In 2019, “The New York Times Magazine” devoted its August issue to a revision of American history: “The 1619 Project”! Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and other writers focused on 1619 as the date a pirate ship captured a Portuguese vessel and its slave cargo and sold them to Jamestown. This is the real beginning of American racist history according to “The 1619 Project.”
“The 1619 Project" labels racism as the defining feature of the United States, endemic to our culture and society, and is now used as the basis for teaching history and social sciences in many schools. This comes despite wide criticism from historians (including liberal ones) for factual errors and false assumptions that only an ideologically blinded proofreading could have failed to detect. Some of the errors are as follows:
1619 is one year before the Puritans came to America. (No, the Pilgrims came in 1620, the Puritans in 1630 – and they were not the same.)
One victim of the Boston Massacre was Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave. (That’s disputed; he may have been black, or Native American, or a mixture; and he may or may not have been a slave.)
American slaves were property, not persons. (That varied by state.)
American slaves could not marry. (Generally not true, although married slaves were sometimes sold without their spouses.)
Race is the central dynamic of American history. (At best, an assumption.)
American colonists fought the War for Independence to preserve slavery. (Nonsense.)
Capitalism is based on slavery. (The very opposite; capitalism is based on the freedom of every person to buy or sell his labor or produce as he chooses.)
“The 1619 Project” gives the impression that slavery began with the American colonies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Slavery is almost as old as human sin; it began when people discovered they could profit by oppressing others. In the ancient Near East, the chief slave owners were the Egyptians and the chief slave traders were the Phoenicians; slaves included Ethiopians, Israelites, and Europeans. The Code of Hammurabi treated slavery as an established institution, and it was common in India, China, and among the Greeks and Romans.
Slavery in the Americas did not begin in 1619. It began far earlier. The Incas and the Mayans practiced slavery, and the Aztecs had five classes of slaves. Among North American tribes, some practiced slavery while others did not.
None of this justifies slavery in the American colonies or in the United States, of course. But where in the world, outside nations influenced by the Judeo-Christian ethic, do we find conscientious efforts to abolish slavery? Yes, slaves revolted in Rome, but not because they believed slavery was wrong. They revolted because they didn’t want to be slaves; they would rather be free citizens and own slaves themselves. But in the early 1800s, William Wilberforce, impelled by Christian conviction, was successful in abolishing slavery, having battled against it for years in the English Parliament. Christians in the United States followed suit, as did Christians in Latin America and other parts of the world.
Slavery is a blight upon America, but that is not what America is really about. No, America’s real story is the abolition of slavery and the never-ending struggle for liberty and equality under the law.
America’s real story begins, not in 1619 with pirates selling captured slaves to Jamestown, but in 1620 with the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.
The Pilgrims, as we know them today, were called Separatists or Dissenters in England. They shared the Calvinistic theology of the Puritans, and they agreed with the Puritans that the Church of England was worldly and heretical. But unlike the Puritans, who worked from within to “purify” the Church, the Pilgrims believed they must separate from the Church of England and form their own church. This brought upon them the wrath of the Church and the King, who declared that “I will make them conform themselves, or else I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.”
So, after a brief sojourn at Leiden in the Netherlands, the Pilgrims sailed to America, intending to establish a colony in northern Virginia. But they were blown off course by a storm and landed in Massachusetts instead. This was providential because they were no longer under the authority of the Virginia colony and were free to draft their own charter of government.
And they did so, drafting the Mayflower Compact before setting foot on Plymouth Rock. Founder John Quincy Adams described it as “the only instance in human history of that positive social compact” and which is popularly believed to have influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
The suggestion that the 1787 Constitutional Convention was one of slaveholders is also wrong. Between 20 and 25 delegates owned slaves. Some of these delegates defended slavery; others regarded it as a necessary evil and hoped for its eventual abolition. However the majority did not own slaves, and many actively opposed slavery.
So what is the Mayflower Compact, and how did it lay the foundation for republican government in America? Tune in next week for “1620: The Mayflower Compact and the Real Founding of America.”
Colonel Eidsmoe is Chairman of the Board of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, the author of numerous books on American constitutional history, Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy (www.obcl.edu), and Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law (www.morallaw.org). He may be contacted for speaking engagements at [email protected]. Those with constitutional concerns may contact the Foundation at (334) 262-1245.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.