It is certainly true that an American nation existed prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and slavery was its great sin, with permutations still felt today. But to pretend that racism is the essence of America and constituted one of the country’s founding principles is an odious and reductive lie.

It doesn’t explain why any reference to slavery was kept out of the Constitution. James Madison, per his notes during the drafting convention, “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”

The careful avoidance of the term was subsequently used to buttress the position of opponents of slavery from John Quincy Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass. The great black abolitionist asked, “If the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument,” how could it be that “neither slavery, slaveholding nor slave . . . be anywhere found in it?”

The notion of slavery as a founding principle doesn’t explain the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, prior to the adoption of the Constitution, setting out the terms of settlement in the swath of territory between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. It stipulated that “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.”