Memory  /  Argument

Sorry, New York Times, But America Began in 1776

The United States didn't begin in 1619.

... result of the Civil War. Among Southern white men in their early 20s, 22.6 percent—nearly one in four—died during the war. It seems no exaggeration to estimate that more than one Union soldier died for every 10 slaves freed. If the USA owed a bill for slavery, we have, arguably, already paid it.

... result of the Civil War. Among Southern white men in their early 20s, 22.6 percent—nearly one in four—died during the war. It seems no exaggeration to estimate that more than one Union soldier died for every 10 slaves freed. If the USA owed a bill for slavery, we have, arguably, already paid it.

The vision of 1776 goes far beyond disagreement with the political Left about questions of historical slavery. When I talked to the project’s founder founder Bob Woodson on February 3rd, he described the broader vision behind 1619 as “just more of the same.” Sounding quite similar to Dr. Oakes, Bob pointed out that the thesis underlying many 1619 Project essays—and, arguably, most arguments on the identitarian Left—can be summed up as “You do not control your own life.” This claim might be dismissed as an exaggeration, but it is not: in what sense can one be said to have free will, if the true cause of (say) the individual decision to father a child out of wedlock was a lost race war back in 1856? Modern ideas of miasmatic racism make the radical argument seem stronger and more tempting: If the REAL reason young brothers struggle with the SAT is “the subtle institutional structural racism of the white gaze,” and not the fact that we study a bit less for the exam, then why ever bother to study more?

When we spoke, Bob was eloquently dismissive of this argument, which I hate myself. He pointed out that probably the worst possible predictor of ethical behavior among people, especially young males, is the belief that one is not in charge of one’s own destiny. Scathingly, he dismissed those promoting this idea as “moral traitors.” And during one insightful exchange, he noted the obvious—the upper-middle class black and white protesters promoting amoral po-mo ideas in the hood don’t have to live there: “The activists do not have to stay in the conditions they are causing.” When Black Lives Matter wildly exaggerated the rate of police brutality, and ended up causing a backlash “Ferguson Effect” that claimed 3,000 lives, the movement’s grad-school radicals could return to bucolic college campuses at will. In the meantime, working class residents of Ferguson had little choice but to stay home and watch their neighborhoods burn. Very often, those responsible for promoting hip, new, brave ideas never stick around to watch them fail.

Well, we at 1776 have seen them fail. Against them, we propose a simple and positive thesis: America is a very good (if sometimes flawed) society, it is frankly not very hard to succeed here, and hard work and personal responsibility will help you do so. There have been dark periods of American history, to be sure, and it is important to discuss them honestly. But there have been dark periods during the centuries- or millennia-long histories of virtually all human societies. Further, many Americans were able to use the indomitable human resource of free will to succeed even then. As Bob pointed out at least twice during our recent conversation, the Black entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, born in rural Louisiana just two years after slavery ended, went on to found a beauty-products empire and become the wealthiest self-made woman in America by the time of her death in 1919.

Today, 101 years after the great lady passed, there is no excuse for promoting a kind of historical fatalism in the world’s richest large society. Blacks and whites can certainly—if they choose to spend valuable time this way—debate racism, and which group has it five percent easier. But can ...