1776 is a year very close to my heart, and indeed all British hearts.
It was the year we lost control of Americans and the consequences were apocalyptic – not least for me personally.
Let’s be very clear: if it wasn’t for King George III’s shocking incompetence and weakness, then there would have been no Declaration of Independence, no United States of America, and a Union Jack flag would today be flying proudly over the White House as I, King Piers I, was served my morning tea in the Oval Office by a liveried butler before addressing my people across the country…my BRITISH people, or at a push, my British-American people.
So, 1776 is a very important, and frankly rather depressing year for we Brits.
But it’s a considerably more important one for Americans, who wouldn’t exist as Americans free from British colonial rule without the events that happened that year.
Indeed, it is the single most important year in America’s history because it’s the year America effectively began.
That’s why the annual July 4 celebrations are always celebrated so fiercely and proudly by Americans, and in a rather more subdued manner back in my home country.
For the vast majority of Americans, it signifies the greatest day in the country’s history.
History is the bedrock of any country, good, bad and ugly.
History is what informs, educates and inspires future generations.
As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: ‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history.’
But what’s happening in America right now is a concerted effort to rewrite the country’s history, led by the New York Times, which has become a hotbed of ultra ‘woke’ liberal journalism during the Trump political era.
Last year, the paper began the ‘1619 Project’ which it said, ‘aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of (The United States) national narrative.’
The interactive ongoing Project was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves to Virginia in 1619 – and suggests that this date represents the ‘nation’s birth year.’
It also stated, even more controversially, that the reason for the War of Independence was not a desire to be free of British rule but a desire for slavery to be continued.
In NYT reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay to the 1619 Project – for which she won a Pulitzer Prize – she wrote that ‘one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.’
But this extraordinary claim has been hotly disputed by many leading US historians.
In December 2019, five of them – Sean Wilentz, James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum and James Oakes – sent a letter to the NYT objecting to the framing of the project and accusing the authors of a ‘displacement of historical understanding by ideology.’ The letter specifically disputed Hannah-Jones’ assertion that colonists’ desire to get rid of the British was fuelled by a desire to continue with slavery.
Gordon Wood – himself a Pulitzer Prize winner for History – said: ‘I don’t know of any colonist who said that they wanted independence in order to preserve their slaves. No colonist expressed alarm that the mother country was out to abolish slavery in 1776.’
Other experts tried to make Hannah-Jones correct what they saw as her massively inaccurate rewriting of history.
Leslie Harris, a professor at Northwestern University, revealed she helped fact-check the project and alerted Hannah-Jones about problems but allegedly received no response from her.
Harris said she ‘vigorously disputed’ the claim that protecting slavery was a major reason why the American Revolution was fought.
‘Far from being fought to preserve slavery,’ she wrote for Politico, ‘the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American Colonies. Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, a British military strategy designed to unsettle the Southern Colonies by inviting enslaved people to flee to British lines, propelled hundreds of enslaved people off plantations and turned some Southerners to the patriot side. It also led most of the 13 Colonies to arm and employ free and enslaved black people, with the promise of freedom to those who served in their armies.’
In March this year, after an avalanche of similar criticism, the NYT finally corrected Hannah-Jones’ essay to say that ‘protecting slavery was a primary motivation for some of the colonists.’
That’s a pretty big clarification, and by this time much of the damage was done in fuelling the notion that America’s greatest year, 1776, was not in fact something to celebrate but something to condemn because it wasn’t about fighting for independence but about fighting for the right to keep slaves.
The debate has raged ever since, and now, unsurprisingly, President Trump has got involved after it was claimed that some state-funded schools in California – a Democratic state – have started using the ‘1619 Project’ as part of their curriculum.
‘Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!’ he tweeted on Sunday.
When questioned about it yesterday, he said: ‘We grew up with a certain history and now they’re trying to change our history.’
This prompted a predictable firestorm with many furious liberals accusing Trump of being a ‘white supremacist’ and his supporters defending him for protecting American history.
As with everything right now, the debate has swiftly turned toxic and viciously partisan.
But on this issue, I find myself siding with Trump.
The 1619 Project undoubtedly provides a huge amount of very important information about the history of American slavery and I would encourage people to read it.
But the central tenet of the main author’s belief is historically wrong, incredibly damaging, and it should not be part of any school curriculum.
American kids should not be told that their country’s great War of Independence was waged to maintain slavery.
That’s not why most colonists fought it; they fought it to end British colonial rule and establish the United States of America.
Young Americans should feel proud of that victory, not ashamed, and should be taught that their country began in 1776 with the glorious Declaration of Independence, not in 1619 with the ignominious arrival of slaves to Virginia.
To reframe the dismantling of British rule as a battle to maintain slavery in the way the NYT has done is not just misguided, it’s disgraceful.
It also, like so much of the culture war stuff that has exploded since George Floyd was so despicably killed, plays right into Trump’s hands.
As I’ve written before, the struggling President is desperate for the election in November not to be a referendum on his woeful handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has cost nearly 200,000 American lives and devastated the economy.
If he can make it about liberals trying to make Americans ashamed of their history, it will be a vote-winner for him.
Yet liberals seem totally oblivious to this and continue to perform acts of stupendous political self-harm.
The past two weeks have seen a series of ugly confrontations involving Black Lives Matter protesters haranguing and abusing white people eating in restaurants across the country.
In Rochester, New York, they screamed ‘F**k the white people’ at elderly diners and then stole their drinks from the table.
The video footage of these kind of horrible racially charged scenes does nothing but scare middle Americans and potentially encourage them to vote for Trump – as well as diminish the effectiveness of the BLM protests.
The President is already gleefully using the clips, and the 1619 debate, in his usual inflammatory way – not just to rally his base, but also to rally many independent voters who may not love or even like Trump but share his view that the ongoing cancel culture assault on everything they hold dear as Americans is getting completely out of hand.
I agree with them.
History will not be kind on the Democrats if they let Trump win again through their own stupidity – even if they try and rewrite it themselves.