Was America Conceived in Racism? Joel L. Daniels Debates Ryan P. Williams | Opinion

Ever since the May death of George Floyd under the now-infamous knee of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, America has faced deep strife and turmoil. But whether the specific issue is police-related legislation on Capitol Hill, non-violent protests in the streets or anarchic violence in the nation's urban corridors, one overarching theme has dominated the broader national discussion: Is America, despite its enunciated universal principles found in the Declaration of Independence, actually a systemically and irredeemably racist nation?

This week, Joel L. Daniels, author of A Book About Things I Will Tell My Daughter, debates Ryan P. Williams, president of the Claremont Institute and publisher of the Claremont Review of Books, on a question currently gripping—and tearing asunder—a divided nation.

Josh Hammer, Newsweek opinion editor, is also a syndicated columnist and of counsel at First Liberty Institute.

America Was Conceived in Racism

There are no living pictures of Philip Reid. No sketches exist. No portraits that sit atop mantles and living room chimneys. No stained photos tucked or hidden away in a museum to be restored and viewed by hungry tourists looking to learn more about a shadow of America we seldom get to see up close. There are no statues of him. There are no monuments in his name. No schools or institutions named after him. No conference rooms, parks, university halls or public benches.

Generally, the conversations surrounding who built America are based on theorized summations of it—the Lincolns, the Washingtons, the Roosevelts of the world whose names echo in textbooks and government buildings across the states. Their building and construction of America speaks to the mythology of law, order, democracy and power that surrounds how the country was founded. The idea of American fortitude, the ideal that rests on hard work and diligence; that these and these alone—not inherited wealth, stolen properties or gender and class and racial biases—will get you ahead in life, is very much the groundwork for modern racism as we see it. An attempt to depart from race and racism as one of the governing principles in which America was constructed is very much racist itself.

America Was Not Conceived in Racism

America was not conceived in racism. America's Founders thought slavery was a violation of divine and natural law that needed to be placed on the road to extinction. The compromises in the U.S. Constitution with slavery were put there to ensure the creation of a new system of government powerful enough to eradicate slavery when circumstances permitted. The argument that slavery was good for slaves and good for masters only came in the decades after ratification of the Constitution—and it is an argument that shares more in common with today's critics of the Founding than it does with its champions.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence marked America's true political, moral and philosophical Founding. The British subjects residing in the many colonies united as "one people" in opposition to the despotic claims to rule offered by a distant king and Parliament in Great Britain. There were roughly 600,000 black slaves in the brand-new 13 United States, but as soon as the ink was dry on the Declaration's parchment, the principles contained in that document made the existence of the American slave population an obvious and undeniable injustice. The Declaration's drafters and signers knew that they had created a new nation with its foundation in anti-slavery principles.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images