September 6, 2019


The 3395 Project: American National Identity Includes Both the Ideals of 1776 and the Legacy of 1619 (S. ADAM SEAGRAVE, 9/02/19, Public Discourse)

The 1619 Project really points us to the need for the 3395 Project--the project of constructing a new and stronger American identity that incorporates both the experiences, perspectives, and distinctive contributions of the descendants of enslaved Africans (1619) and also the aspirations and ideals enunciated by European Americans in the Declaration of Independence (1776). Both of these, together, constitute the core of what makes America exceptional.

I am supported in this opinion by many luminaries whose wisdom is recognized by conservative commentators. These include, for example, Alexis de Tocqueville and Frederick Douglass. In his often overlooked chapter on "the three races" in Democracy in America, Tocqueville provides the following remarkable statement:

The Americans are, of all modern peoples, those who have pushed equality and inequality furthest among men. They have combined universal suffrage and servitude. They seem to have wanted to prove in this way the advantages of equality by opposite arguments. It is claimed that the Americans, by establishing universal suffrage and the dogma of sovereignty of the people, have made clear to the world the advantages of equality. As for me, I think that they have above all proved this by establishing servitude, and I find that they establish the advantages of equality much less by democracy than by slavery.

Tocqueville's argument here--and in this chapter generally--is not far from that of the 1619 Project: the abstract principles of liberty and equality define American exceptionalism not merely by themselves, but even more so in the sharpness of their contrast with the practical reality of slavery. The political principles of 1776 are uniquely American. So too is the rigid, extensive, and pervasive system of race-based, black vs. white chattel slavery that accompanied them.

Frederick Douglass, in his speech on the Dred Scott decision, makes a similar point. He claims that "The American people have been called upon, in a most striking manner, to abolish and put away forever the system of slavery."

Why would Douglass think the American people had been called upon by Divine Providence to abolish slavery? The principles of 1776. Why would Douglass think the American people have been called upon not only to abolish American slavery here and now, but "to abolish and put away forever the system of slavery?" Because American slavery was in fact paradigmatic in many important ways. The defeat of this exceptionally embedded, extensive, race-based slave system at the hands of the exceptionally true and important principles of natural rights and natural law-based liberty and equality would be so powerful that no one could ever defend slavery as Chief Justice Taney had again.

Posted by at September 6, 2019 6:44 AM