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Obama award recipient, ‘The New York Times has the history completely backwards.’ I'm shocked

Notable & Quotable: Gordon Wood on Slavery

‘The New York Times has the history completely backwards.’

Nov. 30, 2021 6:20 pm ET

President Barack Obama presents the National Humanities Medal to Gordon Wood in Washington, March 2, 2011.

Historian Gordon Wood speaking to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Nov. 12:

According to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the originator of the [1619] project, the American Revolution was a hypocritical example of white supremacy mouthing values that whites violated at every turn. . . . “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology,” she wrote, “is the fact 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.” (This was later clarified to “some colonists decided,” a momentous change: It could mean a half dozen or it could mean thousands.) In 1776, she says, Great Britain was on the verge of abolishing slavery and the slave trade, thus provoking the colonists into independence.

This claim is false. In 1776 Great Britain was not threatening to abolish slavery in its empire. . . . Few if any British colonists in 1776 were frightened of British abolitionism. If the Virginian slaveholders had been frightened of British abolitionism, why only eight years after the war ended would the board of visitors or the trustees of the College of William and Mary, wealthy slaveholders all, award an honorary degree to Granville Sharp, the leading British abolitionist at the time? Had they changed their minds so quickly? From being so frightened of abolitionism as to leave the empire to awarding a Briton who promoted abolitionism? The New York Times has no accurate knowledge of Virginia’s Revolutionary culture and cannot begin to answer these questions.

It was the American colonists who were interested in abolitionism in 1776. While many of the Virginian planters were struggling with manumission and other ways of ending slavery, it was left to the northern states to successfully undertake the immense task of legally abolishing slavery. Far from protecting slavery, the American Revolution inflicted a massive blow to the entire slave system of the New World. Not only were the northern states the first slaveholding governments in the world to abolish slavery, but the United States became the first nation in the world to begin actively suppressing the despicable international slave trade. The New York Times has the history completely backwards.

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