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Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution Hardcover – October 13, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This superficial account advances the unoriginal thesis that "sectionalism and slavery are key to understanding" the Constitutional Convention. Goldstone (The Friar and the Cipher) recreates the convention, focusing in particular on four delegates: George Mason, a Virginia planter who ultimately refused to sign the Constitution; John Rutledge, a South Carolina lawyer and statesman; Oliver Ellsworth, a dour Connecticut attorney turned judge; and Roger Sherman, a Massachusetts native transplanted to Connecticut, who had risen from cobbler and almanac maker to respected politician. Sherman was the architect of the so-called Connecticut Compromise, which included the plan that states' representation in the House, but not the Senate, would be based on population. Goldstone rehearses the genesis of the three-fifths compromise (that for purposes of taxation and legislative apportionment, slaves would count as 3/5 of a person), the debate over the office of the president and the other key convention controversies. On the whole, Goldstone tells us nothing new. He insists that the framers were acting out of self-interest, not principle;an argument first advanced, with much more nuance, by the great historian Charles Beard in 1913. In short, this is the type of thin and derivative book that gives "popular history" a bad name. 30 b&w illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the nineteenth century, as the debate over slavery intensified, one wag asserted that the institution was the "sleeping serpent" under the table at the Constitutional Convention; that is, most delegates, while of course aware of the institution, regarded it as of marginal importance in their deliberations. Most nineteenth--century scholars supported that view. Goldstone convincingly maintains that the issue of slavery was actually a fundamental and divisive concern for the delegates. As recent economic studies have confirmed, slavery played an integral role in the northern as well as southern economies. Although debates over federal power and the status of trans-Appalachian territories were important, Goldstone shows that slavery was the issue that evoked the most intense passions and was the most resistant to compromise. He effectively uses primary sources, including James Madison's notes and the records of debates within individual states' ratification conventions; but he places the spoken and written words of participants within the context of their cultural and economic milieu. This is a well-argued contribution to our evolving understanding of the role of slavery in our nation's origins. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (October 20, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714602
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,922,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eric Hobart VINE VOICE on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Lawrence Goldstone, in his new book Dark Bargain, has given us a different view of the Constitutional Convention than the one that we are accustomed to - he has given us a slant on it from a pro-slavery perspective, one that tells the reader that the Constitution was framed largely on the viewpoints of the Pro-Slavery Southern states.

There is no question that the Constitution of the United States is indeed pro-slavery in its original text (exclusive of the Bill of Rights or any amendments), which is why Goldstone makes the argument (quite successfully, in fact) that John Rutledge of South Carolina was the father of the Constitution more than James Madison (the Philosophical leader of the framers) or Gouvernor Morris (the man who wrote the Constitution's text).

There are two major clauses in the Constitution that Goldstone points to as evidence that the document was formed by a Pro-Slavery group of men: The three-fifths compromise (for apportionment purposes, each Slave was counted as 0.6 free persons), and the fact that a 20 year extension of the International Slave Trade was granted by the framers. The three-fifths compromise, naturally, benefited the South above all others - the majority of the Slaves in the republic were in the Southern states (Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia). The extension of the Slave Trade was of benefit to the Carolinas (as they could import Slaves for less cost than purchasing Slaves from Virginia, for example) and the northern Merchants, who were earning vast profits by transporting this human cargo from Africa to North America.

Goldstone calls John Rutledge "Dictator John" because he was able to wrangle compromises out of people that benefited him while giving up very little or nothing of substance.
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Format: Hardcover
We have a view, useful in teaching civics and in promoting reverence for governmental authority, that America's Founding Fathers were all amateur Enlightenment philosophers, and that when they met in Philadelphia in 1787 for the Constitutional Convention, they were engaged in high-minded debate about imbuing their principles into the new republic. It does not detract from the amazing document which these men brought forth to realize that they were men, not idealized participants in Socratic dialogues. They were not only men, but they were businessmen, and they were politicians, and what they accomplished was in many cases pragmatic compromising to make practical laws and maintain the Union. The real work of getting the Constitution written involved months of argument and sarcasm, and in the view of Lawrence Goldstone, central to the rancor and the forging of the document was the issue of slavery. In _Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution_ (Walker & Company), he gives a sometimes day-by-day account of how the vexed question of owning other humans entered the debates and how pragmatism triumphed over idealism. Slavery was not a footnote to the proceedings, but according to this book, integral to the writing of the whole.

The greatest conflict that had to be settled concerned the legislative branch. The problem was that southern states were large if slaves were included in the head count, and they were small otherwise, and much of _Dark Bargain_ has to do with the wrangling over this issue. The members of the Convention tried various power-plays, some of which threatened to bring the Convention to a halt, as they jockeyed to get their states and regions more power in the eventual government.
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Format: Paperback
"Regardless of how events played out, sectionalism and slavery are key to understanding the major debates and compromises in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787." This short quote sums up the basic thesis of Lawrence Goldstone in his fine volume entitled Dark Bargain- Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution. This is the conclusion of most serious scholars currently working on the topic of the Constitutional Convention.Goldstone examines the central role slavery played in the Constitution with a focus on how the founders agreed on counting people for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives.In this context he deals with the infamous 3/5's compromise. He also deals with the importation of slaves as it pertained to the Constitution. In his study he mainly focuses on 4 founders and their positions on slavery before and during the construction of the Constitution.( Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman,John Rutledge and George Mason) His final conclusion that slave owner John Rutledge had more of a lasting impact on the Constitution then James Madison is provocative. Because his main focus is slavery, Goldstone deals with the large state versus small state arguments and the central government versus states rights controversy though the prism of the particular institution and although this is interesting not all debates revolved around one single issue. He also paints Ben Franklin as something of an out of it cipher which is a little harsh. His ultimate conclusion is that the founders were not so much political philosophers as they were pragmatic individuals with their own agendas and their gift to us is a document that was workable and capable of being adapted to various challenges, but that document was deeply influenced by a horrible practice.
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