Frederick Douglass vs. The 1619 Project

Frederick Douglass never bought into the cult of grievance, but rather saw the Declaration of Independence as an unfulfilled promise based upon enduring truths.


Much has been made about the natural law foundations of the American experiment, lines that are best expressed in our Declaration of Independence.

For many, such a declaration expressed an unfulfilled yet promising hope that was best defended by our U.S. Constitution as we sought a “more perfect Union” that would defend and protect our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, we live in more decadent times where grift is easier than work, times that the 19th century philosopher Frederic Bastiat warned about in his work entitled The Law.

Fast forward to today, as grievance seems to be a cottage industry in the wake of the near universally condemned 1619 Project attempting to define American history based on the arrival of enslaved persons on the Virginia shoreline by English ships bearing Dutch letters of marque.

Should America be defined by her vices rather than her virtues?  One might argue that vice — whether described as the commons or the vulgar — is rather ubiquitous in history writ large.  In fact, suffering and injustice is the common experience of mankind, and this fragile thing we call civilization is only guaranteed by the thousands of good deeds that resist what J.R.R. Tolkien called the “long defeat” of history.

Reason Magazine senior editor Damon Root raises the question of how men such as Frederick Douglass saw the question of human freedom in the context of the American experiment.  Root’s answer is that Douglass crafted a far more reaching and nuanced narrative of the American experiment that spoke not only to the Jeffersonian principles outlined in the Declaration, but to America’s common pledge to eternal principles and constitutional liberty:

Far from seeing [the Declaration] as a morally ambiguous document that sanctioned white supremacism, Douglass extolled it as “a glorious liberty document” that justified the ending of slavery and other forms of race- and gender-based inequality. Douglass’s message, says Root, is as vital to the current moment as it was in the 19th century.

The video is worth your time.

Root’s book entitled A Glorious Liberty is available on Amazon for $20, and its arguments might be worth sharing among those who are winged by wokeness, but are more possessed by the opportunity for grift than they are any true concern for moral justice in the world.