Members of the 1776 Commission, which President Joe Biden disbanded on his first day in White House, are reportedly set to meet again with a renewed focus on combating the teaching of U.S. history based on the Marxist critical race theory.
The advisory commission was established by the Trump administration in November 2020 to celebrate and promote the principles enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. It is commonly seen as a response to The New York Times’ controversial 1619 Project, which argues that the United States was founded as, and remains today, a racist nation.
Nearly four months after its dissolution, the commission regained attention when a leading member spoke against a Biden administration’s proposal to prioritize funding education programs that promote the 1619 Project and critical race theory, an ideology rooted in Marxist class struggle but with an emphasis on race, with the goal of dismantling all institutions of American society, which it deems as tools of racial oppression.
“The Proposed Rule should be withdrawn, just as individual states, which actually have the authority over the nation’s K-12 educational system, should oppose race-based pedagogy as part of their curricula and even if attempted to be imposed by the federal government,” Matthew Spalding, the executive director of the 1776 Commission, wrote in a letter to the Education Department.
“On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, I submit and draw your attention to Appendix III of The 1776 Report,” Spalding added. The appendix explains why race-focused narratives like the 1619 Project and critical race theory are “fundamentally incompatible” with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which connects liberty-loving Americans everywhere regardless of their race.
“Proponents of identity politics rearrange Americans by group identities, rank them by how much oppression they have experienced at the hands of the majority culture, and then sow division among them,” the document reads. “While not as barbaric or dehumanizing, this new creed creates new hierarchies as unjust as the old hierarchies of the antebellum South, making a mockery of equality with an ever-changing scale of special privileges on the basis of racial and sexual identities.”
In an interview with Washington Examiner, Spalding said that members of the 1776 Commission will convene next week in Washington on the campus of Hillsdale College. One of their topics will be critical race theory, which sees racism in all aspects of American life.
“When we start going about dividing people by groups, by social identities, and especially by identities that deal with race, and we’re starting to make those kinds of divisions, all Americans should get very nervous,” said Spalding. “It’s a departure away from the historic grounding of civil rights in America, which is that we all are equal.”
The commission’s first and last report, commonly referred to as the 1776 Report, was taken down after Biden’s inauguration. It can still be found on the publicly archived Trump White House and Hillsdale College websites.
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.
President Donald Trump’s advisory 1776 Commission on Monday released a public report, fulfilling its task to revisit the nation’s founding history in an effort to reunite the Americans around its founders’ principles.
Americans today are “deeply divided” about the meaning of their country, its history, and how it should be governed, according to the commission, which was created in the final year of Trump’s first term, amid an increasingly popular trend of portraying the American story as one that based on racism and oppression.
“Neither America nor any other nation has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice and government by consent,” the report reads, following an re-examination of the principles and ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. “But no nation before America ever dared state those truths as the formal basis for its politics, and none has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.”
The authors dedicated a large portion of the report exploring challenges to American’s founding principles. Some of these are historical, such as slavery, which is fundamentally incompatible with the idea that “all men are created equal.” Others are more contemporary, such as progressivism, which holds that the Constitution should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights; fascist and communist movements seeking a totalitarian government with no respect for individual rights; and modern identity politics in favor of a system of explicit group privilege in the name of “social justice.”
“The arguments, tactics, and names of these movements have changed, and the magnitude of the challenge has varied, yet they are all united by adherence to the same falsehood—that people do not have equal worth and equal rights,” the report states.
The report warns of the dangers of modern political movements departing from America’s founding principles, noting that many of the historical movements were successful because they help up those principles, rather than breaking from them.
“Great reforms—like abolition, women’s suffrage, anti-Communism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Pro-Life Movement—have often come forward that improve our dedication to the principles of the Declaration of Independence under the Constitution,” the authors wrote.
The report calls for a “national renewal” of education to teach the future American citizens the founding principles and the character necessary to live out those principles. A patriotic education, according to the authors, doesn’t mean ignoring the faults in the nation’s past, but rather viewing the history in a clear and wholesome manner, with reverence and love.
American colleges and universities are doing the exact opposite, the report warns, noting that they’ve become “hotbeds of anti-Americanism, libel, and censorship,” with the intention to “manipulate opinions more than educate minds.”
The authors specifically called out historian Howard Zinn and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project for preventing students from seeing the humanity, goodness, and benevolence in America’s historical figures. Instead, they present their young readers with a distorted version of American history.
“Historical revisionism that tramples honest scholarship and historical truth, shames Americans by highlighting only the sins of their ancestors, and teaches claims of systemic racism that can only be eliminated by more discrimination, is an ideology intended to manipulate opinions more than educate minds,” the report reads.
The renewal of American unity will depend on every American willing to stand up against tyranny in their everyday life, the author said.
“Above all, we must stand up to the petty tyrants in every sphere who demand that we speak only of America’s sins while denying her greatness,” the report states. “At home, in school, at the workplace, and in the world, it is the people—and only the people—who have the power to stand up for America and defend our way of life.”