Are we celebrating American independence on the wrong day? Nikole Hannah-Jones, correspondent for The New York Times and author of the historically inaccurate 1619 Project, seems to think so. Hannah-Jones claims that July 4, 1776, is not America’s true birthday (and not just because independence was formerly declared two days earlier).
Instead, she argues the American system was truly founded in 1619, when the first enslaved Africans disembarked on our shores, and falsely claims that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery, not the liberty and independence of the American colonies.
The 1619 thesis runs deeper than birthdays.
This Fourth of July, unless they are met with forcible resistance from local police departments and the National Guard, we will likely see more “protesters” target, deface, and destroy statues to the men who guided America from her infancy in 1776 into her tumultuous Jacksonian youth, and fought on both sides of her Civil War.
Just two years ago, the media laughed at the president for wondering where the movement to remove historical statues would end, and whether it could distinguish between Jefferson Davis and Thomas Jefferson. Today, rioters have destroyed monuments to abolitionists alongside Confederate generals; Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln are targeted alongside Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. It’s not merely symbols of the CSA that protesters find offensive, it’s any hero of the United States who is now the enemy.
“1619” has been painted on a toppled statue of George Washington, and Hannah-Jones has been happy to take ideological credit for the “1619 riots.” The message of the project and the protests are the same: America was rotten from the beginning, and the slavery that was the true heart of its founding has transformed itself over the eras into insidious, irradicable systemic racism today. The only way to truly fight racism, therefore, is to destroy the American system itself.
But it’s not just historical inaccuracies that plague the 1619 Project and its rioting adherents. Their central narrative is wrong. America was founded in 1776, and at the cornerstone of the American system rests not slavery, but the fundamental equality and dignity of every human being, naturally endowed with inalienable rights. The United States, like all fallible human civilizations, has not always lived up to the greatness of its creed. Its heroes, like all men in all eras and countries, are flawed and made terrible mistakes.
But Thomas Jefferson’s great words in the Declaration of Independence are the “promissory note” that Martin Luther King Jr. called upon Americans to honor. The American Founding is not a rotten weed that continues to encourage bigotry today, but rather the greatest rebuke to racism that has ever been built by any civilization before or since.
“The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world,” James Madison wrote in 1829. The United States is no less a miracle in 2020.
As a first-generation American, my ancestors didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; they neither kept nor fought to free slaves, and they didn’t storm the wide beaches of Omaha under the American flag. But I consider George Washington to be my Founding Father, and 1776 to be the birthday of my country, which well deserves fireworks to celebrate 244 years.
We can take pride in this great country and its heroes while recognizing its, and their, imperfections. If taught accurately and reverently — regrettably rarer than ever as public schools adopt the 1619 curriculum or similar false narratives — our common history can bind us together as a people rather than tear us apart. The great deeds of Americans in the past can inspire us to continue their project of creating a more perfect union, rather than the cheap destruction wrought by their ungrateful posterity.
This Fourth of July, and for the foreseeable Fourths in years to come, it may take increasing courage to celebrate the holiday. Virtually all of our educational institutions from K-12 to graduate school, along with Hollywood, media and corporate America, have all accepted and promulgated the lie that America’s founding supported and was buttressed by the institution of slavery.
It’s a lie that Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave-turned-statesman who dedicated the Emancipation Memorial in Washington that activists now demand pulled down, called a “slander on (the Framers’) memory.” The Constitution, Douglass wrote, was no slave charter, but a “glorious liberty document.” It’s a truth even a man who directly suffered the ugly yoke of human bondage could proclaim.
By contrast, today, even something as fundamental as patriotic pride is now looked down upon as embarrassing bigotry by the elites in our various institutions, despite owing their success to the very system they claim is unjust.
This means it falls to American citizens this Fourth of July to proclaim the truths that educators and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have long since stopped believing.
The American system has produced the freest and most prosperous civilization in the history of the world.
America should honor the historical heroes whose sacrifices made her great.
Americans should celebrate her independence as one of the greatest advancements of liberty and equality in human history.
Happy birthday, USA!