Slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built,” U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said in a recent interview.
The July 26, 2020, issue of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper contains an article based on that interview written by that paper’s Washington, DC, correspondent, Frank Lockwood.
Sen. Cotton, the junior senator from Arkansas, is quoted as stating, “We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country.
“As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”
He made that assertion to support legislation he is sponsoring that would prohibit public schools in the U.S. from using material from The New York Times 1619 Project that traces U.S. history to 1619 and the enslavement of Africans.
Sen. Cotton’s view that slavery was “the necessary evil upon which the union was built” is flawed logic and flawed ethics.
It is flawed logic because morally competent people can choose good rather than evil.
A decision to act in evil ways is not logically “necessary” if people have the power to act in ways that are not evil.
Cotton’s flawed logic is also ethically (morally) wrong. Kidnapping, trafficking, enslaving, selling, purchasing, raping, maiming and stealing the lives and labor of Africans were deliberate evils committed based on greed, not need.
Slavery was, at bottom, a commercial venture undertaken by Southern planters (of cotton, tobacco and other cash crops) and Northern ship owners whose capitalist self-interest was a driving reason for seeking independence from King George.
Africans were kidnapped, enslaved, transported across oceans, held hostage, bought and sold by white men whose highest principle was greed, not need. The white Founding Fathers knew this was so.
Perhaps that explains why they deleted a 168-word passage from the draft of the Declaration of Independence prepared by Thomas Jefferson that blamed King George for perpetuating the slave trade.
Cotton’s flawed logic and flawed sense of history exposes how lies about American “exceptionalism” and virtue have been told, sold and repeated in American public education to prevent students from knowing inconvenient truths.
The United States was not established to ensure the “inalienable” rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all persons but was established by and to benefit wealthy white men.
Wealthy white men conspired, plotted, schemed, pooled their money and deliberately designed a system of government that would allow them to steal, transport and hold Africans hostage in this land as enslaved persons for generations.
The successors of those wealthy white men created empires, cities, states and the nation by not paying Africans a cent for 250 years of work and by defrauding their descendants and discriminating against them in numerous ways since then.
The New York Times 1619 project exposes the fraud and hypocrisy behind Cotton’s view that the United States is “the greatest and noblest country in the history of mankind.”
The 1619 Project also does something else that offends Cotton and people of his ilk; it provides historical support for the view held by Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter.
She recently wrote in the June 28, 2020, issue of The New York Times magazine that, “If true justice and equality are ever to be achieved in the United States, the country must finally take seriously what it owes black Americans. … A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and works to make them right.”
Cotton cannot handle that truth. Instead, he prefers that public schools perpetuate slaveholder history, hypocrisy and lies about this society being a meritocracy rather than expose students to the truth that wealthy white men deliberately chose to enslave Africans to create what became the United States.
Cotton wants the current and coming generations of students in public schools to continue believing the hypocrisy and lies that have always been the foundation for the U.S. brand of white supremacy and religious nationalism that is euphemistically termed “American exceptionalism.”
The 1619 Project allows teachers to help students learn and know that the United States was created as a slavocracy bottomed on land stolen from Indigenous people and labor stolen from enslaved Africans.
As students realize this hard truth, they will also be able to trace how the greed, hypocrisy, deceit and violence surrounding chattel slavery evolved to produce other evil results across centuries since the nation was founded through continued discrimination against Black Americans specifically and wage theft against laborers in general.
Cotton cannot handle that truth because his argument is intellectually and morally incompetent. We should not subject current and coming students to his plight.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.