Politico

A big chunk of Trump’s 1776 report appears lifted from an author’s prior work


President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission was supposed to be the definitive “patriotic” rejoinder to the academic left for what conservatives view as a slanderous rendering of U.S. history. But the report released by the commission on Monday has been mocked by historians as slapdash and slanted. And a good chunk appears lifted or recycled from other publications.

An entire page of the report suggesting classroom discussion topics for teachers appears to be copied nearly verbatim from an opinion piece published in 2008 by one of the commission’s members, Thomas Lindsay.

The similarities are pronounced enough to raise questions about how much original work actually went into the construction of the 1776 report. And it will undoubtedly fuel criticism that the final product was not meant to be an academic endeavor but, rather, a partisan effort to tilt the educational playing field.

Lindsay, a conservative academic who was president of Shimer College from 2009 to 2010, did not return a request for comment.

Lindsay’s 2008 work appeared in Inside Higher Ed and was presented as a criticism of a recently published book by former Harvard University president Derek Bok. The article argued that, at the time, universities were not devoting enough resources to teaching the basics of American government and civic participation. As a remedy, Lindsay, then a deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, suggested several discussion prompts for teachers:

— First, what is the meaning of human equality as articulated in the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal”? Equal in what respects? What view of human nature does this presuppose? Does the Declaration mean to include African-Americans, as Abraham Lincoln, along with Frederick Douglass and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insisted?

— Second, what does the Declaration mean by asserting that we possess rights that are not “alienable”? Who or what, precisely, cannot alienate our rights? Are all rights deemed inalienable, or only some? And why?

— Third, why does the Founding generation consider government just only when it is instituted by the consent of the governed? Is justice for the Founders merely consent-based? If not, what might trump consent?”

Now a senior fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, Lindsay was one of 16 conservative academics tasked by the Trump administration to help craft the 1776 Commission report. And nearly the entirety of page 39 and page 40 of that report lifts from his 2008 article without attribution in an effort to offer prompts for teachers “to encourage civics discussion among students.”

— What does human equality mean in the statement that “all men are created equal”? Equal in what respects? What view of human nature does this presuppose? Does the Declaration intend to include African Americans, as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all insisted?

— What does the Declaration mean by asserting that all persons possess rights that are not “alienable”? Who or what, precisely, can alienate our rights? Are all rights deemed inalienable, or only some? And if the latter, why are they different?

—Why did the founding generation consider government’s powers to be “just” only when government is instituted by the consent of the governed? Is justice for the founders based on nothing more than consent? What considerations might be more authoritative than consent?

The report goes on to lift at least five more paragraphs from Lindsay’s 2008 article as well as adding other paragraphs specifically questioning the ways that the works of progressive politicians “differ from the principles and structure of the Constitution.”


Dr. Matthew Spalding, the executive director of the 1776 Commission, did not dispute that he and Lindsay borrowed from past work. Instead, he framed the repurposing of material as part of the commission’s mission.

“Dr. Thomas K. Lindsay and I are both involved with the 1776 Commission and—as with other Commissioners—contributed our own work and writing, under our own names, to the 1776 Report, which was an advisory report to the President,” said Spalding.


The 1776 Commission was established last September as a counterpoint to The 1619 Project, a feature from the New York Times that sought to reenvision American history from the perspective of Black Americans and the institution of slavery.

In December, the commission named several professors and lawyers affiliated with right-wing organizations and conservative think tanks to its board. According to the Federal Register, the commission met just twice — on Jan. 5 and Jan. 15 in Washington — before publishing the 45-page document on Jan. 18. The report also acknowledges several current White House officials and assistants “who assisted with [its] preparation.”

Upon its publication, the report was criticized by historians for its lack of scholarship and factual accuracy. Though it claimed, for instance, that George Washington “freed all the slaves in his family estate” by the end of his life, Washington had only freed one slave upon his death, and requested that the rest of his slaves be freed after the death of his wife. Even upon Martha Washington’s death less than three years later, several slaves remained in bondage, transferred to her grandchildren.

Other historians disputed the report’s suggestions that Martin Luther King Jr. would have opposed affirmative action, pointing to his explicit support of programs that would grant preferential treatment to Black people.

The sourcing of the report’s material has come under scrutiny. Courtney Thompson, an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, ran the 1776 Report through TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection service used primarily by universities and colleges, and claimed that 26 percent of the content had been lifted in various ways from other sources without citing other sources.

Material from a 2002 Heritage Foundation article summarizing the founding fathers’ views against slavery appears to be recycled in Section Four of the 1776 report, which argues against viewing the founders as “hypocrites” for owning slaves.


Another section lifts sentences from an essay published on the website for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an educational nonprofit that focuses on promoting conservative values on college campuses:


Both the Heritage Foundation article and the ISI essay were written by Spalding, who in addition to being the executive director of the commission is a professor of Constitutional Law at Hillsdale College.


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