Chronicles: “Slavery and the American Founding”
By Mark David Hall
“The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’ is a series of articles published in 2019 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans to arrive in America. In an introduction to the series, New York Times Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein claims that slavery ‘is the country’s very origin.’ He writes:
Out of slavery—and the anti-black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has made America truly exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education systems, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.
These are powerful claims. ‘The 1619 Project’ does not hide its desire to, in Silverstein’s words, ‘reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.’ The project’s creator and lead writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has also repeatedly echoed the claim that ‘1619 is our true founding,’ specifically contrasting that date with 1776. After severe criticism from prominent scholars, New York Times editors silently removed this claim from the series, and Silverstein blamed its use on a sub-editor. But the Project continues to assert that America’s founders were slave-owning hypocrites.
American chattel slavery was an evil institution, and it is not unreasonable to criticize founders who participated in it. But many Founding Fathers never owned slaves, some of those who did freed them, and they passed numerous laws to put the institution on the road to extinction…”
Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics at George Fox University and the Director of the John Dickinson Forum for the Study of America’s Founding Principles, a JMC partner program. Professor Hall’s primary research and writing interests are American political theory and the relationship between religion and politics. He has written or co-edited several books besides Did America Have a Christian Founding? and is the author of more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, reviews and sundry pieces. In addition to teaching at George Fox University, Hall is Associated Faculty at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, Senior Fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and an Affiliate Scholar at the John Jay Institute.
Professor Hall is a JMC faculty partner.
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