I have previously discussed this project in a series of posts. Having thought more about what lies beneath this mindset, and, having benefited from the thoughts of additional correspondents, some additional comments are warranted.
How can we account for the ease by which ideas contained in this initiative have been eviscerated? After all, the New York Times has the resources to hire the “best and the brightest,” be they permanent staff or occasional contributors. And yet, when the thesis behind The 1619 Project is subjected to even the most modest application of critical thought it literally disintegrates and disappears.
Of course the NYT and its 1619 contributors don’t see things this way. They are convinced that their thesis of oppression is true regardless of any facts or arguments to the contrary. One contributor to 1619, Jamelle Bouie, responded directly to these criticisms in the NYT. How he chose to end his response is deeply revealing.
No, the American revolutionaries did not declare a commitment to white supremacy, and the framers of the Constitution did not spell out their structural accommodation with slavery. But there’s good, strong evidence that these were critical parts of the founding moment, fundamentally tied to the identity and political economy of the new nation. This was not inevitable. There were other choices available — other options for constructing the nation. “A general emancipation after the revolution,” writes the historian Winthrop D. Jordan in “White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812,” “would have come as a glorious triumph, the capstone of the Revolution.” Instead, the revolutionary generation ran away from the implications of their ideas. And when, just a few years later, enslaved people in the French colony of Saint-Domingue rebelled in the name of liberty, American officials like Jefferson feared similar “combustion” in the South.
My larger point is this: History is not the uncovering of absolute truths. It is a dialogue between the present and the past, between communities of scholars and thinkers working to understand the record of what came before — it is always a process of change and revision and critique. Conservatives have every right to criticize The 1619 Project. But if they’re going to call it “lies” and “garbage history” — if they’re going accuse it of propaganda and partisanship — then they should ask themselves a question: Are they looking for better scholarship or are they making a demand for orthodoxy?
Thus Mr. Bouie admits that “the American revolutionaries did not declare a commitment to white supremacy, and the framers of the Constitution did not spell out their structural accommodation with slavery” while simultaneously claiming the existence of “strong evidence that these were critical parts of the founding moment.” But wait, isn’t the core thesis of “The 1619 Project” that 1619 was “our true founding?” Which is it, Mr. Bouie, a “founding” in 1776 or a “founding” in 1787 or a “founding” in 1619? Perhaps intellectual consistency isn’t so important when you are living at the pinnacle of moral superiority.
And, as the capstone of his argument, why does he cite the opinion of an author whose book was published in 2012? While no one should deny any person’r right to their opinion, isn’t it telling that the final argument in favor of Mr. Bouie’s position isn’t anything remotely associated with the historic record but rather the opinion of someone centuries later?
That the scandal of slavery was entwined with the deliberations associated with our nation’s founding is undeniable. That this nation’s founding was in essence an expression of “white supremacy” and an endorsement of slavery is a position that can only be maintained by stubborn exclusion of facts to the opposite.
Mr. Bouie’s final statement is “Are they looking for better scholarship or are they making a demand for orthodoxy?” It turns out that the NYT certainly wasn’t seeking the best scholarship, as is indicated in this interview of James McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University.
Q: You mentioned that you were totally surprised when you found Project 1619 in your Sunday paper. You are one of the leading historians of the Civil War and slavery. And the Times did not approach you?
A: No, they didn’t, no.
Q: We’ve spoken to a lot of historians, leading scholars in the fields of slavery, the Civil War, the American Revolution, and we’re finding that none of them were approached.
It is the 1619 Projects critics who are “looking for better scholarship,” and it is the NYT who is “making a demand for orthodoxy” by their utterly one-sided, hate infested assault on this nation’s founding.