Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog post #2

In the 1619 project, America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black People Made It One by Nikole Hannah. Hannah argued that America has been ran by white leaders in order to keep people of color inferior and not equal to white people. Arguing that slavery was the direct cause to democracy in America. In early America people of color were used as product for land, cotton picking, and expanding America to the status it holds today. Jones argues that America gains extreme expansion due to the buying and selling of slaves. In fact, she tells that “America’s greatest profitable trade was manufactured by slave.” She continues to argue that many of America’s early achievements came from the work and progress of African Americans. One of her major points was that in early America slaves were not seen as people but as property. Meaning they were seen as business to expand; Jones also makes a point that slaves were intentionally left out of the Declaration of Independence. She points out the hypocrisy of the phrase “all men are created equal” as the people of color were not seen as equal to white people.  

Jones begins another point that the key reasons the colonies wanted to gain independence from Great Britain was to keep slaves. Another writer Gordon Wood rejects this claim arguing that while it could have been “one factor” it wasn’t the only factor in fact he believed “The Stamp Act” was the nail in the coffin for the colonies. Wood continues to disprove many of Jones points from “The 1619 Project” in order to give the right information. Jones revised her piece changing “the key reason” to “one of the key reasons” still believing that it was a major factor in the American Revolution.  

This reading made me wonder if the information fed to us as children has been watered down and distorted over time. As today racism, prejudice, and discrimination still exist in America. Many Americans look over the fact that people of color were a giant part of the success of early America and should be talked and taught about more today. 


One thought on “Blog post #2”

  1. Good to see you attempt to grapple with both Hannah-Jones’s essay and Wood’s criticism here. I’m a little less clear about what you conclude from the two readings. Rather than viewing history as a process of watering-down and distortion, I wonder if it’s possible to see both Hannah-Jones and Wood as two different kinds of thinkers with very different perspectives (and using different kinds of evidence and methodologies)—in other words, can their interpretations be reconciled?

    While I certainly don’t dispute your (and her) point about Black people’s contributions to American democracy, I’m not sure Hannah-Jones would agree with your interpretation of her argument, that slavery “caused” democracy. That said, part of the problem with her essay, as I see it, is that it erases the history of the debates, or conflicts, over slavery and race in Early America. Not everyone (not even all white people) agreed that the Declaration excluded people of color, or that enslaved people were the legitimate property of slaveowners! If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this class, it’s that there was almost always a debate over these and many other subjects—the “consensus” appears only in hindsight.

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