1619 - The Year That Changed America
Category: History & SociologyVia: john-russell • 3 weeks ago • 50 comments
I am not going to suggest that this is a momentous article in terms of Newstalkers discussions, but I am posting it as a counterpoint to the constant drumbeat we get from two members in particular, conservative extremists who devote most of their time to complaining about progressives, black lives matter, "critical race theory", and associated topics intended to forestall the future.
Conservatives are happy to act like the creators of the "1619 Project" invented facts about America's beginnings in order to foment unrest in America today.
This particular article, which contains some similar ideas as the 1619 Project does, about 1619, is interesting in the current context for one main reason, it was written before the 1619 Project existed. And written not by black activists, but by a white history professor whose expertise is the colonial period. So, contrary to what the right alleges, the meaning of "1619" is not an invention by Marxist black radicals.
1619: The Year That Shaped America
by James Horn
American Heritage magazine winter 2019
...No one in Virginia in 1619 or in the years following could have possibly grasped the importance of what had occurred. Settlers understood that the assembly allowed them to have a hand in governing themselves, but they were motivated more by opportunities to approve laws sent by the Virginia Company from London and to propose their own legislation rather than by abstract concepts of self-government or subjects’ rights and liberties.
Equally, no documented discussion took place in the colony about the morality of owning and enslaving Africans. Deliberations in future general assemblies at Jamestown, as mirrored later in colonial legislatures across English America, focused far more on policing measures against Africans and protecting the rights of masters than on the rights of the enslaved or ethical considerations. Slavery, African and Indian, together with a broad spectrum of white non-freedom—apprenticeships, convict labor, and serfdom—were simply taken for granted in the emerging Atlantic world of the time and elicited little comment.
Yet the coincidence of the meeting of the first representative government and arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the summer of 1619 was portentous. Historians have argued that the rise of liberty and equality in America, America's democratic experiment, was shadowed from its beginning by its dark obverse: slavery and racism. Slavery in the midst of freedom, Edmund Morgan writes, was the central paradox of the birth of America. The rapid expansion of opportunities for Europeans was made possible only by the enslavement and exploitation of African and Indian peoples. Non-Europeans were consigned to a permanent underclass excluded from the benefits of white society, while Europeans profited enormously from the fruits of the labors of those they oppressed.
Arguably, then, 1619 marks the inception of the most important political development in American history, the rise of democracy, and the emergence of what would in time become one of the nation's greatest challenges: the corrosive legacy of racial stereotypes that continues to afflict our society today.
Virginia was the first of England’s settlements in America to persist and ultimately flourish. The great reforms of 1619 that took place at Jamestown had an enduring influence on the development of Virginia and British America and heralded the opening of an extended Anglo-American examination of sovereignty, individual rights, liberty, and constitutionalism that would influence all Britain’s colonies.
Representative government spread outward across the continent, beginning the vital democratic experiment that has characterized American society down to our own times. Concurrently, Virginia’s early adoption of slavery and dispossession of Indian peoples reflected and reinforced racial attitudes that began the highly discriminatory processes that have stigmatized society ever since. Such were the conflicted origins of modern America.