Cotton’s Office Denies He Believes Slavery Was A ‘Necessary Evil’ After Backlash Over Remark

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) arrives in the Capitol for the Senate Republican lunch on March 10, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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July 26, 2020 4:18 p.m.

The office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pushed back on the backlash that ensued upon the publication of his interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which included a remark citing the Founding Fathers’ argument that slavery was a “necessary evil” in the country’s history, in a statement to TPM on Sunday. Cotton’s remark came as he aired his grievances over a school curriculum based on the New York Times’ “1619 Project” initiative.

On Friday, Cotton introduced legislation that would prohibit federal tax dollars going toward school curriculums based on the NYT’s initiative, which seeks “to reframe American history” by highlighting how the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores in 1619 and therefore that year should be recognized “as our nation’s birth year.”

The school curriculum, intended for primary and secondary schools, resulted from a partnership between the Times and the nonprofit Pulitzer Center.

In his interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Cotton accused the 1619 Project of being “racially divisive” as he doubled down on his vehement opposition to removing Confederate names, monuments and symbols from military sites.

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Cotton then added that he can’t tolerate “angry mobs tearing down statues of anyone” before going on to argue that slavery was a “necessary evil” in the country’s history, citing the Founding Fathers of the U.S.

“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,” Cotton said. “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 griped that the U.S. has been portrayed as “an irredeemably corrupt, rotten and racist country,” which he views “as an imperfect and flawed land, but the greatest and noblest country in the history of mankind.”

Backlash ensued upon the publication of Cotton’s interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Sunday, which included the creator of the Times’ 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Cotton’s office denied to TPM in a statement on Sunday that the Arkansas senator believes that slavery was a “necessary evil.”

“As his quote makes clear, that view was held by some founding fathers,” Cotton press secretary James Arnold told TPM. “Reporting to the contrary is politically motivated and dishonest.”

Cotton himself also criticized the backlash over his remark in a series of Sunday afternoon tweets.

Cotton’s efforts to target the Times comes a month after he faced backlash for his “Send in the troops” op-ed published in the newspaper as protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death roiled the country. The Times’ publication of Cotton’s op-ed led to the resignation of then-editorial page editor James Bennet. The Times later issued an editor’s note saying that Cotton’s op-ed had fallen “short of our standards and should not have been published.”

Cotton also ripped into the Times on Saturday in a tweet that references the newspaper’s editor’s note on his op-ed.

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