Tom Cotton Says Slavery Was Not About White Supremacy But Was A “Necessary Evil.” Some History.

5 min readFeb 2, 2022
Slavery Was Real And It Was Ugly. Will American Students Be Taught That?

The modern ReTrumplican bristles at the notion that racism, at least systemic racism, exists. They seek to “cancel” such notions by banning teaching our children Critical Race Theory (which they were never taught anyway) or anything remotely suggesting that America has race issues. In so doing they have sought to deemphasize the parts of American history that might make whites “uncomfortable.” This cleansing has included everything from the documented history of black lynchings to the stories of Rosa Parks and a courageous little girl named Ruby Bridges.

The cleansing moves ever on and now includes justifying slavery as a “necessary evil.” In the nation Republicans wish to create, the stories discussed above could not be taught to children for fear of making some “uncomfortable.” However, the claim that black slavery was a “necessary evil” to build our country could be taught.

Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said exactly this. He did so in an attack on the “1619 Project” (named after the year the first slave ships arrived) and in support of a bill that would effectively ban any teaching related to the 1619 Project.

You see, according to Senator Cotton even slavery was not about race and did not actually evidence white supremacism. In the words of Cotton:

“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.” 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.”

Would Tom Cotton allow the teaching in our schools of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech”? In the developing world of ReTrumplican education, could even the words that named that speech be taught to students and uttered? Those words were:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Is it permissible to teach white children that those words were used to justify massive violence in support of slavery?

Southern scholar E.N. Elliott, seeing the nation rushing to war over the slavery issue, sought to explain to his friends in the North why the institution must be allowed in a treatise entitled “Cotton Is King And Pro-Slavery Arguments.” In that treatise Elliott made clear that the choice of blacks for slaves was rooted in white supremacy:

“That the negro is now an inferior species, or at least variety of the human race, is well established, and must, we think, be admitted by all. That by himself he has never emerged from barbarism, and even when partly civilized under the control of the white man, he speedily returns to the same state, if emancipated, are now indubitable truths.”

In the telling of Elliott, slavery was not a “necessary evil.” It was not an evil at all. Rather it was a noble and beneficent institution that was the best hope for “the elevation of the negro race” to something more equal to the superior white race. Slavery, you see, was the Godly and Christian way. In the treatise Elliott mentions God, Christianity or Christians roughly 1,000 times to defend the institution of the white children of God owning the black children of God.

For something a bit less removed, in 1963 the Governor of an entire State (okay it was Alabama) gave his inaugural address. Governor George Wallace made no call for unity between equal races. Rather he declared himself the Governor of the “Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland” as he infamously declared “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Again, this was a mandate from Heaven itself. For to do otherwise, in the words of Governor Wallace, “rotted the foundation of what God meant that men should be.”

In 1964, in a United States Federal District Court in Virginia, Judge Leon Bazile considered a challenge by Richard (a white man) and Mildred (a black woman) Loving, who had been convicted by the state of Virginia for the “crime” of being married to each other. Judge Bazile upheld the conviction, declaring that the separation of the races created by God should not be altered by man:

”Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Yep, that really happened in America, in a Federal court even. But in a nation run by the new Republicans, the words of Stephens, Elliott, Wallace and Bazile would be whitewashed out of history. All in the name of not making whites uncomfortable with the undeniable truth of American history.

The truth is, we should be uncomfortable with that history, we must be uncomfortable with it. For if we are comfortable with that history, we may choose to repeat it. The German people are quite uncomfortable with their history of the holocaust, and I believe that is a good thing. So should Americans be with our undeniable history of slavery and white supremacy. Those not discomforted by history are doomed to repeat it.

Perhaps if we were more uncomfortable, we would be less comfortable with politicians today challenging election results with the claim that almost all the cheating was in areas where the blacks are. At the heart of Donald Trump’s claim of a stolen election, and his election challenges was that the challenges were confined to areas of higher black voting.

That’s not history, it’s today.




Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80