Cotton made the comment while defending his bill to ban the teaching of the New York Times' '1619 project' — about the origins of slavery in the United States — from being taught in schools.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is trying to defend himself after he told a local newspaper that slavery "was the necessary evil upon which the union was built."
Cotton made the remark in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as he defended his bill to ban the teaching of the '1619 Project' — a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times project that "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."
Cotton called the project "racially divisive." He also argued it is premised on the fact that America is "irredeemable," though no one associated with the project has made such a claim.
"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 told the Democrat-Gazette.
His comments were immediately condemned by members of Congress.
"Slavery was unnecessary AND evil, @TomCottonAR. Either correct your statement with a sincere apology, or leave the Senate," Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) tweeted. "Slavery apologists do not belong in the United States Congress."
Cotton, for his part, is now attacking the media for amplifying his "necessary evil" comment, calling it "the definition of fake news."
"I said that *the Founders viewed slavery as a necessary evil* and described how they put the evil institution on the path to extinction, a point frequently made by Lincoln," Cotton tweeted.
But many noticed that Cotton didn't simply present what the Founding Fathers said. '1619' creator Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote, "You said, quote: 'As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.' That 'as' denotes agreement."
Ultimately, Cotton's bill against the teaching of the '1619 Project' is not likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House.
If it passed, however, it would ban schools from using federal funds to teach the project, as well as disqualify schools from receiving some federal grants.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.