Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #2- Gordon Wood

Historian Gordon Wood to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine


The letter that was sent by decorated historian Gordon Wood to the editor of the New York Times Magazine is an important letter that claims that the information in the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project on slavery is inaccurate. Gordon Wood begins by saying that if misinformation continues to be spread within this media outlet, then it will start to lose its credibility in the long run. (Wood, p.1) Wood’s main concern with the piece has to do with a claim that the 1619 Project had made. They stated: “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Wood believed that this claim was preposterous and responded by saying that he didn’t know of any colonists who wanted independence to keep their slaves. (Wood, p.1) 

I knew that the British didn’t care about abolishing slavery in the United States, but I did learn that as much as the slaves helped the U.S. become what it became, colonists were still ready and willing to give up slavery. Wood also gives a direct example for this stating that John Adams, a key part of the Declaration of Independence hated slavery and owned no slaves, so why would he ever be so concerned about preserving slavery? (Wood, p.2)

Additionally this text adds to my knowledge of American history as I learned that not only were the colonists not trying to preserve the institution of slavery, but the North actually saw the Revolution as an opportunity to abolish it. In fact, the first anti-slave movements in history were supported by both white and black people and took place in the northern states directly after 1776. (Wood, p.2)

Lastly, the 1619 Project claims that there was a “rising movement” to abolish the Atlantic Slave Trade after 1776 but Wood firmly refutes it by stating that there was no evidence that this was the case or that the British government had any intention of doing so. (Wood, p.2) He then says that even if it was the case, Virginian planters would have welcomed the ending of the slave trade as they already had more slaves than necessary. (Wood, p.2) 

I had no idea that some states had so many slaves to the point where they didn’t need anymore, which made me think deeper about the true magnitude of slavery in the United States as they were so common that you didn’t have to be a particularly rich family to own one.

In conclusion, Gordon Wood brings up some great points that refute the inaccuracies of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, showing that while slavery had a great impact America’s search for independence it was not the reason why they wanted to separate themselves from the British.


One thought on “Blog Post #2- Gordon Wood”

  1. A very thoughtful and balanced post. I’m impressed by your point in the second to last paragraph about how Wood’s point about the slave trade actually shows how widespread and important slavery in Early America was, even though he may be factually correct about the lack of an abolitionist movement or evidence that some American colonists rebelled to protect slavery.

    Thinking about it more deeply then, if Hannah-Jones was wrong about the rising tide of British abolitionism, did she still have a valid point about the significance of slavery to white Americans in the Revolutionary Era as a whole? Does what Wood claim is a lack of concrete evidence (southern slaveowners never said they were rebelling to protect slavery) mean that we can’t infer that may have been among their motivations based on other evidence?

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