Tom Cotton

Sen. Tom Cotton Under Fire for Comments on Slavery

Cotton cited the Founding Fathers as calling slavery a "necessary evil," but it's unclear exactly what he was referring to

In this undated file photo, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks in front of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas.
AP Photo/Danny Johnston

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is coming under fire for recent comments he made about U.S. history in which he claimed that the Founding Fathers considered slavery a "necessary evil."

Cotton made the comments Friday in an interview with The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which published them Sunday in an article about his efforts to target an initiative by The New York Times. The initiative, the 1619 project curriculum, proposes that schools reframe U.S. history by marking the nation’s founding as 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia. Cotton, however, told the Democrat-Gazette that he’s proposing legislation that would withhold federal funding to schools that embrace the curriculum.

"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 said in the interview.

It's unclear exactly who or what Cotton was citing in calling slavery a necessary evil, and the comment immediately drew criticism.

"Slavery was not a necessary evil. It was a crime against humanity — anchored in kidnap, rape, torture, lynching as the systemic oppression and enslavement of people of African descent century after century after century, and we’re still living with its legacy today," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said on the House floor Monday.

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