Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
“One slave from Megiddo, three slaves from Phoenicia, eight slaves from the Hittites, one slave from Cyprus,” the ancient tablet reads.
The Minoan palace in which the tablet was stored existed between 1,900 and 1450 BCE. The Minoan civilization dates back to 2,000 BCE, as the oldest of the Greeks and, like most civilizations throughout history, including their Egyptian trading partners, bought, sold, and kept slaves.
Western civilization did not originate slavery. Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi has a great deal to say about slaves. Much of it involves the death penalty for anyone stealing slaves. Rebellious slaves had their ears cut off. Civilizations from Egypt to Greece, from Babylon to China used slave labor.
Following in the tracks of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a 2000 BCE project could be launched to indict all of western civilization as being built on the labor of slaves. Though such an accusation would be far truer of Egypt and Babylon, than of Minoan or even Mycenean Greece. Just as it is far truer today of the Islamic states like Qatar, adored by the New York Times, than it was of America even in 1619.
If slavery, as some have insisted, is America’s original sin, it’s more like mankind’s original sin.
The origins of slavery are too ancient to attach a date. Slavery predates even the crudest writing and implements. 2,000 BCE or over 4,000 years ago, is as good a date as any other. And slavery exists today, from the skyscrapers of Qatar to the millions of ingenious and cheap products pouring out of China.
No major civilization was immune from slavery, but western civilization was the least tainted by it.
The Greeks were less dependent on the massive collective labor on which the civilizations of Egypt, Babylon and China were built. They were also more individualistic and able to think in terms of individual rights on a level deeper than the Hammurabi Code’s obsession with property.
When Judaism, the religion of a nation of freed slaves, came to Europe, with the captured Jewish slaves brought in countless numbers from the fall of the second commonwealth of Israel, their origin story of G-d overthrowing a slaveholding empire to build a personal relationship with man supplanted the old Greek and Roman legends. Rome might have destroyed the nation of the liberated slaves, and enslaved them once more, but their beliefs brought down yet another slaveholding empire.
The Exodus became the defining story for Puritan refugees, abolitionists and African slaves in America who embraced its religious and political significance. Despite the historical revisionism of the 1619 Project, slavery had only a tenuous and controversial grip here. Unlike the Romans and the Greeks, even many Southern elites viewed it as an unpleasant moral compromise that tainted them and their nation.
Of all the world’s major nations, America’s origins are the least defined by slavery. From its origins, there were moral, economic and political tensions between slaveholders and small farmers, laborers, religious leaders and philosophers. The Civil War was not a sudden awakening, but the climax of an ongoing conflict that finally exploded, taking a million people with it, and transforming the entire country.
The 1619 Project claims to trace back all of American life to slavery. But 1619 is no true origin point. African slavery long predated 1619 and western civilization had slavery thousands of years before.
At Bigbury Camp in Canterbury, England, 2,500-year-old slave shackles turned up in 1861. The emergence of the ancient implements of slavery from a pre-Roman trade in slaves in the year that America went to war, in part, over slavery, makes a mockery of the 1619 Project’s revisionism.
The Romans had an endless appetite for slaves and England had little else to offer than captives. An apocryphal story has Pope Gregory encountering Anglo-Saxon slaves in Rome, and, because of their fair hair, dubbing them not ‘angles’, but ‘angels’. In the Doom Book of 893 CE, King Alfred the Great prohibited Christmas to slaves, but provided them some measure of liberty during the Embertides.
By then as much as 10% of England’s population consisted of slaves. A few centuries later, slavery had lapsed and then vanished. In 1569, a merchant brought a slave with him from Russia and whipped him. In his ruling, a judge declared that, “England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in.”
Slavery lapsed into indentured servitude which was reinvigorated when the authorities decided to ship undesirable English and Irish people to labor in the newly settled colonies. When the project ran short of English slum dwellers, indentured servants from all over, including Europe and Africa, were brought in.
Captain John Smith of Jamestown, of Pocahontas fame, had started out as a slave, not to the Europeans, but to the Turks, who continued the practice of taking and holding European slaves long after the abolition of the slave trade in America. After fighting the Ottoman Empire, Smith was captured in battle, and then sold into slavery. “Sold for slaves, like beasts in a market-place”, he would later write.
Smith killed his master, stole his clothes and his horse, escaped, and ended up as President of Virginia.
1619 did not bring more than a handful of African servants, who later became slaves, to Virginia. But it did see the Poles, who had come as indentured servants, going on strike for the right to vote.
Rhode Island passed the first anti-slavery law in 1652, but it did not take effect until 1784, a year after the end of the Revolutionary War. Vermont abolished slavery in 1777, Massachusetts in 1783, Connecticut in 1784, and New York in 1799. Many of these measures did not immediately eliminate slavery, but imposed sunset provisions on importing new slaves and enslaving children.
The struggle over slavery began with independence and, was fought most fiercely not between North and South, but between a few special interests and revolutionaries, clergy and activists. The origins of slavery in America were complex and the 1619 Project’s attempt at historical revisionism ignores the complexity of slavery in Delaware, where Swedish settlers were busy enslaving local Indians.
The New York Times’ 1619 Project falsely claims that all American institutions were shaped by slavery. It would be more accurate to say that they were shaped by the opposition to slavery. The slaveholders envisioned America as a series of ports and plantations where raw materials would be harvested, processed, and then put on board ships that were bound for Europe.
Had this slave vision prevailed, America would have resembled European colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, a small elite ruling over a vast slave population, leaving behind nothing but empty manors.
From the Poles of Jamestown to the American Revolution to the Civil War, it was established that America would not be a place where British elites could get cheap raw materials through cheap labor. Trump’s election victory made the same point about cheap markets to San Francisco elites.
Slavery did not define America. The resistance of small farmers and free labor defined America.
The multiple revolts ensured that representative government, not royal charters, would govern America. In the next phase of American life, the westward movement of settlers ran up against efforts to set up plantation states, and were met with violent resistance by farmers and free laborers which led to the Civil War. Free settlers were able to open up the western states and build a nation ‘from sea to sea’.
There are places south of the border where the 1619 Project would be relevant. In 1444, Portugal brought back the first cargo of slaves. By 1510, the first slaves began arriving in the Spanish colonies.
Why is there no 1444 Project or 1510 Project?
Look no further than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or the illegal alien migrant border protests. The Left’s absurd ideology insists that the descendants of Spanish colonists south of the border are victims while the descendants of English, French, Spanish, Scottish, Irish, German, Polish, Jewish and Swedish colonists in America are evil oppressors. There can be a 1619 Project, but no 1510 Project.
Everyone knows that minorities, a group that now encompasses Spanish colonists, can’t be racist.
Slavery has always been with us. And the protests against it are selective.
When President Trump envisions an American economy no longer dependent on the labor of Chinese political prisoners and which does not feed fortunes into the oil empires of Qatar or Saudi Arabia, why do the progenitors of the 1619 Project not cheer loudly for an end to slavery, instead of angrily booing?
Where is their condemnation of the Islamic enslavement of Africans, not centuries ago, but today?
The 1619 Project exposes the hypocrisy, not of America, but of the leftist radicals determined to destroy it. Rather than working to fight against slavery in the present day, they concoct new slanders and smears whose purpose is to delegitimize America, and make the case for the political power of their faction. And what their leftist faction wants to do with that power is wipe out freedom and the Bill of Rights.
How better to make the case for a new slavery than by exploiting the history of an old slavery.
Meanwhile the New York Times, which profits from its extensive tourism trade, offers a tour of The Secrets of Marrakesh. These ‘secrets’ focus on dining and shopping. No mention is made of the UN report documenting the 85,000 people living in slavery in Morocco today. There’s a tour of Egypt, or as the Times calls it, The Land of the Pharaohs, where Eritrean Christian refugees have been held in slave camps for ransom. There’s a trip to Istanbul where 50,000 political prisoners of the Islamist regime rot.
And there’s Qatar, where millions of slaves, 90% of the population, labor for their Muslim masters in the killing heat, suffering, dying by the thousands, raped in private households, and kept in thrall.
The New York Times has no Project 1619 for Qatar. There is instead a trip to Doha with Roger Cohen.
And there’s also one place that doesn’t appear on the Times itinerary: Pedophile Island.
In 2008, Landon Thomas Jr., a New York Times correspondent and personal friend of Epstein, visited the infamous island.
“As his legal troubles deepened, Mr. Epstein gazed at the azure sea and the lush hills of St. Thomas in the distance, poked at a lunch of crab and rare steak prepared by his personal chef, and tried to explain how his life had taken such a turn,” the Times profile romantically muses about its favorite child rapist.
Somewhere in the distance the children were likely being kept.
There will be no 1619 Project for the New York Times. Not in Doha, Marrakesh or Pedophile Island.
The New York Times is playing a cynical game of indicting the America of today for an institution that dates back to the dawn of human history in order to build up its own political power. But a better place to begin may be with Project 2008 or 2019 which explores its own complicity in modern-day slavery.