1776, revisited: A few questions for President Joe Biden

Biden says the 1776 Commission is “offensive,” “counterfactual,” “ignorance and lies.”  Well, if Biden were George Washington, what exactly would he have done differently?  How would Biden have ended slavery at the time of the founding?  And does he endorse The 1619 Project?

I’m rescinding the previous administration’s harmful ban on diversity and sensitivity training and abolishing the offensive, counterfactual 1776 Commission. Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth. Not ignorance and lies.”

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

For the first time in history, a sitting President refers to a project devoted to “patriotic education” about the founding of the country as “offensive,” claiming that asserting the country wasn’t founded on slavery and racism is “counterfactual,” merely “ignorance and lies.”  Perhaps even more amazingly, the mainstream media covering his statements exhibits absolutely no curiosity about what the President actually believes.

If 1776 is counterfactual, does he endorse the 1619 Project, believing the founding of the very country was inherently and irredeemably racist?  What truths is Biden referencing that all of us need to understand to unify and heal?

He didn’t bother to explain it and no one has bothered to ask as far as I’m aware.

For the record, I’ll state my opinion, clearly, as one would expect a real leader to do:  The founding of the United States was a singular event in the history of the world.  Never before had a country been created based on fundamental rights and freedom for all, and also never before has a revolution proven as successful.  Most revolutions, in fact, end in bloodshed and tyranny, more on that below, but the Founders created the freest, most prosperous country humanity has ever known.

Yes, the country was flawed at its founding and the rights enshrined in our founding documents didn’t extend to all, but no one in the world had such rights at the time and it would take decades before the promise of the founding was fulfilled both in America and everywhere else.

Nor does this mean the country is perfect today.  Humanity itself is flawed and hence our society will always suffer from social and economic ills.  The question is what system of government is best equipped to address those challenges, providing the most freedom and prosperity for all.  I believe that system is the Democratic Republic described by the Constitution, supported by the Declaration of Independence, and revised by the various amendments over the two centuries since the founding.

Further, I believe that if we are to have any hope of achieving “unity” or “healing,” it will only be found in a restoration of our fundamental principles:  Open debate, equality under the law, and the separation of powers being prominent among them.  I believe this not out of any blind hero worship or misplaced nationalism, but rather as a result of the clear historical record both at the time of the founders and in subsequent generations, especially the beliefs of future civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my opinion, if those luminaries can find the promise of freedom in the founding principles and documents, any one should be able to do the same.  This is not to suggest that the founders or America itself is above criticism.  I also believe a critical reading of history is essential to more fully understanding the present and building a better future, but any critical reading needs to actually take into account who the founders were, the time they lived in, and the momentous accomplishments they set in motion.

Critical readings require in depth analysis, and any fair analysis will clearly show two things.

First, the founders were not of a unanimous opinion on anything.  Blanket claims that they were racists or slaveholders are completely false on their face.  Many were in fact ardent abolitionists, Hamilton and Adams among them, nor was slavery even practiced throughout all thirteen original colonies at the time of the ratification of the Constitution.  Even when considering the views of the actual slaveholders like Washington and Jefferson, we find they considered the practice abhorrent even as they participated in it.

Second, almost universally, when the topic of slavery did come up during deliberations over the Constitution, the founders weakened the institution rather than strengthened it, that is they made deliberate decisions to less the political influence of the slave states at the expense of their own personal power.

In fact, debates over whether the Constitution endorses slavery at all invariably result in factors outside the Constitution itself.  As Frederick Douglass pointed out, “After all, the fact that men go out of the Constitution to prove it pro-slavery, whether that going out is to the practice of the Government, or to the secret intentions of the writers of the paper, the fact that they do go out is very significant. It is a powerful argument on my side. It is an admission that the thing for which they are looking is not to be found where only it ought to be found, and that is in the Constitution itself. If it is not there, it is nothing to the purpose, be it wheresoever else it may be.”

It’s also helpful to consider what the founders achieved compared to other efforts to establish freedom and democracy, both in that time period and even much closer to the present day.

For example, the French Revolution started in 1789 with chants of “liberty, fraternity, and equality” before quickly devolving into bloodshed and anarchy even after Emperor Louis XIV was deposed.  On May 14, 1789, France’s would-be revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, executed the governor, placed his head on a pike and paraded it around the city.

Things didn’t get any better from there.  The creation of the First French Republic was accompanied by the Reign of Terror where approximately 17,000 people, including men, women, and even children were executed, usually having their heads chopped off by the guillotine.  Historians estimate hundreds of thousands of others died in the accompanying violence, 10,000 likely rotted in jail.

It should be noted that these atrocities occurred after the revolution had nominally succeeded; the King was deposed and executed, the monarchy ended, a republic founded in theory if not practice.  These were not the victims of a revolutionary war, rather they were the incriminations that began after a successful revolution.  One of the leader’s of the French Revolution itself, Robespierre, actually said, “If the basis of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is baneful; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie [homeland or fatherland].”

George Washington he was not.  The First French Republic was then replaced by the Directory which was replaced by Emperor Napoleon, then back to a monarchy.  The Second Republic was established in 1848 and lasted only 4 years.  The third Republic was founded in 1870.  France is onto its Fifth Republic at this point, indicating that uniting competing factions and establishing a stable democracy isn’t exactly easy.

The French are not the only ones who’ve failed.  The Russian revolution began in 1917 with the abolition of the monarchy, but then descended into a six year civil war that caused the deaths and suffering of millions of people.  Unfortunately for the Russian people, the terrible civil war didn’t succeed in bringing about a peaceful democracy.  Instead, Russia became a totalitarian, communist state and millions more would perish over the following decades.  Russians aren’t free today.

The revolution in China was also followed by a communist dictatorship, the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong.  Millions died and the Chinese people still aren’t free to this day.  There are other examples such as Cuba, and most recently Venezuela.  The simple, undeniable truth is that most revolutions, indeed the great majority, if not all, result in almost unimaginable death and destruction followed by a dictatorship.

In light of that evidence from around the world, we would all do well to consider what the founders of the United States did better than almost everyone else in all of human history.  It’s true that they made some tragic compromises to secure peace until the civil war, but what were the alternatives?  A civil war right after the revolution like most countries have suffered?  What then?

Perhaps Joe Biden can share his thoughts.  If he were George Washington, what would Father of the Country Biden do differently?  Why did George Washington become the father of the freest country on Earth while Robespierre terrorized his own citizens?  How did the founding fathers, of various, often opposing opinions of how the country should be structured and run, set aside their differences and build a system that lasts instead of quickly devolving into more chaos and bloodshed, a tragic result that happens far more frequently?  What was special about the founders that allowed this to happen because, in light of history itself, there is no denying the founders were incredibly special?

Here we get to the real crux of the matter:  I believe the founders succeeded because they truly believed in the principles of open debate, equality under the law, and separation of powers, even as their implementation of them was imperfect and even as they were aware how imperfect it was.  When other revolutions result in more violence over the differences in opinion that naturally arise, the founders placed their faith in “we the people” as expressed in the system of government they developed.

In short, they settled their differences of opinion at the ballot box.

This is in and of itself an incredibly rare and special occurrence.  Sometimes you lose at the ballot box, and each of the founders and early President’s suffered their fair share of close and sometimes corrupt losses.  Jefferson only narrowly lost to his political polar opposite, Adams, in 1796 and yet the government continued.  The election in 1800 ended up in the House of Representatives after a tie and yet the government continued.  Andrew Jackson was robbed via a “corrupt bargain” in 1824 and still the government went on.

In any of these cases and others, the system could have collapsed, as it did in most other countries.  This adherence to and faith in the system is incredibly rare and special, and should rightly be celebrated as the American tradition.

Instead, in broad swaths of the country it is denigrated, often to critical acclaim.  Which brings me to my last point:  I completely reject the slanderous lies promulgated by The 1619 Project, the sole purpose of which is self evidently to attack the very foundations of the country.  The United States was not founded in 1619 and you cannot trace all of the ills of modern society to slavery, much less make preposterous claims like “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam” or “Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Healthcare?  One Word: Race.”

If the insane obsession with denigrating the country weren’t so tragic, headlines and think pieces like that would be laughable, not Pultizer prize winning.  Lest you think I’m cherry picking, here are a few others that were part of the project:  “What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery,” “American Capitalism is Brutal.  You Can Trace That to the Plantation,” and “Why is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?”

Does anyone truly believe this is serious scholarship or simply more racially tinged Marxism masquerading as history?  I know what I believe.   What do you believe, Mr. President?  Are you ready to condemn the The 1619 Project as well or do you actually endorse it?

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