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No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding, With a New Preface (The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures Book 18) 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition
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|Length: 362 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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About the Author
L. J. Ganser is an award-winning narrator with over 450 titles recorded to date. Prized for versatility, his projects range from preschool picture books to crime noir thrillers, from astronomical adventures (both science and sci-fi) to Arctic Circle high school basketball stories. He lives in New York City with his family. --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
“Examines the debate over the legal status of enslaved people that began with the writing of the Constitution and continued up to the Civil War―a period in American history in which he finds an important lesson for how to achieve political change in a democracy…No American historian of his generation has written so well on so many different subjects; few even come close.”―The Nation
“Demonstrating that the Constitution both protected slavery and left open the possibility of an antislavery politics, Wilentz’s careful and insightful analysis helps us understand how Americans who hated slavery, such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could come to see the Constitution as an ally in their struggle.”―Eric Foner, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
“Stimulating…draws on letters, speeches and public debates to enlarge our sense of slavery’s political dimension in the founding period.”―David S. Reynolds, Wall Street Journal
“Wilentz shows what we dearly need to see now as much as ever: that slavery and antislavery were joined at the hip in the American founding, as well as in the tragic history that led to the Civil War. The Constitution possessed fatal complicity with racial slavery but also sowed seeds of its destruction. Wilentz brings a lifetime of learning and a mastery of political history to this brilliant book.”―David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
“Sean Wilentz offers readers a forceful argument, an attentiveness to competing perspectives, an appreciation for nuance and irony, a thorough mastery of pertinent sources, and elegant writing. This is a book that both specialists and generalists will profit from reading.”―Randall Kennedy, author of For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law
“Like Sherlock Holmes noticing the dog that didn’t bark, Sean Wilentz discerns the revealing absence of a property right in slaves that hardline southerners failed to secure at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Clearly and without apology, Wilentz explains the framers’ familiar compromises with slavery. But until now no historian has examined the critical concession antislavery delegates refused to make. There would be no constitutional right of property in man.”―James Oakes, author of The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War
“Was the U.S. Constitution, as the South Carolinian states-man John C. Calhoun believed, a pro-slavery document, or did it, as President Abraham Lincoln argued, deny slavery a place in national law and point toward abolition? Although most Americans outside the academy would assume that Calhoun was wrong and Lincoln right, the contrary view has gained so much ground among academics in recent years that Wilentz’s qualified endorsement of Lincoln’s interpretation is both bracing and brave. Wilentz’s thoroughly researched argument serves as a useful example of solid scholarship and effective writing on a sensitive topic.”―Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
“Will reshape American thinking on a deep American matter…Goes to the heart of the present-day consternation over the national identity and its history.”―Paul Berman, The Tablet
“Undeniably enlightening.”―Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- File size : 1146 KB
- Publisher : Harvard University Press; 2nd edition (September 3, 2019)
- Publication date : September 3, 2019
- Print length : 362 pages
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- ASIN : B07W5NNTY7
- Language: : English
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0674241428
- X-Ray for textbooks : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #300,623 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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As the author, Sean Wilentz, explains, during the last thirty years, historians have “forced a reckoning with the Constitution’s concessions to slavery that scholars had evaded for generations”—such as the infamous “three fifths compromise” by which the slave holding states obtained greater representation in the House of Representatives than would have been due them if representation had been based only on their share of the nation’s voting population.
While acknowledging the beneficial aspect of that “reckoning,” Wilentz argues that a victory by the forces OPPOSING slavery that has been overlooked by the historians of recent decades was at least equally important in shaping the Constitution, and possibly more decisive in determining the fate of slavery.
To make the foundational struggle between pro and anti-slavery forces more comprehensible, Wilentz first explains that one of the central purposes of the constitution was to increase the security of personal property—a purpose that also motivated Congress when it added the Bill of Rights with its “Fifth Amendment,” which prohibits the government from taking away any person’s “life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
At the time of the constitutional convention, under the laws of the states in which slavery was legal, enslaved persons were defined as property. If the founders had tried to create a constitution under which the enslaved persons could have been emancipated by the federal government, the founders would have been threatening the slave holders' property rights under state law, and no slave holding state would have accepted such a constitution.
However, what the anti-slavery founders were able to do was to EXCLUDE from the Constitution any hint that enslaved persons ALSO were defined as property under FEDERAL law. For this reason, the new federal government was constitutionally able to prohibit slavery in geographical areas or business transactions controlled by the federal government—such as the territories in the West, and the trade in slaves that was conducted internationally.
At the time of the drafting of the Constitution, the power of the federal government to end the international slave trade may have been considered the most important concession made to either side. Ultimately, however, what ended slavery was the power of the federal government to prohibit slavery in the territories. The original Republican party, described by Wilentz as “an antislavery mass organization unprecedented in history,” was dedicated to strangling the institution of slavery by prohibiting its expansion into the territories. The election of the Republican party’s presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, triggered secession by the majority of the slave holding states; and secession, in turn, triggered the bloody war that ended slavery.
Of course, the seceding slave states insisted that the Constitution had given them federal property rights in their slaves. But Lincoln and his party had a well founded belief to the contrary.
In every generation, only a small number of works of history have the potential to significantly enlarge our historical awareness. Sean Wilentz’s “No Property in Man” is such a work.
Notable among Wilentz's observations are how the Southern states, from the Convention itself, constantly played the secession card to exact concessions from Northern states desirous of forming, and keeping together, the national union. Ironically, the many compromises struck between 1787 and 1860 contained the seeds of the South's destruction in 1865. And Northern patience had clearly worn thin upon the handing down of the Dred Scott decision, which was farcical in its assertions about slavery in the Constitution. Wilentz concludes that the South's worst fear all along was that the North was correct in belief that the Constitution did not authorize, overtly or tacitly, property in man.
On the other hand, the "paradox" of the Convention's final product--at times exacerbated by one of the Constitution's authors, James Madison--left much ground to be occupied by supporters of slavery. As Dwight Eisenhower noted in 1960, Robert E. Lee fought for a "constitutionally debatable" issue. That he and the other Confederates were wrong is undeniable; nevertheless, the necessary compromises of 1787 bore bitter fruit that eventually led to war between the states in 1860.
The reason I gave "No Property In Man" two stars is because of Wilentz's writing style, which can frankly sap so much energy from its subject (previously treated, in lively manner, by Don Fehrenbacher, Harry Jaffa, and David Potter) that reading it became, at times, a laborious march. This will probably not deter someone who specializes in Constitutional history or slavery, but the book is not exactly suitable for reading history for leisure.
With that said, Wiletnz deserves kudos for the insight he brings to the issue of the treatment of slavery in the Constitution.
Even if you have read many books about this period of history, I believe you will find this illuminating.