Dr. Matthew Spalding, a professor of constitutional government and Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College was interviewed by The Epoch Times’ program American Thought Leaders. He was the executive director of the 1776 Commission, created by executive order by former President Donald Trump.
The host of the program, Jan Jekielek, asked him some key questions highly relevant to the current intense political zeitgeist, allowing Spalding to cast lucidity on the partially forgotten, at least for the younger generations, ideals of 1776.
The new Biden administration has abolished the 1776 commission, a history-centered, patriotic education program that calls for remembrance of and upholding the nation’s founding principles.
Spalding spoke about the clashing points that juxtapose the New York Times’ controversial “1619 Project” and the United States’ founding history, along with the ideological and theological ramifications.
Spalding noted that current popular educational trends are unfair to students because they don’t reflect the true picture of the founding of America. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are regarded as “dusty old documents” rather than honored documents that hold in them powerful truths that led to the founding of the first nation with the assertion that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights.
He asserted that America has not always lived up to the principles that the founders believed in, but should not be judged due to its deficiencies.
One of the most obvious deficiencies is the subject of slavery.
When questioned about the irony of some of the founders owning slaves and at the same talking about abolishing slavery, he acknowledged the legitimacy of the criticism, but that it’s important to see how overcoming slavery and realization of these flaws were part of history. It shouldn’t invalidate the greatness and nobility of the founding principles, something that he said should still be loved and inspire patriotism.
“Slavery clearly existed. They were arguing about it at the time, Jefferson held slaves at the same time he wrote a condemnation of the slave trade in the draft of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington owned slaves. But by the time he writes his final will, he frees them, those that are in his estate, because he has come to detest slavery,” said Spalding.
He stated further that slavery didn’t grow out of the founding itself.
“The principle [of equality and freedom] had been established. So they can then carry it out at the appropriate time. They made compromises, but we have to understand that they were compromises, compromises in light of the Declaration of Independence. That’s the only way to understand it. Because otherwise, you must condemn the whole thing. And I think that’s just not good history. And that’s not fair to them,” he said.
Spalding asserted the necessity to understand something in order to love it, and in contrast to other regimes, the love is not to be imposed on the people.
“You can love this country, despite its flaws, because it has done so much to advance that cause. And that’s what makes it a great and wonderful, successful nation,” he said.
Spalding then turned to the subject of education, and important topics that are not taught properly anymore, such as civics.
“What is a genuine education? And what the report is especially concerned about is what is education about civics? What does one need to know to be a good citizen?
“In America, to be a citizen means you actually need to know something about American history, how American government works, the debates over what the declaration means, alternatives, great figures in history, those kinds of things. And that’s not the way civics is taught much anymore. And we think a recovery of that would be a large step in the right direction.”
Spalding then highlighted a controversial view of progressives, who ironically over-empower government and interpret “truth” rather than give people the capability to govern themselves.
“The intellectual point they make is that ‘the idea that there are truths isn’t true. They’re only historical truths or truths that progress with time.’
“Instead, what they turn to, at least the early progressives turned to science, expertise, or the idea of bureaucrats, people that have been specially trained to run things, whether that’s in the economy, in the academy, or say in government. And this is how they reshaped and rethought government to that they have themselves into this administrative state.
“It’s no longer about the fundamental ends of government. It’s about the process. And so yes, they very much introduced in its place, in the place of a Constitution granted on the principles as understood by the founders. Having unmoored it from the principles, they now kind of re-invented this new way of thinking about how to run things.
“And I think that’s something that has stuck in American history in politics, and we continue to have a kind of a troublesome problem in our politics is the fights over bureaucracy, the so-called fourth branch of government.”
On the topic of religious liberty, Spalding asserted that it was a “core right” and that it is intrinsically related to civil liberty. He added that securing rights should “garner the most respect and protection” over the increasing dominance of government.
The removal of the 1776 report from the White House webpage, Spalding believes, is due to the incompatibility of the founding principles with some of the policies that the new administration is attempting to empower or instill, such as identity politics and critical race theory.
He believes the removal gave the report, which is available in other institutions, more prominence.
“I think by abolishing the commission and removing the report, they actually drew more attention to it. Thank you very much,” he said.
Spalding was asked about the future of the 1776 commission.
“The commission, in some form, will carry on.”
“You could abolish the commission, but you can’t erase history, you can’t get rid of these principles. That’s what we’re dedicated to. And that’s what we will continue teaching and working to defend,” Spalding said at the conclusion of the interview.