Do we, finally, now see how pernicious the false 1619 Project revision of history is? The shattered glass, the fires, the beatings and the mob rule should provide us with all the evidence needed to reject the case for eternally recasting America an an unredeemably racist nation. There are no appeals to justice in a nation like that only street skirmishes for power between competing sides – strong man wins.
The Declaration of Independence set America’s course. Rights from the Creator and since that Creator is the Father of all then all were born with the same rights and dignity. The Declaration of Independence invested in American government the sword as protector not as oppressor.
If the regime instituted by Jefferson’s words in 1776 was ever going to be repudiated it would have been in the fires and shattering battles of the Civil War. Instead, President Lincoln doubled down on the Declaration and made explicit what had been implied: all meant all. Though accused of forsaking the Constitution, what Lincoln did was put executive muscle and sinew on the rhetorical bones of both our founding documents. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments don’t exist if Lincoln had jettisoned the Declaration as the vanguard of academia and politics want to do today.
Jefferson’s generalities gave way to Lincoln’s specificity. The analog Creator of the Declaration was replaced by the digital Almighty God. Government (Parliament and King George III in 1776) treading upon instead of respecting the natural rights of citizens in Jefferson’s writing was a violation of natural order. Lincoln upgraded that to sin. Jefferson plead his case with respect to the “opinions of mankind”. Lincoln made his case from as if from a pulpit to the Ultimate Judge of mankind.
The urgent and celebrated appeals of black civil orators from Frederick Douglas to Martin Luther King, Jr. make no sense, make no impact, if Lincoln regarded slavery and race prejudice to invalidate the claims of the Declaration. Lincoln’s actions – committing a nation to war — speak to the fact he believed the words of 1776 transcended any acts before it or after it even though human tendencies toward injustice obscure it. Douglass’ insistence on the humanity of black men and women raised slavery from being inhumane to being a cosmic affront against a God who made man in His image. Douglass’ views animated the Abolitionist movement which influenced Lincoln. In turn Lincoln’s steadfastness to the proposition that the United States was dedicated to liberty under the law for all gave official status to the long line of civil rights leaders to follow Douglass as prophets of the American civil religion.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s tenure was the apotheosis of that prophetic office. His poetic speeches were reminders that we are all citizens born in a country founded, and after a trial by fire, recommitted to equal rights and protections under the law. The radical that King attempted to introduce into the equation – a civil society motivated by love – has yet to be grappled with seriously. Apart from that deviation King stands on the shoulders of Lincoln who stood on the shoulders of Jefferson in proclaiming America’s ultimate purpose is to be a place where the liberty instituted by God is protected and reserved for all citizens no matter their biological origin. King did not attack Jefferson Davis, John Calhoun, or the English colonists of Jamestown. He paved them over with a higher calling where truth and justice are filtered through the Christian idea of sacrificial love.
The Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma is much narrower and steeper than it looks on television. I walked it once trying to imagine crossing it under a barrage of firehoses, biting German Shepherds and violently swung police batons. It had to look like a fool’s run. Standing on it made me think of D-Day. The Edmund Pettus bridge isn’t Omaha beach in Normandy but the principle at stake was the same. We will either live as free men or under the boot of the powerful. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired people to storm a narrow, heavily defended, concrete bridge with no weapons, save a belief that the words of Thomas Jefferson – slaveholder – applied to them, too.
Compare that moral elegance to what the 1619 Project gets us — blame shifting, appeals to might as right, and never ending racial grudge settling. You stole so we loot. You raped so we pillage. For black Americans, especially, to give up on the essence of 1776 in favor of a prostituted 1619 narrative is to diminish ourselves culturally, spiritually and socially.
The American people – with some noisy outliers – are convinced of the propositional truth that all men are created equal. But after that thesis almost any type of polity can arise. What is needed to complete and safeguard that belief are leaders with the conviction and courage to defend our creed in the face of the black masks just as we had leaders in the past who didn’t cower in front of the Redcoat the Gray coats, or the white hoods.
Maybe George Floyd’s murder is the moment that produces that man or woman. It’s doubtful, at this fraught moment, but hope reigns.