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Rich Lowry

The reviews of the 1619 Project are in.

It is “a very unbalanced, one-sided account.” It is “wrong in so many ways.” It is “not only ahistorical,” but “actually anti-historical.” It is “a tendentious and partial reading of American history.”

This is what top historians have said of the splashy New York Times feature on slavery in the U.S. that aspires to fundamentally reorient our understanding of American history and change what students are taught in the schools.

Given that the Times can’t necessarily be trusted to give a straight account in its news pages of Mitch McConnell’s latest tactical maneuver, it wouldn’t seem a natural source for objective truth on sensitive historical matters, and sure enough, the 1619 Project is shot through with an ideological radicalism that leads to rank distortions and laughable overreach.

The project has been controversial since it was first published in The New York Times Magazine last year, but its architects sneered at the critics as troglodyte conservatives (or “white historians”) unwilling to grapple with the country’s racial sins. Then the World Socialist Web Site — of all things — begin publishing interviews with eminent historians slamming the project.

All of the above quotations come from the website’s interviews with highly accomplished and respected historians — the Princeton professor James McPherson, author of the magisterial history of the Civil War, “Battle Cry of Freedom;” the formidable historian of the Revolutionary War period, Gordon Wood; the CUNY professor James Oakes, who specializes in the Civil War period; and the Lincoln scholar Richard Carwardine of Oxford University.

At the end of the year, the Times published an extraordinary letter from McPherson, Oakes and Wood, as well as Sean Wilentz of Princeton and Victoria Bynum of Texas State University, demanding “prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in the 1619 Project.”

“These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing,’” the historians wrote. “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. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only ‘white historians’ — has affirmed that displacement.”

The Times, in a response from the editor in chief of the magazine, Jake Silverstein, countered, “Historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices.” In other words, just wait and the supporters of the 1619 Project will enshrine it as a new orthodoxy.

One focus of the historians is the preposterous claim of the 1619 Project that a primary reason that the colonists launched the American Revolution was to protect slavery. “This is not true,” they say. “If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false.”

Silverstein counters by invoking disquiet among American slaveholders over the landmark Somerset decision in England in 1772 that found that chattel slavery wasn’t supported under the “natural law.”

Yet nothing in the historical record suggests that the decision, which didn’t apply to the colonies, played a role in precipitating the revolution.

Silverstein also notes the so-called Dunmore’s Proclamation by the royal governor of Virginia in late 1775 offering freedom to slaves who joined with British forces.

By this point, though, the revolution was already underway (the First Continental Congress met in 1774; Lexington and Concord came earlier in 1775).

Nothing is going to budge the Times from its view that slavery is the central story of America, because establishing that is the entire point of the 1619 Project.

Nonetheless, the dissenting historians are performing an important public service. They are making the dishonesty of the project a matter of record, and might, in so doing, cause educational institutions to think twice before adopting it wholesale into their curricula.

At least the Times’ assault on the nation’s historical memory is not going unanswered.

Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry.

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(4) comments

killallthelawyersfirst

Mr. Infinity, One very probable reason we do not learn from history is that most of us simply ignore it. Knowledge demands effort. Wisdom demands many efforts.

Hive

While some of JD's descriptions are harsh, he does touch some truths. The Founders were rich landowners, slavery was common and ideas of English userpation without representation does remind us of our current POTUS and minions Tory/regency-like arrogance.

Neither cares for nation or future, only their own now-wants, which are simple, stultified selfishness wants.

We note similar expressions in a number of (Winona) political locals, so is common "I got mine" bullroar.

Representative Hagedorn is mistake-example that also clouds over city people as well.

We get the dingers to govern us that we deserve...

We are, therefore, as selfish as those we complain about, when we complain but let evil bullroar flourish.

jdinfinity2

I'm sure that 1619 has issues with not accurately portraying history. I get that, and so do numerous other scholars that are probably seething at the mischaracterizations of said history.

But Lowry here? He's a cretin.

Why would he even put this bullroar garbage out there?

At best this drivel article is a marginalizing of the deep seated roots of slavery that founded our nation.

At worst, it's outright racism.

In reality, it's a seething, between the lines, childish dodge, that reverse victimizes the message, all so the conservative right doesn't have to accept culpability and accountability for the sins of our fathers.

Bottom line, this nation was founded by white, racist, greedy landowners, that didn't want to pay their taxes. And then later, we slaughtered and stole this land from the native americans (by divine right no less). And here we are, hundreds of years later, with the pathetic conservatives trying to sweep it under the rug, and cover it up, like it never happened.

Another reason we never learn from history, is there are people out there seeking to hide the truth of it. Those people are perhaps the most evil of all. Like Lowry here...

Hive

Pot calling the kettle black...more bullroar from another choir member, who give no road apples for your children or the nation, judging from his liar-love.

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