior. Slaves were captured by force from lesser tribes or factions that had displeased various chiefs and marched to Cape Coast and Accra to be sold. And those towns were run by the local residents, with the the whites limited to the fortified castles they built within easy reach of their ships.

    Lest you think present day Africans aren’t aware of this, here’s a real incident that I witnessed while serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana thirty years ago. During the rainy season the one passenger Lordy could not reach my village and I had risen hours before dawn to walk with my colleague Osei the two miles in the dark to the next village over and sit dozing on the packed planks waiting enough light for the driver to make his way out. I fell asleep to Osei engaged in what sounded like a pedantic discussion with his seat mate, a teacher in the local school. Soon though I was roused by raised voices and anger (very not cool, socially). MyTwi being rudimentary I only understood every third word so it was some time before I learned what the argument was about. I knew the history of my village as being especially glorious because my chief (a pharmacist at a military base in the capital) was invited to a big celebration of the Asantehenne (with me, sweating in my tie, in tow), sort of the President as compared to all the governors and mayors. In this comparison my chief was the mayor of a very, very small town and not of the type to be invited to such an event but it turns out that the people of my village, Konkoma (no, not that Konkoma but rather the small one on the shores of had once spotted some invaders sneaking over the mountains heading towards Kumasi and the Asantehenne andd they had engaged them and more importantly sent runners to raise the alarm. The Asantehenne of the time had elevated the Konkoma-henne status as a result, despite the unimportance of my village. I knew all this and also knew that there was another Konkoma far to the north. It turns out that Osei had been bragging about all this and the guy he was talking to got fed up and proceeded to remind him that the Konkomanians were originally slaves and were marched to Bosumtwi to fish for the Asantehenne. The fight was about whether we could still be considered slaves after the Asantehenne had elevated us.

  58. JKB says:

    Of course, the question isn’t why the United States wasn’t born without any vestiges of prior human history but way was it formed unique in the world as a government of the People. Took a while to overcome some of human history, but even that was already underway upon the USA’s creation. But the NY Times is pursuing the uneducated view as why the past didn’t just up and “Woke” rather than evolving. Why did the non-Africans in the North American colonies fight for their own freedom before considering the freedom of others? The fight’s outcome seems assured now, but to those in the fray…

    Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century – and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of the 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

    –Thomas Sowell

  59. Slugger says:

    @MarkedMan: I think we are in general agreement. To me slavery means that the production of your labor belongs to someone else even if this imperils your life. This is the reason I equated chattel slavery in the South with the Irish peasants during the potato famine. And yes, there are horrifying examples throughout the history of the world.
    One of the special features of the South was the escape possibilities. A Russian serf, a Scottish highlander, or a Spartan helot had few alternatives. In North America the frontier was an obvious place where a able-bodied farm worker could build a life. To shut this off, there were several fugitive slave laws de jure and a policy of anti-black propaganda. Without harsh law and social stigmas, the descendants of Africans could have settled Wisconsin.
    Does anyone think that the wealth of many influential early Americans didn’t come from being slaveowners? Is it impolite to remember this?

  60. @JKB: The issue is the degree to which slavery has very much affected the development of the US, whether people want to admit it or not.

    Just patting ourselves on the back that we got rid of slavery misses the fact that slavery and its aftermath continues to matter to this present day.

    Why is this ignored and, instead, you are worried about the the US not getting enough credit and/or fretting about whether we are being too mean to the Framers.

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  61. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I don’t understand why this would be the case.

    I think that if you separate slavery from the huge colonial companies that profited from slavery it’s easier to imagine something in the margins of the economy. Slavery was part of the global capitalism of the time, it was more than a mistake.

    @Gustopher:

    You cannot separate US slavery from what was going on in the region, but Spanish Florida was pretty much a dead end.

    Spanish Florida was a dead end, but Barbados and Jamaica were not. And the colonies in the South were founded by slave owners from Barbados and Jamaica.

    @michael reynolds:

    Would it not be correct to simply say that any specific iteration of slavery was a function of the economics, particularly of the dominant crop?

    Not only that. Slavery was profitable. There is a ridiculous idea among US Conservatives that slavery ended because of the ideals of the American Constitution, but slavery ended because it ceased to be profitable. Maybe it was still profitable in the South before the Civil War, but it would soon prove to be unprofitable in Brazil.

    (The Alabamians that moved to Brazil would not keep their slaves for long, by the way).

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  62. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    White fragility is a hell of a drug…

    Also, while JKB wants that credit for ending slavery, he’s historically been against the removal of Confederate War Memorials because they’re all about honoring the honorable soldiers who fought a bloody war to preserve the right to keep humans as slaves.

    Also, gotta love the Thomas Sowell quote — a libertarian/conservative’s go to when they want a way to ignore having to take seriously what other people of color wrote. 1 Sowell is worth 100 other people of color saying exactly the opposite.

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  63. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Conservatives who call themselves Christians (which definitely includes Lowry) almost always believe in the doctrine of original sin. But that’s purely individual and has no analogies in the lives of nations. At least that’s what they say or imply.

  64. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @grumpy realist: A good work to consult on the British attempt to turn slaves against the rebellious colonists is Simon Schama’s ROUGH CROSSING. It explains how freed slaves wound up in Canada and England after the American Revolution.

  65. DrDaveT says:

    @Teve:

    My favorite kind of downvote is when I get one on a single sentence that is just nothing but a simple provable factual statement.

    Well, that’s kind of the point here, right? Pointing out facts is a libtard thing. It’s against everything the GOP stands for at the moment.

  66. An Interested Party says:

    You could research all of the 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

    Of course these people are singled out, because they were the people behind such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States…they talked a good game about freedom and justice but they obviously didn’t always practice those tenets…