Earlier this week the 1619 Project won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. The Pulitzer committee praised lead essay author Nikole Hannah-Jones for “a sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay…which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.” The aware made no mention of the fact that the NY Times had to issue a correction to the piece after numerous historians complained (including prior to publication) that one of its central claims about the Revolutionary War was false. As Ed argued here, it was as if the journalistic establishment was endorsing the idea that “fake but accurate” is good enough to win a top prize.
Today, National Review published a piece which goes into more detail about the historical errors in the piece, particularly the claim about the causes of the Revolutionary War.
The most dramatic and controversial assertion in Hannah-Jones’s essay was that, in 1776, “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Her essay cited nothing to support this, nor did it show even the slightest awareness of how radical a claim this is…
Organized, popular movements against slavery, and laws restricting or abolishing slavery and the slave trade, were considerably more advanced in the American colonies in the 1770s than in Britain, where Parliament would not ban slavery in Jamaica and other British colonies until 1833, after many years of failures by William Wilberforce and other anti-slavery leaders. The world’s first organized anti-slavery society was formed in Pennsylvania in 1774, and the first legal ban on slavery anywhere in the world was in Vermont in 1777. Five of the original 13 states followed suit either during or immediately after the Revolution, passing bans on slavery between 1780 and 1784. The first federal ban on slavery, in the Northwest Territory, was drafted in 1784 by Thomas Jefferson and passed by the Confederation Congress in 1787. Its language would later be adopted directly into the 13th Amendment…
In order to paint the American Revolution as a fight to protect slavery from an anti-slavery Britain, you not only need to ignore the whole history of anti-slavery, you also must invert the chronology and geography of the Revolution. In reality, the Revolution began in Massachusetts, and the colonies with few slaves and early slavery bans were its most enthusiastic backers, while those with the most slaves tended to have the highest concentrations of Loyalists.
Despite numerous complaints about this revisionist history, Hannah-Jones and the NY Times fought for months to avoid admitting any error. The reason, as I’ve discussed several times before, is obvious. The whole project would have been undone without this fanciful alternative view of the causes for the Revolutionary War.
The facts are, of course, the central thing — both the hard, provable facts and the broader narratives of causation, motivation, and effect that historians draw from them. It is apparent enough that Hannah-Jones dug in so hard on her particular claim about the American Revolution because she was wedded so deeply to the narrative that the 1776 founding of the nation could not be allowed to be regarded as a milestone in the idea of human liberty. That is why her essay gave her attack on the founding such prominent placement.
Simply put, you can’t argue 1619 was the true founding of America without also discrediting 1776 as the founding. To do that, Hannah-Jones needed to downplay and discredit any motive other than the preservation of slavery, even if the facts didn’t support her conclusion. That’s why she ignored professional warnings, given to her in advance, that her claims about the Revolutionary War were not true.
You know, and I know, and everybody else on this planet knows, that nothing full of as many shoddy errors and untruths, and subject to such withering scholarly rebuttal, as the 1619 Project would be awarded an accolade such as a Pulitzer if its politics were of the right rather than of the left.
It’s unthinkable. But the taste makers clearly agree with the politics motivating this so they were only too happy to overlook a few messy details. This is only a small fraction of what Dan McLaughlin wrote on the topic. The whole thing is worth reading.