by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Some people just don’t take correction well. The New York Times Magazine was rebuked two summers ago for the 1619 Project, an essay collection that proposed, as the Times itself announced, “to reframe American history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” Now the magazine’s editor, Jake Silverstein, has doubled down on that in a new piece this week.
From the outset, the idea was not simply to broaden our understanding of America’s founding and history, but to replace it.
That was always wrong. America was not unique because of slavery, which predates recorded history and existed all around the world well after 1776. Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians, Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Turks, Arabs and many African societies had slaves. The word “slave” derives from “Slav.” In the century after Columbus, more Russian slaves were carried across the Black Sea to the Ottoman Empire than African slaves across the Atlantic.
The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was around half of the slave trade out of Africa, and at least 90 percent of that trade went to places outside the United States. The Spanish brought African slaves to Georgia and Florida nearly a century before 1619, and into the 1640s, there were more British slaves held in Africa than African slaves held in British colonies.
What made America unique was its democratic system of limited government and its ideals of individual rights — both of which started in Virginia in 1619 with the first elected legislature in the Western Hemisphere. From the beginning, America struggled with the fact that slavery did not conform with the ideals of the Bill of Rights, and ultimately fought a Civil War over it in which hundreds of thousands died to free 4 million black Americans.