The New York Times’ 1619 Project caused a tremendous splash when it came out a year ago. The New York Times Magazine’s special 1619 print edition had the highest demand since the 2008 President Barack Obama victory edition. Even a major presidential candidate mentioned the project during a democratic debate, saying Americans should “mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but Aug. 20, 1619.”
The project’s architect, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a Pulitzer Prize for her essay claiming America’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Books based on the project will soon be coming out, as will movies and television programs, produced in collaboration with Oprah Winfrey.
Since the project’s creation, the negative responses have been just as voluminous as the acclaim, though mostly limited to academia and media. See here for the first eight powerful responses to the 1619 Project. Below are eight more.
1. Two Letters from Leading American History Scholars
Two separate groups of historians and scholars wrote letters to the New York Times with concerns. To his credit, the Times’ editor Jake Sullivan replied to both.
One of these letters was written by 12 Civil War historians and political scientists with specialties in the Civil War period. Among the group were Allen Guelzo of Princeton University, William B. Allen of Michigan State University, and Lucas E. Morel of Washington and Lee University.
The letter acknowledges the importance of studying slavery within American history, yet the authors argue, “The 1619 Project offers a historically-limited view of slavery.” The historians also take umbrage at the project’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, arguing that Hannah-Jones’ essay takes Lincoln’s meeting with five free black men about colonization out of context.
In conclusion, the scholars write:
We do not believe that the authors of The 1619 Project have considered these larger contexts with sufficient seriousness, or invited a candid review of its assertions by the larger community of historians. We are also troubled that these materials are now to become the basis of school curriculums, with the imprimatur of the New York Times. The remedy for past historical oversights is not their replacement by modern oversights.
Sullivan and Guelzo’s exchange on this point is worth reading. Sullivan argues that telling certain facts about Lincoln without telling others does not warrant a correction. Guelzo disagrees. After listing several instances where Lincoln pushed to provide black Americans with equal rights, Guelzo states, “That The 1619 Project failed to speak to these matters is an error of omission, but a colossal omission, and still an error.”
Another group of historians, including Gordon S. Wood, Sean Wilentz, and James M. McPherson, wrote a letter expressing “strong reservations” regarding “important aspects of the 1619 Project. The letter first affirms the project’s general goal of highlighting “the enduring centrality of slavery and racism,” but takes issue with the project’s errors concerning major events. It states:
These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” 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.
The historians’ primary objection lies in Hannah-Jones’ claim that the American Revolution was fought to protect the rights of slaveholders. The Times later clarified this statement and added a note to the essay. Hannah-Jones admitted on Twitter that she lost important “context and nuance,” though she later claimed this was not a correction but a clarification. Hannah-Jones and the Times still have not acknowledged how fundamental this claim was to the project’s flagship essay. Her argument contains a major hole without it.
2. Lucas Morel, ‘Lincoln and the American Founding’
In his recently released book, “Lincoln and the American Founding,” scholar Lucas Morel provides insight into the thinking of the great emancipator. Morel argues that the best guide to understanding Lincoln’s political philosophy, next to reading his own writings, is to study the principles of the American founding and the political institutions the founders established.
The book focuses on the influence of the American founding on Lincoln’s thought. Morel begins with how George Washington’s political vision and character shaped Lincoln’s devotion to the union and to liberty. The second chapter explores how the Declaration of Independence and its principles of equality, individual rights, consent of the governed, and the right to revolution influenced Lincoln’s political philosophy.
Morel also explains Lincoln’s reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law. Lincoln viewed the Constitution as the means of securing the rights spelled out in the Declaration. The book also examines what Lincoln learned from the founding generation about how to address slavery. Morel clarifies that Lincoln believed the founders attempted to put slavery on a course toward ultimate extinction. The book also explains Lincoln’s approach to slavery in the context of his respect for federalism and constitutional constraints.
3. The New York Times’ Own Fact-Checker
One of the 1619 Project’s own fact-checkers discredited the project. Leslie M. Harris, professor of history at Northwestern University, says she was asked to fact-check the claim that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery. She writes in Politico:
On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against with her fact-checker: that the patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America.
Harris writes that when she received Hannah-Jones’ claim, she vigorously disputed it, saying, “Although slavery was certainly an issue in the American Revolution, the protection of slavery was not one of the main reasons the 13 Colonies went to war.” Harris goes on to say:
Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay. In addition, the paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619.
Though Harris agrees with the 1619 Project’s aim to put racism and slavery at the center of American history, she knew that such colossal errors would undermine the entire project.
4. Conservative Institutions and Publications
The Claremont Institute has been dogged in its response to the 1619 Project, publishing numerous articles on the topic in the American Mind and talking about it often on its podcast. It also produced a special-edition episode of the “American Mind Podcast” to disprove Hannah-Jones’ accusations against the founding.
In the most recent edition of the Claremont Review of Books, Richard Samuelson wrote a piece titled “Cancel the New York Times.” This essay gives a thorough overview of the 1619 Project as well as an account of racism in America. Samuelson also defends the founding, saying that the fact that slavery existed does not mean it was necessarily in America’s DNA. He calls forth Frederick Douglass and two others to attest to this view:
Douglass recognized that the U.S. was not a slaveholding republic, and the Constitution, rightly interpreted, is not a pro-slavery document. So much for slavery being in our DNA. As for the Declaration, Lincoln and Douglass, and later Martin Luther King, Jr., held that the Declaration was, as King put it, a “promissory note.” Not surprisingly, Douglass is virtually absent from the 1619 Project. To make its fatalistic point, the Times has to silence his voice. To recover Douglass’s voice, we must recognize that the Declaration put anti-slavery and anti-racism, not slavery and racism, into the republic’s DNA.
The Federalist has 85 articles with the tag “1619 Project,” and you can listen to Bob Woodson talk about why 1776 is America’s true founding on the “Federalist Radio Hour.” On the podcast, Woodson states, “I was really outraged that they would hijack the rich legacy of the civil rights movement and use it as a bludgeon to denigrate this country and engage in such hypocrisy.”
A “1619 Project” search on National Review returns 132 results as of Aug. 1, and American Greatness also has dozens of articles on the topic. The American Institute for Economic Research provides a bibliography of responses.
The Capital Research Center produced a short but powerful documentary about the 1619 Project, calling it a “daring reconstruction of America.” Filmmaker Rob Montz says this new history rests on a radical revision of America’s birth year.
5. Mary Grabar, ‘Debunking Howard Zinn’
Mary Grabar’s book “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America” was not written directly in response to the 1619 Project, but rather in response to what might be considered the project’s philosophical grandfather. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is one of the most popular and misleading American history textbooks.
Zinn pioneered the method of framing history to fit a particular narrative. He admitted writing history from the perspective of those he called “underdogs,” saying, “I prefer to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish.” In so doing, Zinn bends facts and the historical record to fit his narrative.
Like Hannah-Jones, Zinn’s goal was not to give an honest account of American history, but to further a political ideology. Zinn denied the existence of true facts, claiming all facts are open to interpretation. Using methods decried by the American Historical Association, Zinn deconstructs every era of American history.
Grabar meticulously picks apart Zinn’s book, from his chapter on Christopher Columbus to his chapters on the founding, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War. She is as thorough as she is merciless. Her denunciation of Zinn’s Lincoln portrayal could be applied to the 1619 Project as well:
“For Zinn, the very real horrors of slavery are simply more fodder for his war against America and Western civilization,” Grabar writes. “The fact is, Zinn will do anything to make America look bad; he simply cannot allow his reader to give the first Republican elected president credit for freeing the slaves — and for going about it in a principled and prudent manner. That would mean giving the American people credit for abolishing slavery, and it would undermine Zinn’s picture of America as a uniquely racist country.”
You can read more about Grabar’s herculean effort to set the record straight here.
6. World Socialist Website
According to National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood, the World Socialist Website was upset with the Times for highlighting racial grievances instead of class grievances. Its method to combat the Times’ narrative is to feature prominent historians such as Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, Dolores Janiewski, Richard Carwardine, and Clayborne Carson to critique the project. Its website has many essays, videos, and interviews criticizing the project.
7. Tom Cotton, Saving America’s Schools Act
In late July, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced a piece of legislation called the Saving America’s Schools Act, which would penalize schools that choose to use the 1619 curriculum in the classroom by reducing federal funds for teacher training. Cotton says the federal government has incentives to promote an accurate account of American history.
The bill says the “true date of America’s founding is July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress.” It goes on to state, “The self-evident truths set forth by the Declaration are the fundamental principles upon which America was founded.”
Cotton’s bill further claims the 1619 curriculum distorts American history, saying, “The 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.”
In response, Hannah-Jones tweeted that she never intended to write “a history.” Rather, she meant for the 1619 Project to “challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory.” This contradicts the project’s own proclaimed goal “to reframe the country’s history.”
8. Peter W. Wood, ‘1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project’
Peter Wood’s book “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project,” which comes out in November, examines the New York Times’ claim that all the “laws, material gains, and cultural achievements of Americans are rooted in the exploitation of African-Americans.” Examining hundreds of responses to this claim, Wood explains in detail where the 1619 Project got American history wrong.
Instead of citing 1619 as America’s founding date, Wood cites the Pilgrims’ 1620 signing of the Mayflower Compact and the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence.
We Must Keep the Bridge and the Republic
Though it is encouraging to have such a high caliber of people and organizations responding to the 1619 Project, those efforts will not be enough to save our nation. We, everyday Americans, must use what these men and women are teaching us to influence our local governments and school boards, many of which are embracing the 1619 Project and other critical race theory initiatives.
It is our job to keep this republic. If it fails for lack of effort, we will have ourselves to blame as much as those leftists actively trying to tear it down.
As the great Horatius stood at the bridge, keeping the invading army from destroying his beloved city of Rome, so must we stand. In this life-defining moment, Horatius looked back upon his home, upon his porch for strength. To garner strength for ourselves, we should look back at the founding to remember the country for which we fight and the principles upon which we should stand. Let it be said of us in this generation what was said of Horatius in his:
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.