Republicans aiming to ban Critical Race Theory in Virginia’s K-12 public schools in their latest bill incorrectly cited American history to say that President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass engaged in a debate that was once Not done.
On Tuesday, new state Representative Wren Williams introduced House Bill 781 to keep “divisive concepts” out of school curricula, including teaching that the country is “fundamentally or systematically racist or sexist.”
The bill also proposed teaching students about key documents in American history, such as “the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”
But the bill combined Frederick Douglass with another Douglas-Democratic senator, Stephen Douglas, who had defeated Lincoln in the 1858 Senate race.
The seven debates that took place in Illinois between Republican nominee Lincoln and incumbent Senator Douglas became known as the Lincoln–Douglas Debate, or the Great Debate of 1858.
At the time of the debate, Frederick Douglass was living far away from Illinois, living in Rochester, New York, where he was working with another abolitionist by the name of John Brown.
Douglas was born into slavery in Maryland and later fled to liberated Massachusetts, where he became a national leader in the abolitionist movement.
The debate between the two men in Illinois, which centered on slavery, was widely covered nationally and generated excessive campaigning for both candidates who were sharing their campaigns with all Americans.
While Douglas defeated Lincoln for the Senate, Lincoln defeated Douglas for the presidency two years later.
Five years later Frederick Douglass met with the president to advocate for equal pay and protection for black soldiers.
Douglas was invited back to the White House by Lincoln three times.
On Friday morning, Williams dropped the bill to correct the error.
The Department of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan state agency that provides drafting services to state lawmakers, took the blame for the mistake.
“House Bill 781, introduced to the Virginia House of Delegates by Representative Wren Williams at the 2022 regular session of the General Assembly of Virginia, contains a historical error inserted during the drafting process by the Division of Legislative Services,” the agency said. Friday statement.
“The incorrect quote from Frederick Douglass regarding the Lincoln–Douglas debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas was inserted at the drafting stage after a historically accurate request was received from the office of Representative Wren Williams.”
But by the time the bill was withdrawn, several experts had taken to social media to criticize the error.
“Incredible,” tweeted historian Kevin Krause. “Hey, here’s a wild idea. Maybe leave this stuff to the people who really know what they’re talking about?”
“Virginia’s proposed social studies reform law is terrifying for a myriad of reasons, but the Lincoln-Douglas debate was between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a new level of historical inaccuracy,” wrote UVA graduate research assistant Anna Yones.
“Lincoln did not argue over Frederick Douglass,” told Lincoln biographer Sidney Blumenthal Guardian, “Historians may search for the video, but they won’t find it.”