skip to main content

H.R. 514: Preserve American History Act


Were the commission’s intended messages jingoistic, racist and myopic, or patriotic compared to the messages of the 1619 Project, which the 1776 Commission was created to oppose?

Context

Since 2019, the New York Times has embarked on a long-term journalism endeavor called the 1619 Project, which seeks to re-frame the genesis of the United States as inseparable from the development of slavery, and to centralize black U. S. citizens and their contributions in U.S. history. Named after the year that slaves arrived in what would later become the U.S., the 1619 Project won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a curriculum implemented by many public schools.

Critics say that while slavery was certainly evil and should absolutely be taught, the 1619 Project swings too far in the opposite direction by promulgating an overly negative view of the U.S., to the point of self-flagellation. Actually, critics say, it wouldn’t be overly rosy but instead realistic to teach U. S. history primarily from the opposite perspective: that the country’s bedrock institutions — such as the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and a process for constitutional amendments — resulted in increasing freedoms and decreasing racism over the course of the nation’s history.

The commission

The day before the presidential election, President Donald Trump issued an executive order creating the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. Named as a deliberate contrast to the 1619 Project, the 18-member group was assigned to issue recommendations for how American education could teach a more optimistic and positive view of U. S. history.

“In recent years, a series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship has vilified our Founders and our founding,” Trump said in the executive order. “Despite the virtues and accomplishments of this Nation, many students are now taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains.”

“This radicalized view of American history lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured,” Trump continued. “Failing to identify, challenge, and correct this distorted perspective could fray and ultimately erase the bonds that knit our country and culture together.”

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order rescinding the commission.

What the bill does

A new bill would recreate the 1776 Commission once again.

It was introduced in the House on January 28 as H.R. 514, by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC13). It does not appear to have an official title.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the commission would serve as a bulwark to the cynicism and dislike of the U. S. that they view as increasingly pervading education, culture, and media.

“Preserving the principles that the United States was founded upon has to be at the core of our education system,” Rep. Budd said in a press release. “The 1776 Commission was pushing back against an insidious movement to undermine our country’s exceptional founding and fundamentally transform our country by tearing down and rewriting our history. During these tumultuous times, we need more people leaning on America’s founding principles, not less.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the Trump administration’s efforts to discredit the 1619 Project, and establish their own commission to counter it, confirmed some essential lessons of U.S. history that they intended to displace.

Responding to comments made by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, New York Times reporter and 1619 Project founder Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted, “When you say that multiculturalism is ‘not who America is’ and ‘distorts our glorious founding’ you unwittingly confirm the argument of the 1619 Project: That though we were were a multiracial nation from our founding, our founders set forth a government of white rule.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 18 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote most likely (if at all) in the House Education and Labor Committee, though it’s also been referred to the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Last updated Feb 17, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 28, 2021.


Preserve American History Act

This bill provides statutory authority for a November 2, 2020, executive order establishing the President's Advisory 1776 Commission to promote the history and principles of the founding of the United States.