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As the third part of our investigation into the troublesome line-up at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition convention, IREHR examines a Tea Party activist who has traveled the country teaching a curriculum that refers to African-American children as “pickaninnies,” claims that the treatment of slaves was “humane,” and that “the economic system of slavery chained the slave owners almost as much as the slaves.”

Bill Norton is the National Support Team Constitutional Coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. According to the group’s website, “he is responsible for developing educational material related to the Constitution for the organization.” He went to work for the Tea Party Patriots after helping the group organize a 2010 conference in his home state of Arizona. The conference location was chosen to show Tea Party support for the anti-immigrant “papers please” law, SB 1070.

Norton also serves as a “Master Instructor” for the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Founded by long-time John Birch Society supporter W. Cleon Skousen, NCCS had foundered on the fringes of the far-right for decades, but was given new life and new-found respectability inside the Tea Party movement.

Despite having no training as a historian, Norton considers himself somewhat of an expert on the Constitution and a “citizen scholar.” He has a penchant for dressing up in costume as a founding father and re-writing American history for Tea Party audiences.

According to a biographical sketch on his website, when Bill Norton was twenty-one, he was given a copy of Skousen’s book, The Making of America. “From that time in 1994 until the present, Bill has engaged in rigorous self-study on American history, the Founding Fathers, and our Founding Documents, primarily the United States Constitution. Self-study has allowed Bill to escape the ‘establishments’ flavor of political principles. Instead, he has deeply immersed himself as a free thinker in natural law principles. That is to say, principles that agree with the natural course of things rather than hoping for ideals that simply do not exist.”[1]

The cornerstone of Norton’s training is Skousen’s book, The Making of America. Originally published in 1982, the 888-page textbook is filled with many disconcerting things. Take, for instance, the section entitled, “Principle 264: From the Fifteen Amendment.” In this section of the book, Skousen refers to the Civil War as “the War Between the States.” He then turns much of the rest of the section over to a long-discredited 1934 piece from Fred Albert Shannon.[2]

In the pages of The Making of America, the discussion of the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, quickly devolves into a racist re-writing of history, where slavery is depicted as “humane,” where the children of slaves are repeatedly refered to as “pickaninnies,” where Abolitionists are the villains, and where Confederate leaders are praised for the way they treated their slaves.

According to The Making of America, slaves were treated well. The food was good, and “clothing also was on the par with that of the poorer white people and no less adequate in proportion to the climate than that of Northern laborers. If the pickaninnies ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”[3

In The Making of America, slaves were “contented” and “usually a cheerful lot” according to the book, “though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains.”[4]

Skousen’s book depicts slave masters as caring and just. “The instruction of planters to overseers almost universally emphasized the care to be given to slaves, firmness without brutality, and justice unaccompanied by indulgence being emphasized.”[5]

From the Making of America

From W. Cleon Skousen’s, The Making of America, page 737.

How good were things on the plantation between slaves and their masters? According to The Making of America, “As to the intimacy of relations between the owners and their chattels, not only did Negro ‘mammies’ suckle the children of their masters, but it was no disgrace for the [white] mistress to act as a wet nurse for a suddenly orphaned pickaninny.[6]

The Making of America even highlights what it calls “the blessings of slavery.” For example, according to the book, slaves had it so much better than their masters at weddings.

“Negro weddings were attended by white people who joined in the celebration. If the marriages were of a rather impermanent nature, that fact was frequently considered as ‘one of the blessings of slavery.’ At church and camp meetings the Negroes, in their own section of the building or tabernacle, enjoyed the experiences immensely. They could shout without restraint, while the masters, in order to preserve their dignity, had to repress their emotions. It made little difference if religion was thrown off soon after the camp meeting dissolved—backsliding was pleasant, and there was always a chance to get intoxicatingly converted again.”[7]

The book systematically downplays the horrors of slave life, dismissing everything from slave breeding, to the brutality of punishment of slaves, the breaking up of families, and much more.

When it comes to brutality, he even argues that “the slave owners were the worst victims of the system."[8] Praising Confederate States of America President, Jefferson Davis, The Making of America makes the preposterous claim that, “At least as numerous as the cases of barbarity are the number of instances of extreme indulgence [of slaves].”[9] Life was good for slaves on Jefferson Davis’s plantation until “the Union soldiers broke up the order of his Mississippi plantation in 1862.”[10]

The Making of America casts the Abolitionists as villains of the antebellum period. According to the book, the Abolitionists, not slavery proponents, delayed the emancipation process that Southern slave-owners secretly wanted, “until after 1800 the South was quiescent or even favorable to the movement to limit slavery.”[11] Abolitionists were also blamed for slave insurrections.[12]  As a result, “The constant fear of slave rebellion made life in the South a nightmare,” for slave owners. [13]

It should come as no shock that The Making of America has been extremely controversial over the years. In 1987, California state legislators demanded that Gov. George Deukmejian dismiss his appointees to California’s Bicentennial Commission for approving for sale of The Making of America.

Sale of the book, which was being used to raise money for California’s observance of the bicentennial of the Constitution, was halted when the governor announced an investigation to determine why the three non-salaried members he appointed to the five-member commission voted to use the book.[14] He also characterized their action as ”grossly negligent” if they failed to read the entire book before approving its use. The commission issued an apology, declaring that it was ”clearly a serious error in judgment to have approved the sale of the book.”[15]

The other work Norton often uses for NCCS training sessions is Skousen’s 1981 book, The 5,000 Year Leap. The tome pulls together selective quotations and unsupported assertions to claim that the U.S. Constitution is rooted not in the Enlightenment, but in the Bible. Not surprisingly, Norton is also a big promoter of the book.

Speaking to a crowd at an Ohio Tea Party convention in 2014, “The Five Thousand Year Leap is one of those books that you should read and re-read every couple of years. Keep yourself studying it.”[16]

Leader of the NCCS love the Constitution so much they want eliminate parts of it, particularly those parts which make it more democratic. The group has advocated repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, which removed the power of choosing Senators from state legislatures giving it directly to the people. The group’s website argues that “Repealing the 17th Amendment is the safest, most effective, and most permanent solution to the current predicament in our federal system.”[17] In the NCCS web store, supporters can find the booklet Repeal 17 Now! alongside The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America.

The NCCS website also sells Bill Norton’s homage to The Making of America, a glossy 60-page picture-book of re-enacted scenes of the founders entitled, The Miracle of America: Birth of a Nation. Either intentionally or not, Norton’s book title fuses Skousen’s work with that of the controversial film, Birth of a Nation. The film was screed intent on defending white supremacy, glorifying the birth of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. It retold the story of Thomas Dixon’s book, “The Clansman.” During the 1920s, the film was widely used as Klan recruiting tool.

For those wondering about the quality of the scholarship in the NCCS publications, Pulitzer Prize-winning constitutional scholar, Jack Rakove, called Skousen’s books and seminars “a joke that no self-respecting scholar would think is worth a warm pitcher of spit.”[18]

Despite the clearly objectionable racist content and the controversial past, the popularity of Skousen’s books and the accompanying NCCS training sessions surged when the Tea Party took off in 2009. Some of that is due to NCCS super-fan Glenn Beck, who wrote a new introduction to reprints of The 5000 Year Leap.  It’s also due to tireless NCCS evangelism in the movement. Norton himself claims to have conducted more than 100 trainings in 40 states based on The Making of America.[19]

Norton isn’t the only NCCS trainer on the Tea Party speaking circuit, either. Alabama NCCS leader, John Eidsmoe, has appeared at numerous Tea Party events. In 2010, Eidsmoe’s presence at meetings of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, and his belief that slavery is ordained by God came to light. Yet he continues to do training sessions for NCCS (when he’s not developing materials for the Institute on the Constitution).

All of this may help explain why the Tea Party continues to have a slavery problem. Having a controversial figure like Bill Norton on stage alongside members of Congress and presidential aspirants during the weekend when Americans are celebrating the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly isn’t helping overcome that problem.

The Tea Party Patriots are a major financial sponsor of the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition convention.[20] It will be interesting to see if that monetary contribution will be the only thing shielding Norton from being removed from the convention agenda like Roan Garcia-Quintana.

If Norton should take the stage on Sunday, that will tell us much about the direction of the Tea Party in 2015. IREHR will be watching closely.


[1]. W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, (National Center for Constitutional Studies, Washington DC), 1985, pp. 730, 735.

[2]. Ibid, p. 729.

[3]. Ibid, p. 733.

[4]. Ibid. p. 731.

[5].Ibid, p. 733.

[6].Ibid, p. 734.

[7].Ibid, p.734.

[8].Ibid, p. 734.

[9]. Ibid, p. 734.

[10].Ibid, p. 734.

[11].Ibid, p. 730.

[12].Ibid, pp. 735, 73.

[13].Ibid, p. 735.

[14].Carl Ingram, “Probe Ordered in State Panel’s Sale of ‘Racist’ Book, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1987,

[15].Katherine Bishop, “Bicentennial Panel in California Assailed Over ‘Racist’ Textbook,” New York Times, February 16, 1987,

[16]. Bill Norton speaking at We The People Convention, Columbus, OH September 20, 2014. YouTube Video,

[17].Andrew M. Allison, “Federalism and the 17th Amendment,” National Center for Constitutional Studies website, undated, circa 1995, accessed January 16, 2015,

[18]. Sean Wilentz, “Confounding Fathers,” The New Yorker, October 18, 2010,

[19].“Bill Norton,” Tea Party Patriots website, accessed January 16, 2015,

[20].“South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention Program,” South Carolina Tea Party Coalition website, accessed January 16, 2015,

Devin Burghart

Author Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

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