So protesters have moved from statues of Confederates to those of abolitionists, and now they’re on to the Founders, including no less than the father of the nation, George Washington.
Vandals in Portland, Oregon, first draped the head of Washington in an American flag and then set fire to it on Thursday night.
The statue and the base were spray-painted with “1619,” “genocidal colonist,” “you’re on native land,” “BLM” and “Big Floyd.”
As I wrote earlier this week, protesters in Portland also toppled a statue of Thomas Jefferson on Sunday night.
“The words ‘slave owner’ and ‘George Floyd’ were written on the white marble base where the statue had stood,” KPTV-TV reported.
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If Jefferson was the pen of the Revolutionary War — drafting the Declaration of Independence and succinctly defining what it means to be an American — then Washington was the sword, making the document’s promises a reality through eight long years of battle.
After the war, the commander of the Continental Army was unanimously chosen to be president of the Constitutional Convention and later was chosen as the first president of the United States by a unanimous Electoral College vote for both terms he served.
No presidential candidate since has achieved such a tally.
That gives some sense for the reverence Washington was held in during his day.
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It’s interesting that the protesters would spray-paint “1619” on his statue, apparently attributing blame to him that the British had introduced slavery into the colony of Virginia over a century before Washington was born.
Contrary to what’s being taught in The New York Times’ 1619 Project curriculum in 3,500 classrooms across 50 states, a primary cause of the Revolutionary War was not the colonists’ desire to protect slavery.
I’ve put together an album of photos of the toppled Washington statue. Non-profit media/orgs can use freely with attribution. (DM for other arrangements.)https://t.co/XDjjYsvchR
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) June 19, 2020
The Declaration of Independence, which lists dozens of grievances the Colonies had against the king and Parliament, makes just a passing reference to slavery by pointing to England’s efforts to excite “domestic insurrections.”
The Times’ lead writer on the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was honest enough to acknowledge that slavery in America predated the nation’s founding by over 150 years.
However, she alleged that by 1776, Britain “had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution.”
Slavery was abolished in Great Britain in 1833 — over a half-century after the founding of the United States.
Also working completely against Hannah-Jones’ narrative is the fact that nearly every state north of the Mason-Dixon Line had voted to abolish slavery by the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
By 1804, all Northern states had passed legislation ending slavery.
Washington’s views toward the institution began to shift during the course of the war and in the years following it.
In a May 1786 letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, a French officer who served under him in the war, Washington commended his protégé for supporting the abolitionist movement.
“Would to God a like spirit [to end slavery] would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country, but I despair of seeing it — some petitions were presented to the [Virginia] Assembly at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading,” Washington wrote.
He added to just set the slaves “afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience & mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, & assuredly ought to be effected & that too by Legislative authority.”
A few weeks earlier, the retired general also addressed the topic of slavery in a letter to Declaration of Independence signer Robert Morris of Pennsylvania.
“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it — but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, & that is by Legislative authority: and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting,” Washington wrote.
He actually took his first legislative acts in that direction by putting his name to the Constitution in 1787.
That document specifically authorized the federal government to ban the importation of slaves starting in 1808, approximately 20 years from the date it was ratified.
Congress voted for the ban in 1807 so it could go into effect at the earliest possible date, and President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law.
Additionally, the Constitution contained a compromise that the founders reached, counting three-fifths of the state’s slave population when calculating the overall population for determining how many representatives a state would have in Congress.
The Southern states wanted to count their entire slave populations for representation purposes, but the Northern states were not willing to allow it.
The impact was to lessen the number of votes slave-holding interests held in the House of Representatives.
Both of these constitutional provisions were a recognition that slavery was a present evil, not something many of the founders wanted to see continue in perpetuity.
On a personal level, Washington first made the commitment by the mid-1780s to never purchase a slave again, and by the 1790s he decided the whole idea of trafficking human beings was wrong, and he chose never to sell a slave.
The most high-profile act the former president took was to free his slaves in his will after his death in 1799, an action he knew would send a strong signal to the nation and the world about where he stood on the issue.
“Washington’s emancipation provision was widely publicized and celebrated by abolitionists and African Americans,” an article on the official Mount Vernon website explains.
In a eulogy praising the Founding Father, Richard Allen — a former slave and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church — said Washington, undeterred by popular opinion in his home state of Virginia, “dared to do his duty, and wipe off the only stain with which man could ever reproach him.”
To say that slavery was America’s “original sin,” as many do, is not fair to the Founding generation, which took the initial steps to end the institution inherited from their English forebears.
It is easy to judge Washington and Jefferson by contemporary standards and write them off, saying they should have done more.
But that was the world they were born into, and they made strides to change.
More importantly, they launched the greatest experiment in liberty, and we are the beneficiaries of it nearly 250 years later.
Randy DeSoto is the author of the book “We Hold These Truths” about the influence of the Declaration of Independence throughout U.S. history.
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