Senator Tom Cotton’s ‘Necessary Evil’ Slavery Remark Lands Him in Hot Water
“As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R–Ark.
The senator made the comment while opining on The New York Times 1619 Project, which is designed to refocus US history instruction on the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619, Reuters reported.
“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country,” Cotton said before making his necessary evil slavery remark in an interview with The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Cotton’s comment quickly became a target for critics who condemned it, NBC News reported.
“Slavery was not a necessary evil. It was a crime against humanity — anchored in kidnap, rape, torture, lynching as the systemic oppression and enslavement of people of African descent century after century after century, and we’re still living with its legacy today,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D–N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, on Monday in a speech on the House floor.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who created the project, also had words for Cotton.
“If chattel slavery — heritable, generational, permanent, race-based slavery where it was legal to rape, torture, and sell human beings for profit — were a “necessary evil” as [Cotton] says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end.”
The senator defended his remark, clarifying that he himself did not call slavery a necessary evil, only the founding fathers did.
‘Factually, Historically Flawed”
In addition to the necessary evil slavery remark, Cotton also said he would propose legislation to bar federal funding for schools that adopt the 1619 Project’s recommended curriculum.
“The 1619 Project is left-wing propaganda. It’s revisionist history at its worst,” Cotton said on Friday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. He added that the curriculum is a “a distortion of American history.”
He admitted that the money withheld from schools over the issue would be small, but it would be worth it to keep any funding from the 1619 Project.
“The entire premise of the New York Times’ factually, historically flawed 1619 Project … is that America is at root, a systemically racist country to the core and irredeemable. I reject that root and branch,” Cotton said. “America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it.”
Critics Take Aim at 1619 Project
The 1619 Project was controversial even before Cotton’s comment. Hannah-Jones initially posited that slavery was a motivating factor for the Revolutionary War. After criticism from several respected historians, The New York Times amended the assertion, calling slavery a reason for war for “some of the colonists.”
Other criticism of the curriculum revolve around lumping the 13 colonies into a single, pro-slavery mindset. In reality, several colonies had passed laws against slavery by the end of the war, the Arkansas Democratic-Gazette reported.
“If it was the only thing kids were reading about U.S. history, it would actually do more harm than good, in part because [there is] so much that is left out,” said Lucas Morel, political science professor at Washington and Lee University. “What it leaves in is half-truths, falsehoods, bowdlerizations [and] caricatures.”
Preserving the Confederacy
Cotton’s necessary evil slavery remark is the latest headline the senator has snagged in relation to racial issues. In June, The New York Times published an editorial penned by Cotton which called for the military to put down Black Lives Matter protests. James Bennet, editorial editor, resigned days after he chose to run the piece.
Cotton also fought an attempt to scrub Confederate names, statues, and flags from military installations. Although he said Arkansas is in the press of removing statues, he suggested it is a slippery slope.
“I have no problem with people debating that in a constructive, reasoned, deliberate fashion,” Cotton told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “What I can’t tolerate, what I think no one should tolerate, are angry mobs tearing down statues of anyone. They tear down a statue of [Confederate Gen.] Robert E. Lee today; tomorrow they come for [Presidents George] Washington and for [Abraham] Lincoln and for [Ulysses S.] Grant.”