Jul 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Tom Cotton defends slavery comments

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-TX, on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC
Sen. Tom Cotton during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in May. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) defended on Twitter comments he made in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, published Sunday, on the enslavement of Black people in the U.S.

Driving the news: "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 told the paper. "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."

Context: Cotton made the comments while discussing a bill he introduced last week specifically seeking to prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the New York Times' 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts.

"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. 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."
— Cotton's remarks to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
  • Following criticism from historians and other leading figures online, Cotton denied that he was calling the enslavement of Black people a "necessary evil," tweeting: "I said that *the Founders viewed slavery as a necessary evil* and described how they put the evil institution on the path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln."

What they're saying: Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her introductory essay to the NYT project, was among those to address Cotton's comments, saying: "Imagine thinking a non-divisive curriculum is one that tells Black children the buying and selling of their ancestors, the rape, torture, and forced labor of their ancestors for PROFIT, was just a 'necessary evil' for the creation of the 'noblest' country the world has ever seen."

  • After Cotton defended his remarks, she replied: "Were the Founders right or wrong ... when they called slavery a 'necessary evil upon which the Union was built”? Because either you agree with their assessment of slavery as necessary or you admit they were lying and it was just an evil and dishonorable choice. Which?" He has yet to respond to that tweet.

Of note: A June op-ed by Cotton in the Times, which called for President Trump to "send in the troops" to quell protest unrest, prompted the paper to change its editorial board processes and state that the article failed to meet its standards.

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