Former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission may not have lasted long—he created it by executive order in November 2020 and President Joe Biden dismantled it two months later, also by executive order, on his first day in office—but it exists within a long history of reinterpreting the history of slavery in the U.S., say two Northeastern scholars of civil rights and race.
The commission published one report, a 45-page, unsourced document that claimed to be “a definitive chronicle of the American founding.” The report minimizes the weight and consequences of slavery, painting the institution as a “challenge to America’s principles,” rather than a fundamental aspect of its founding.
“It re-interprets the meaning of slavery in the U.S. story in favor of this notion that America’s better angels have guided the country from its founding and continue to represent the heart of what it means to be an American,” says Margaret Burnham, university distinguished professor of law and director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern.
The report and all mentions of the commission have since been scrubbed from the White House website; it is accessible only through White House archives. But the motivation behind its creation is not so easily wiped clean, Burnham says.