The Constitutional Convention debated the issue of slavery over almost a week. In the end, the delegates reluctantly agreed to allow slavery for the sake of South Carolina and Georgia. We moderns and post-moderns can debate all we want, but the case is that the Convention came very close to abolishing slavery. Its acceptance of the “peculiar institution” was an anomaly of epic proportions.
Two years beyond the chaos of 2020, it’s become orthodox belief for many—especially on the radical Left but many on what I would call the innocent Left as well—to dismiss the entirety of the American Founding and the American Founders as nothing more than a slavocracy to be run by wealthy plantation owners. To be sure, much of this sea-change in attitude has come from the controversial but, admittedly, successful campaign by The New York Times with its 1619 Project, begun in 2019. When that project came out, I had the chance to analyze its underlying flaws and its wrong assumptions in this essay at The Imaginative Conservative.
Though the Times said nothing critically new about slavery—the New Left has been saying such things since the mid to late 1960s—the paper’s claims, now understood by many as simply the truth, are a bit shocking as well as disconcerting. In particular, I would note, the 1619 Project firmly centers American History around Virginia’s history, relegating that of, say, New England, New York, or New Mexico to something only marginally quaint. Where, in all of this pro-slavery hysteria, are we to find the immigrants, the American Indians, etc. Given the demanding contributions of, say, Philadelphia Quakers and abolitionists to thwart and destroy the system of slavery, the historian is forced to throw up his or her hands in extreme frustration. America, after all, has a stronger tradition of anti-slavery—especially given the circumstances of the Civil War—than of slavery. I am indebted, on this point, to my excellent colleague at Hillsdale, Miles Smith IV, who had made this point repeatedly on social media……
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