Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has certainly had a number of opinions about slavery over the past few weeks, and somehow, none of them consisted of him saying “slavery was bad.” Now his comments from Sunday are sparking an online backlash.
Last week, Cotton introduced a bill that attempts to strip federal funding from schools if they add the New York Times‘ 1619 Project to their curriculum. The project has been a thorn in the side of white conservatives, who consistently attack the project, which attempts to re-center U.S. history on the horrors of slavery and those who committed the atrocities.
Cotton apparently finds that abhorrent enough that he would willingly defund education for that “crime” of teaching students about slavery.
Cotton’s act was called “Saving American History,” which, well, infer from that what you’d like. And in a Sunday interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cotton called slavery a “necessary evil.”
“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. 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,” Cotton told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
The phrase “necessary evil” jumped out at a great many people online.
The quote was also shared by the founder of the 1619 Project.
“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 @TomCottonAR says, it’s hard to imagine what cannot be justified if it is a means to an end,” Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in response.
Cotton called the ensuing news cycle about his phrase emblematic of fake news, saying all he was doing was quoting the Founding Fathers and in using their words, he was not endorsing them.
“Describing the *views of the Founders* and how they put the evil institution on a path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln, is not endorsing or justifying slavery,” Cotton wrote on Twitter.
But he wasn’t required to quote the Founding Fathers to describe his obsession with defeating the 1619 Project. There are plenty of quotes that call slavery “evil” without also calling it “necessary.”
He picked the quote he wanted to use, which combined with his proposed legislation, continues to speak volumes online.