Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass vs. the 1619 Project

A new book explicates the escaped slave and renowned orator's argument that the Constitution is "a glorious liberty document" that justified ending slavery.


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Last year, The New York Times published "The 1619 Project," an immensely ambitious, influential, and controversial reframing of American history. The project's creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, argued that the U.S. Constitution was a "decidedly undemocratic" document and that "anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country." This interpretation of the American founding has been the subject of a heated debate. The 1619 Project has also been adapted into a high school curriculum that attempts to "reframe U.S. history by marking the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil as our nation's foundational date."

After five eminent historians attacked the 1619 Project, the project's editor responded by reiterating Hannah-Jones's view that "advances for minority groups have almost always come as a result of political and social struggles in which African-Americans have generally taken the lead, not as a working-out of the immanent logic of the Constitution."

This view of the Constitution is at odds with that of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave, abolitionist, author, and towering figure in American history. In his new book, A Glorious Liberty: Frederick Douglass and the Fight for an Antislavery ConstitutionReason Senior Editor Damon Root explicates Douglass's classical liberal reading of the Constitution. Far from seeing it as a morally ambiguous document that sanctioned white supremacism, Douglass extolled it as "a glorious liberty document" that justified the ending of slavery and other forms of race- and gender-based inequality. Douglass's message, says Root, is as vital to the current moment as it was in the 19th century.

Edited and Motion Graphics by Isaac Reese; production assistance from John Osterhoudt and Reagan Taylor.

Music: "Witches Brew," by CK Martin

Photos: Beowulf Sheehan/ZUMA Press/Newscom; World History Archive/Newscom; World History Archive/Newscom; Everett Collection/Newscom

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  1. Let’s be honest. Frederick Douglass would bitchslap every one of the 1619 authors if he were alive today.

    1. He wasn’t black!

      1. Of course he was Black. He just wasn’t “woke” enough.

        1. Historically speaking, whether you like it or not, he was almost certainly a racist and helped white people cement institutional racism in the US, not to mention the irreparable and lasting harm he’s done to the BIPOC diaspora at large. If he knew it was okay to be quote “woke” back then, history might have played out much differently, for the better.

          1. “he was almost certainly a racist”

            What evidence other than your fevered hallucinations can you point me to in support of this claim?

            “and helped white people cement institutional racism in the US, not to mention the irreparable and lasting harm he’s done to the BIPOC diaspora at large.”

            Please do show me the evidence of this.

            And at the same time, since you are sitting there calling a black rights activist a racist, could you let us know what your race is?

            1. What’s evidence? He read the children’s book “Everybody Who Disagrees With Me is a Racist”.

            2. He’s an idiot,

              1. Michael S. Langston wrote, “He’s an idiot.”

                That makes Enlightened Atheist a citizen of the world.

                Am I not a man and a brother?

          2. You dudes need to start including for translations for us “sleepers” (or whatever you call us un-woke people) a list of all the (current) acronyms and abbrevations you’re using. BIPOC? So, do we include Indians (i.e., from the Asian subcontinent) in “POC”? How about Japanese, who can be quite fair, but are not caucasian? Who is included, who is not?

            Moving targets and moving goalposts are great! Loosing the game? Just move the goalpost.

            1. Ground I’ve also wondered why everyone is not POC – why would B and I get their own classifications and the rest of everyone here is just under POC?

          3. It is hard to be a racist before the concept was even created,> He may not have behaved as you would have liked, but to use a concert that didn’t exist at the time is revisionist and wrong. Learn some history and vocabulary.

          4. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
            Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” – Isaiah 5:20-21

          5. You really are a POS, capping on a man infinitely better than you in every way, while maintaining what a belief in your righteous infallibility. What an idiot.

    2. Let’s be honest. Frederick Douglass would bitchslap every one of the 1619 authors be called an Uncle Tom if he were alive today.


      1. Yeah, he would.

      2. But he would be called an Uncle Tom after slapping every one of the 1619 authors; heck, he would be called one because of it.

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  3. The Constitution certainly allows for slavery — the 3/5 clause and the 20 year pause on banning importation. But it doesn’t mandate slavery, and that’s where the 1619 project goes off the rails. Well, also when they conflate the 1619 indentured servants with slavery without recognizing that their conflation would also put the slavery start back to the earlier white indentured servants. And also when they don’t recognize Indian slaves, Spanish slaves, etc.

    1. You do realize the 3/5ths clause was an anti-slavery addition to the constitution. If you do, then apologies.

      1. It recognized the existence of slavery. If the Constitution had banned or ignored slavery, it wouldn’t have needed the 3/5 clause.

        1. Yes, agreed, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t buying into the trope that the people who put that in there didn’t actually believe that slaves were only worth 3/5th a white man.

          1. But that is the effect The slavocracy would have had it at 5/5, unlike any other property which has 0/5 representation by its owner. The slavocracy’s hypocrisy was on full display with anything other than 0/5.

            1. The colonies could declare independence with the 3/5 compromise and a prohibition on the importation of slaves, or they couldn’t declare independence at all. It was generally understood that this was merely a transitional period in order to avoid unrest and economic upheaval. Adam Smith already had supplied the economic arguments for why slavery was bad for the US.

              So where exactly do you see any “hypocrisy”? Should the US simply not have declared independence at all?

            2. The 3/5 Compromise was a direct result of how the Northern and Southern States wanted to measure a slave.

              The North wanted to count them 0 for Representative purposes but 1 for taxing purposes. This would have undoubtedly given the South a good incentive for freeing the slaves.

              The South wanted to count them 1 for Representative purposes but 0 for taxing purposes. This would have undoubtedly entrenched the horrible Institution.

              By saying 3/5 for Representation and 3/5 for taxation, it placated both sides, and the thought was that it would still give the South incentive to free slaves. Perhaps, for more incentive, if someone born a slave was made free, they would be counted 1 (or maybe even 6/5) for Representative purposes, and 0 for taxation, it would have given better incentive to free slaves, but sadly, hindsight is 20/20.

        2. Do you not understand why the 3/5 clause was included? I t would have been very difficult to have ignored slavery and w/o the 3/5 clause the slave states would have had a decided advantage over non-slave states who likely would not have ratified the constitution.

    2. The Constitution certainly allows for slavery — the 3/5 clause and the 20 year pause on banning importation.

      This was a compromise necessary to get the Constitution passed at all. They accepted that compromise because they didn’t expect slavery to survive in the long term.

      Jefferson and others were quite clear about what they thought of slavery in their draft Declaration of Independence:

      He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.

    3. Spain had slaves in the USA territory long before 1619.

    1. Agreed.

      1. I believe she’s being facetious.

        Can you please tell us why you think Douglas was a racist… and whatever else you claim he was?

      2. Idiot. Diane was being sarcastic.

  4. “Our country says that we were founded to be a democracy, but we were actually founded as a slave-ocracy.”
    -Nikole Hannah-Jones

    …………….uhhh……. what? Is she saying that we’re ruled by slaves?

    1. And yes, I know what she was trying to say. But if you’re going to make up words, at least have them make sense.

      1. slavocracy – “a faction of slaveholders and advocates of slavery in the South before the American Civil War”

        1. Well shit, I stand corrected. Touche.

          Only word I can think of containing the suffix “ocracy”, that doesn’t roughly mean “ruled by (the prefix)”.

          Thankfully, Nick does a good job of explaining why it’s a terrible argument, regardless of nomenclature.

          1. no, you’re not corrected. the dictionary is quoting the common meaning, not the way the word is constructed.

        2. Proving that even Webster’s can be just plain wrong at time, regardless of how a word is used by the (very) common man.

          1. It doesn’t prove anything like that.

            Language is just a tool to convey ideas. As long as a word is understood by the listener to mean what the speaker intended, then that definition of the word is correct. There could be multiple definitions of the same word, but it need only follow the one rule: that’s it’s understood to mean what its intended to mean.

            Any other languages “rules” are just guidelines and patterns to make the language is easier to teach, but those “rules” don’t trump the most important one.

            And words change meanings all the time. They change when people interpret them to mean something new.


            1. like wanting to get untracked, but not go off the rails?

            2. And this is the number one reason why natural language, and even some made-up ones, are such a mess.

              Humans refuse to be reasonable!

    2. U.S. Constitution. Article 4. Section 4.
      “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”

      Huh; I wonder where Jones lives.. Certainly wouldn’t be USA.

      1. Of course, historically, certain republics have been known to have slavery.

      2. The founders and framers themselves continually used both Democracy and Republic to describe the US government.

        1. The founders were neither fools not careless. What they put into the final written document was Republic, not Democracy.

  5. So is Frederick Douglas, and his view of a “glorious liberty document,” now to be considered a white supremacist?

      1. It never was and you cannot possibly use the words of the founding documents to prove otherwise, you insufferable snowflake.

    1. The next step is to take some quotes out of context and then throw him in the bin with Tom Cotton, claiming he said things he never said.

    2. Allen West has been told by a young, chubby white progressive girl that he isn’t “black”. What makes you think she or other young progressives would consider Frederick Douglas “black” either?

      Your racial identity, just like your gender identity, is a matter of choice to progressives.

      1. Great! So I can be a 6′-5″, 300# black guy who is fast on his feet and quick to see patterns of movement? Hallelujah! Finally I can get a spot on the Dallas Cowboys!

  6. He wasn’t Democratic, so he wasn’t black.

    1. No he was a Republican.

  7. If blm, why are 50% of black pregnancies aborted.

    1. You only become actually black once you become a card carrying member of the Democratic party.

      If you haven’t done that, you are mere skinfolk, not kinfolk, and your life doesn’t matter to BLM or Democrats.

  8. “Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” ~ Lysander Spooner

    1. He would have had one heck of a newsletter.

  9. Last year, The New York Times published “The 1619 Project,” an immensely ambitious, influential, and controversial reframing of American history.

    In fact, “The 1619 Project” is a factually incorrect, manipulative piece of propaganda written by someone who neither knows nor cares about US history.

    By not calling it out for the neo-Marxist b.s. it is, and instead referring to it as “ambitious, influential, and controversial” as if there were some possible discussion about its truth, you’re participating in the propaganda.

    1. Mein Kampf was also ambitious, influential, and controversial. That doesn’t mean it isn’t reprehensible.

      Stating that the project has those characteristics is in no way endorsing it.

      1. if silence is violence, not condemning obvious propaganda as an insult to real historians is a disgrace.

        1. Dang! I gotta remember that one, and use it!

        2. Fair enough.

          But you seemed to have a problem with some of the judgement-neutral adjectives used to describe the project, which were accurate in and of themselves without context.

          But given the context of the rest of this article, I don’t come away thinking that the author is a fan of the 1619 Project.

          Don’t you think that this article comes off as very critical of the project?

  10. In my opinion Ms. Jones is a know nothing, rabble rousing revisionist who not only doesn’t deserve a Pulitzer Prize she should lose her profession for malpractice,

  11. The Bohemian waxwing is a medium-sized melodic bird with a separate head and black masks. It is brown-gray on the body, while its fins have a white and yellow border. Thus, the Bohemian Waxwing is one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

    These birds live in the northern forest throughout North America and Eurasia, mainly in Canada and Alaska. In winter they migrate in large flocks to the northwestern United States. They nest on tree branches. Both male and female Waxwings are known for their high notes. They feed mainly on insects and berries.
    The Bohemian waxwing

  12. Why is 1619 the starting date? Why not make the starting date “the dawn of time” since slavery has been THE standard of all civilization up until the 19th century.

    1. It’s hard to narrowly target the U. S. as uniquely evil if you do it that way.


  13. The most damning thing that should be said about the “1619 Project” and its goal to make slavery and racism not only the founding of the United States, but something integral to its DNA, is the fact that if this is true, it means that the United States will forever be a racist slavocracy, and that nothing can be done to fix it.

    This idea cancels out the one thing that makes the United States unique among nations of the Earth: the recognition that freedom is paramount, that governments need to protect freedom or be considered illegitimate, and that if a government is illegitimate, it needs to be overthrown and replaced with a government that will protect freedom.

    We fought a Revolutionary War to break off from a country trying to cut off our freedoms, and we created a Constitution to protect those freedoms — and because we didn’t perfectly recognize freedom for all at the time of the Revolutionary War, and measures put in the Constitution to end the horrible institution of slavery weren’t sufficient to accomplish the task, we also fought a terrible Civil War, where, in the aftermath, we finally ended the institution, and gradually (albeit too gradually, but the train was nonetheless set in motion) recognized the rights of all.

    The 1619 Project attempts to cancel all of this, which reduces all of us to chattel slaves.

  14. I would think that Britain and countries of West Africa would be primarily responsible for Reparation payments, if any are to be made, since they were behind the trans-Atlantic slave trade well before America even became a nation. There was no America for 168 years from the introduction of slaves into the Colonies in 1619 until America officially became a nation. It was Britain for most of that time.

    It only took some 73 years for America, from the ratification of the US constitution in 1787, officially marking its existence as a nation, to end the practice of slavery in the country. People living at that time would have seen the unfolding of these events in their lifetimes.

    So, this idea of America being founded on slavery is historically untrue. Quite the opposite, America ended the ages-old, millennial practice of slavery.

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