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DeSantis flunks American history test with nonsensical slavery rant

While denouncing The New York Times' "1619 Project," Florida's right-wing governor claimed no one questioned slavery before the American Revolution.


A clip of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis whitewashing the history of chattel slavery, abolition and the American Revolution has gone viral online in recent days, with many people dunking on DeSantis for his idiocy. 

But this is no laughing matter. 

Speaking at an event Tuesday, the Republican tried to downplay a lawsuit over his oppressive "Stop WOKE Act," a law designed to severely restrict educators’ ability to teach about social ills. DeSantis has railed against teachers in his state who have sought to educate their students on truths about racial, gender and sexuality-based inequality. But his rambling, ahistorical diatribe showed why he’s not to be taken seriously on those matters.

In his remarks, he maligned “The 1619 Project,” a New York Times multimedia effort focused on the roots of slavery in virtually all aspects of American life. White Republicans — led by former President Donald Trump — have denounced the project as “un-American” since its debut in 2019. And they have decried academic focuses on social inequality, like critical race theory, just the same. 

The Times’ project is a “CRT version of history,” DeSantis claimed. He added, “They want to teach our kids that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery,” which he said, wrongly, was false. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

But DeSantis went even further, claiming that America’s revolution against Britain was solely responsible for the movement to abolish slavery. “No one had questioned it [slavery] before we decided as Americans that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights and that we are all created equal,” DeSantis said.

He delivered those demonstrably false remarks with all the confidence of a seventh-grade student bluffing their way through a class presentation.

Everything you just heard is white supremacist garbage that’s quite easy to dispel, which makes the fact that DeSantis is spouting it all the more sinister. The enslaved people being raped, beaten and worked to death undoubtedly questioned slavery at the time. Narratives from people enslaved in America before the Revolutionary War, such as the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, prove this.

And the offensively stupid claim that America’s war against Britain was premised on freedom and justice for all has been refuted by historians for years. 

George Horne, for example, wrote a book called “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America,” which focuses on how American colonizers’ desire to uphold slavery was a major motivation to fight against Britain, which officially outlawed the practice. Here’s an excerpt from a “Democracy Now” interview the historian gave in 2014: 

We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade.

The 1772 case Horne referred to is the London-based case that found chattel slavery was not supported by British common law, a finding that British-run colonies in would-be America viewed as a threat to their livelihood. To put a finer point on this: Ron DeSantis is an ahistorical oaf. He deserves any mockery he receives for this particular diatribe, but let’s not pretend he was merely mistaken here. 

As our fearless “ReidOut” host Joy Reid noted, DeSantis, who is a graduate of Yale and Harvard, has benefited from a ritzy education. His ignorance is willful. And if he has his way, that ignorance will consume Florida’s education system.