web site hit counter No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding

Availability: Ready to download

Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of racial slavery. Some historians have charged that slaveholders actually enshrined human bondage at the nation's founding. Sean Wilentz shares the dismay but sees the Constitution and slavery differently. Although the proslavery side won important concessions, he asserts, antislave Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of racial slavery. Some historians have charged that slaveholders actually enshrined human bondage at the nation's founding. Sean Wilentz shares the dismay but sees the Constitution and slavery differently. Although the proslavery side won important concessions, he asserts, antislavery impulses also influenced the framers' work. Far from covering up a crime against humanity, the Constitution restricted slavery's legitimacy under the new national government. In time, that limitation would open the way for the creation of an antislavery politics that led to Southern secession, the Civil War, and Emancipation. Wilentz's controversial reconsideration upends orthodox views of the Constitution. He describes the document as a tortured paradox that abided slavery without legitimizing it. This paradox lay behind the great political battles that fractured the nation over the next seventy years. As Southern Fire-eaters invented a proslavery version of the Constitution, antislavery advocates, including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, proclaimed an antislavery version based on the framers' refusal to validate property in man. No Property in Man invites fresh debate about the political and legal struggles over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Confederacy's defeat. It drives straight to the heart of the most contentious and enduring issue in all of American history.


Compare

Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of racial slavery. Some historians have charged that slaveholders actually enshrined human bondage at the nation's founding. Sean Wilentz shares the dismay but sees the Constitution and slavery differently. Although the proslavery side won important concessions, he asserts, antislave Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of racial slavery. Some historians have charged that slaveholders actually enshrined human bondage at the nation's founding. Sean Wilentz shares the dismay but sees the Constitution and slavery differently. Although the proslavery side won important concessions, he asserts, antislavery impulses also influenced the framers' work. Far from covering up a crime against humanity, the Constitution restricted slavery's legitimacy under the new national government. In time, that limitation would open the way for the creation of an antislavery politics that led to Southern secession, the Civil War, and Emancipation. Wilentz's controversial reconsideration upends orthodox views of the Constitution. He describes the document as a tortured paradox that abided slavery without legitimizing it. This paradox lay behind the great political battles that fractured the nation over the next seventy years. As Southern Fire-eaters invented a proslavery version of the Constitution, antislavery advocates, including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, proclaimed an antislavery version based on the framers' refusal to validate property in man. No Property in Man invites fresh debate about the political and legal struggles over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Confederacy's defeat. It drives straight to the heart of the most contentious and enduring issue in all of American history.

30 review for No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding

  1. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Princeton’s Sean Wilentz is among a handful of scholars whose work I read as soon as his books are published. His masterful political history The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, published in 2005, won the Bancroft Prize, and I’ve been a student – a reader – of Wilentz ever since. His first major book, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, is a must-read too. Wilentz is a university scholar who reaches a general audience, comment Princeton’s Sean Wilentz is among a handful of scholars whose work I read as soon as his books are published. His masterful political history The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, published in 2005, won the Bancroft Prize, and I’ve been a student – a reader – of Wilentz ever since. His first major book, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, is a must-read too. Wilentz is a university scholar who reaches a general audience, commentating on historical matters and current events in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books, among others. (Disclaimer of sorts: In January 2009, I was fortunate to meet the professor by chance while on assignment in Princeton and briefly interviewed him about the significance of Obama’s inauguration). An exhaustive, erudite study of the progress and regress of Jacksonian democracy in the United States at both the federal and state levels, ‘The Rise of American Democracy’ led me to reconsider, fundamentally, what our democracy actually meant and continues to mean. Probably most of us believe we understand -- and can coherently define – democracy, at least in the abstract. Wilentz’s study compels us to look deeper: democracy for whom, and when? It presents, in my view, the history of the early American republic as a struggle over what kind of democracy the United States would be. Indeed, in the words of William Seward, slavery posed an irrepressible conflict, and the political dispute over slavery led to war – in the end, a failure of politics to peacefully solve the most pressing social and political challenge that ever faced the Union. Likewise, each of us would like to think we understand at least something about our founding documents. They are not dead letters. The Constitution remains a battlefield over which modern-day policy disagreements are fought. Our current leaders, especially those who claim the Founding Fathers for themselves, often seek their rationales in the Constitution – because if one can “prove” the founders and framers would have approved, the argument is won. And insofar we look to the Constitution to find our way out of current controversies, some would argue it is a poor guide when it comes to matters of race and equality. Tainted by its toleration of slavery, it is the founding document of a nation created “on racist principles,” as Bernie Sanders put it while running for president in 2015. Given slavery’s place in America’s economic development, its fundamental importance to concepts of race and racism, the explicit concessions the framers of the Constitution made to slaveholders, and the fact that the U.S. population counted 4 million enslaved people by 1860, who could disagree with Senator Sanders? “The myth that the United States was founded on racial slavery persists, notably among scholars and activists on the left who are rightly angry at America’s racist past,” wrote Sean Wilentz in a New York Times op-ed on Sept. 16, 2015. “It is one of the most destructive falsehoods in all of American history.” In No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding, Wilentz expounds on this essential point: as a constitutional matter, slavery was not recognized as a national institution. Yes, crucial concessions were made to slaveholders at the 1787 convention in Philadelphia – concessions that contributed to the power of the slavocracy over the next 70 years and helped make the United States the largest slave-holding nation in history. But, Wilentz persuasively argues, on the most important point of all, the slaveholders lost: slavery would be recognized and tolerated only as a local institution in the states where it existed, but the new federal government would not sanction property in man. Why does this nuance matter, especially when one considers the significant, but certainly not total, failure of antislavery lawmakers and abolitionist activists to contain slavery’s geographic expansion, let alone mitigate the slaveholders’ intractable hold on the states where slavery existed at the founding? Needless to say, it matters today as we search for a useable past to guide us through our racial dilemmas, as Sanders remarks, and the reaction to them, demonstrated. And it mattered in 1787 and during all the ensuing crises all the way up to the secessionists’ winter of 1860. Indeed, whether the Constitution was anti-slavery or pro-slavery – or a paradox of both – surfaced immediately, starting with the ratification debates in the former British colonies. “Although in some cases disappointed that the Constitution granted as many concessions as it did to the slaveholders, the antislavery Federalists were also positive that the Constitution left sufficient room to undermine and then overthrow the slaveholders. This sort of confidence would soon motivate organized abolitionists to press for antislavery legislation by sending antislavery petitions to the very first Congress.” p. 136 Among Wilentz’s most important myth-busts is his treatment of the wording of the Constitution, which never mentions slaves or slavery. Far from an attempt at subterfuge or at hiding the embarrassing reality of slavery from posterity, Wilentz shows the real reason why the final version of the Constitution deliberately describes slaves as persons, not property; as people held to service, not enslaved. It is because men like Madison, who owned slaves themselves, did not want to found a republic where slavery would be forever legitimate and impossible to restrict. Far from fodder for abstract legal debates, the question of whether the Constitution sanctioned slavery as a national institution dominated the battles over matters well known, i.e., the Missouri Compromise or the Compromise of 1850, as well as controversies largely forgotten (but ones Wilentz deftly reminds us truly mattered), i.e., the battle over the bill to organize the lower portion of the Louisiana Territory in 1804. In what appears an incredible vote to modern eyes, the Senate agreed to “ban from Louisiana slaves who had been imported to the United States after an unspecified date (later to be fixed at 1798), and, by a narrower margin voted to permit only United States citizens who were bona fide settlers and owners of slaves to bring slaves into the territory, thereby indirectly closing Louisiana Territory to the domestic slave trade.” p. 176 These legislative victories “proved illusory” for a number of reasons (p. 181), including ineffective enforcement, and slavery spread rapidly in Louisiana, but the debates and votes validate Wilentz’s thesis: from the start, a conflict existed between increasingly pro-slavery absolutist and antislavery interpretations of the Constitution. Even though Madison’s notes on the Federal Convention were not yet available, those who supported restricting the expansion of slavery into areas where the Constitution gave Congress full authority – the territories – pointed to the framers’ decision not to sanction property in man. These conflicting interpretations surfaced time and again whenever the matter of slavery’s expansion came to the forefront. If slavery explicitly were a national institution, if the Constitution did not give Congress the authority to restrict slavery’s expansion, then there would have been no need for debate, right? Yet there were gray areas, and Wilentz shows why each side could reasonably claim – as many scholars do today – that the Constitution favored its own argument. To wit: Congress might outlaw slavery in a territory, but a slaveholder in, say, South Carolina could still take his property to that territory, because property rights were sacrosanct under the Constitution. Or, take the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution, the ensuing, if toothless, Fugitive Slave Act signed by President George Washington, and the strengthened statute that was part of the Compromise of 1850 – all seem to indicate the federal government recognized slaves as property, not persons, under federal law, forcing states to remand escaped slaves back to their masters. In my view, Wilentz wins the argument about the intent of the framers. He, in his usual erudite fashion, delves into the deep historical record of the often overlooked antislavery advances in the early republic, namely the gradual emancipation laws passed in northern states. To our modern eyes, these pieces of legislation appear halting, even immoral. But at the time they were enormous: with the force of law, slavery in these states was ordered to become, eventually, extinct. And that antislavery impulse animated the arguments made by those at the Federal Convention, and their allies in the following ratification conventions, who said the Constitution would be on their side. Wilentz may have more work to do in establishing where, on the road to disunion, the Constitution’s exclusion of “property in man” falls in a causal hierarchy of the Civil War. Slavery did not cause the war; the political dispute over slavery caused the war. Wilentz argues the politics focused on the Constitution – what it did or did not sanction. It was a paradox: tolerating slavery where it existed, defending the rights of slaveholders — to, for instance, reclaim runaway slaves — without sanctioning a right to property in man in national law. Wilentz does not take his argument too far. After all, legal debates did not end slavery, with one side conceding its opponent the high ground in Constitutional interpretation and throwing aside its deep, intractably racist worldview that underpinned slavery in the southern United States. “However much the antislavery framers in 1787 believed that slavery was dying out, however much they expected that by one day abolishing the Atlantic slave trade their new government would seal the institution’s fate, they conceded too much to the proslavery framers to make the Constitution simply an engine of emancipation. But [they] grasped that the Constitution did not foreclose pushing for emancipation and that it even provided the national government with means to constrain slavery’s growth and thus hasten its doom.” p. 267 “Despite all the slaveholders won in 1787, despite all the ways the Constitution reinforced human bondage and thwarted its abolition, that exclusion [of property in man] would help inspire and legitimize the politics that, within a long lifetime’s memory, brought slavery to its knees.” p. 268 If you agree, as I do, that nothing gets accomplished until it gets into politics, then, yes. Yet it is still cold comfort. Antislavery politics could not peacefully end slavery – and the blame must lie with the slavocracy. It chose disunion and war to preserve human chattel slavery. The tragedy was the Civil War. It claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and, more than 150 years later, its wounds remain open, deliberately irritated by a man with white nationalist sympathies in the White House. The greater tragedy was the ‘many thousands gone’ to use the title of Ira Berlin’s masterwork. Really, it was many millions gone. As I consider Sean Wilentz’s latest work, I think about them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The founders were conflicted on slavery obviously but the thesis of this book is that the constitution (despite what some historians have claimed) explicitly did not enshrine property in man. As such, when it was time for a revision, slavery could be abolished. However, the conflict was not a textualist controversy. It was a war. And as Douglass claimed, we should have re-written the constitution anyway. So the fact that the constitution was viable perhaps enabled the hand of slavery to keep swa The founders were conflicted on slavery obviously but the thesis of this book is that the constitution (despite what some historians have claimed) explicitly did not enshrine property in man. As such, when it was time for a revision, slavery could be abolished. However, the conflict was not a textualist controversy. It was a war. And as Douglass claimed, we should have re-written the constitution anyway. So the fact that the constitution was viable perhaps enabled the hand of slavery to keep sway over the Republic for longer than the civil war. The structure of the senate, the electoral college, too much rights to the states that should have been given to the federal government. These were concessions to the south that should have been repealed. Either way, a very interesting book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul Womack

    For the amateur historian, an important resource in understanding the thesis that the Constitution did not endorse enslavement but contained enough wiggle room, in spite of its acceptance of the reality of slavery, to put into motion the culmination of efforts to eradicate slavery in American life. As this was not easy task is seen in the Civil War’s necessity. Raised a Southerner on stories of that war and the great grand fathers who fought for the Confederacy, this book is an important resourc For the amateur historian, an important resource in understanding the thesis that the Constitution did not endorse enslavement but contained enough wiggle room, in spite of its acceptance of the reality of slavery, to put into motion the culmination of efforts to eradicate slavery in American life. As this was not easy task is seen in the Civil War’s necessity. Raised a Southerner on stories of that war and the great grand fathers who fought for the Confederacy, this book is an important resource in coming to terms with the harshness of that debate which rightfully subverts the romantic myth that they were defending a constitutional principle. Sadly, they defended an evil system and their contemporary advocates will hopefully fall before the principle that there is no property in man.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peter Bradley

    Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re... I read "The Counter-Revolution of 1776" by Gerald Horne at the same time that I read "No Property in Man" by Sean Wilentz. Two books make first-rate bookends for the subject. The former deals with the influence of slavery on politics in the American colonies up to 1776 and the latter takes up the same subject from the Constitutional Convention of 1789 up to the Civil War. Both books essentially deal with the wo Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re... I read "The Counter-Revolution of 1776" by Gerald Horne at the same time that I read "No Property in Man" by Sean Wilentz. Two books make first-rate bookends for the subject. The former deals with the influence of slavery on politics in the American colonies up to 1776 and the latter takes up the same subject from the Constitutional Convention of 1789 up to the Civil War. Both books essentially deal with the world of ideas relative to slavery and politics. Horne's book is more Manichean and, at bottom, anti-American. Wilentz's book more properly shows the ambiguities of history and how those ambiguities played out over time. For Horne, the American Revolution was fundamentally and predominately a reaction by American slave-owners to prevent England from abolishing or restricting their peculiar property, particularly after 1772, when Justice Mansfield had ruled in Somerset's Case that slaves brought to England - which had no positive law of slavery - were freed upon coming into Britain. Horne would have all colonists be supporters of slavery inasmuch as slavery existed in every American colony in 1776. Wilentz takes up the narrative as of the Constitutional Convention in 1788. By that time, northern colonies had either emancipated their slaves or were in the process of emancipation. In addition, abolition societies had been formed to work against slavery. These northerners came into the Constitutional Convention with an anti-slavery agenda, or, at least, the calm assurance that slavery was on its way out and that freedom was the normative condition of humanity. This attitude was shared by most of the upper South, although they did not intend to force the issue in their lifetime. To their credit, they had adopted laws to permit individual emancipations. The Southerners disagreed. They had their slave property and, apparently, did not expect to see that property disappear. They used the threat of disunion to defuse any anti-slavery provision into the Constitution. For example, the South was able to obtain language prohibiting Congress from interfering with the slave trade until 1808. It was also able to get a nebulous fugitive slave clause put into the Constitution. From one perspective, it would appear that the Constitution was being written against a backdrop of an assumption that slavery was not a natural condition of mankind. On the other hand, Congress was not given the power to interfere with slavery within states. Slave states were able to increase their representation in Congress with the "3/5ths Clause" and there was the Fugitive Slave Clause, which betokened recognition of slavery in the Constitution. (Interestingly, the 3/5ths clause started out as part of a discussion to weight representation by state wealth. Slaves represented a "rough and ready" way of determining wealth. Although the discussion moved away from wealth, the 3/5th clause became a deal point for the slave-holding South.) Clearly, the Constitution was founded on a conundrum. It is not clearly an anti-slave document, but it is not - despite the argument of modern historians - a pro-slave document. Wilentz's argument is that - surprise! - the Constitution was a compromise, and that the anti-slavery faction fought hard and deliberately to prevent any recognition of "Property in Man" from being found in the Constitution so that there would be no argument that the Constitution recognized slavery as opposed to state laws recognizing slavery. Wilentz makes his case by examining the statements and writing of the founders and marshaling the arguments and counter-arguments. I found his development of the arguments over the period of 1788 to 1861 to be absolutely fascinating. Frankly, I think Wilentz gives the best explanation of "Popular Sovereignty" and the role that the Dredd Scott decision played in unraveling American democracy than any I have seen. What I also got from reading the Wilentz book in conjunction with the Horne book is a better understanding for the South's position. I had always considered the South's position on slavery, and the Dred Scott decision, to be ginned up ad hoc. However, if you read the Horne book, you will find that the South's arguments in 1788 and 1858 were the same as 1776. In that earlier period, the South was seceding from Britain because of the threat to its slave property, just it did in 1860. In addition, according to Horne, the secession was triggered by the Somerset decision, which held that, in the absence of English laws of slavery, slaves were free in England. This, of course, was the same issue that confronted Taney in Dred Scott. The difference was, of course, that Taney decided that the Constitution was positive law at the federal level recognizing "Property in Man," or, alternatively, he thought that slavery was a part of the natural law for Africans. Although Wilentz does not say this, he does spend a lot of time on the issue of whether slaves were property under the Constitution or just under state law. Clearly, in light of Somerset's Case, this was the key issue; if the Constitution recognized slavery, then there was positive law, i.e., man-made law, that could be used to recognize a right to slavery in the territories and in free states. In other words, it would seem that Somerset's Case defined the controvery in America for 90 years after it was announced. Another factor that Wilentz points out is that the flashpoint over slavery was in the territories. Southerners wanted the right to bring their slaves into the territories, which they viewed as belonging to them as much to Northerners. This is interesting in light of the fact that a reason for the American Revolution was the policy of the British Crown to prevent western expansion. Again, there seems to be a parallel here. Wilentz also makes understandable Lincoln's "either slave or free" argument. While the South was concerned about slavery being meddled within their states, Northerners were threatened with nothing less than having slavery re-introduced into the North under the principles announced in Dred Scott. If slaves were property under the Constitution, then the privileges and immunities clause would seem to protect them when they brought their slaves to the North. Wilentz ultimately shows that America was founded on a compromise that created a quandary. This quandary was possible only because the Constitution was not a pro-slavery document, despite the history that could have made it one. I listened to this as an audiobook. I thought the writing was engaging and clear. I do not understand why there are complaints about Wilentz's writing style, which was effective and lucid. I recommend this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter Goodman

    “No Property in Man: Slavery and antislavery at the nation’s founding,” by Sean Wilentz (Harvard, 2018). The accepted narrative today is that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. There was the 3/5ths provision; later there was the Fugitive Slave Act; there was the dominance of the Southern slaveholder vote; there was the fact that slavery was not abolished. Supreme Court decisions (notably Dred Scott) declared directly that the Constitution accepted and institutionalized slavery. Not so “No Property in Man: Slavery and antislavery at the nation’s founding,” by Sean Wilentz (Harvard, 2018). The accepted narrative today is that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. There was the 3/5ths provision; later there was the Fugitive Slave Act; there was the dominance of the Southern slaveholder vote; there was the fact that slavery was not abolished. Supreme Court decisions (notably Dred Scott) declared directly that the Constitution accepted and institutionalized slavery. Not so fast, says Sean Wilentz. This book is derived from a series of Nathan Huggins Lectures at Harvard, in which he made what is today a controversial, almost counter-factual argument. In fact, he says, the founders were very careful not only not to support slavery but to insert what was in effect a poison pill. The enslaved were never declared to be property; they were always described as “persons.” And in fact, during the debates over writing the Constitution, it was made very clear that the enslaved were not property: “there is no property in man.” James Madison said so in his notes about the Constitutional Convention—notes that were not made public until after his death. Of course, the Constitution’s position on enslavement was hidden, subtle and ambiguous. As a result, from the beginning slaveholders and their allies, and anti-slavers (not yet called abolitionists) fought continuously over laws and treaties and agreements that might be read as declaring that the enslaved were property. Southern slaveholders held that they were; their opponents declared that they were not. The Southerners (and their Northern allies) seemed to win most of the battles. They managed to win Congressional votes, but they never got firm declarations in their favor. The argument continued, through the creation of the Northwest Territories; the Louisiana Purchase; the Missouri Compromise. Did the federal government have the power to decide whether a territory or a new state would accept slavery or not? What to do with the territory conquered from Mexico? What to do with free blacks? Should the international slave trade be abolished? If so, when? The battles grew more and more heated, the sides more and more intransigent, the underlying question clearer and clearer, until that inevitable Civil War broke out. Wilentz seems to be very even-handed. He describes and analyses Southern victories, the suppression but never the defeat of the anti-slavery folks (Benjamin Franklin founded one of the very first of their societies). But he makes clear that it was never a settled issue, that the nation was torn over the rights of the enslaved from the beginning. At times my head swam because of the density and close reading involved with all the documents cited. And the foundation of all this, he argues (and I accept) that slavery could never win out because the Founders declared that there was “no property in man.” http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.ph...

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    An extraordinary read. In this book Wilentz argues persuasively by an exhaustive search of contemporaneous historical sources that the authors of the Constitution, in a bitter battle between antislavery and proslavery forces, ended up drafting a document that, while it accepted slavery where it already existed, did not legitimatize it on a national level and thereby left open the door for the ultimate national abolition of it. This compromise allowed antislavery supporters of the Constitution in An extraordinary read. In this book Wilentz argues persuasively by an exhaustive search of contemporaneous historical sources that the authors of the Constitution, in a bitter battle between antislavery and proslavery forces, ended up drafting a document that, while it accepted slavery where it already existed, did not legitimatize it on a national level and thereby left open the door for the ultimate national abolition of it. This compromise allowed antislavery supporters of the Constitution in the north at the time to say that it allowed for the abolition of slavery while allowing proslavery supporters of the Constitution in the south to say that it allowed for slavery. Without that political compromise, the United States might never have happened. While it can be argued that this compromise merely delayed the civil war over slavery that ultimately occurred 70 years later, that war did not seem inevitable at the time. Among other things, the Constitution abolished the slave trade (albeit 20 years hence), becoming the first nation in the world to do so. Many thought at the time this would lead to the gradual end of slavery. However, the growth of the cotton market and the importance of it to the southern economy hardened proslavery attitudes in the south. Meanwhile antislavery attitudes increased in the north as political battles waged over slavery's expansion into new territories. The compromise could not be reconciled and Lincoln's election led to the secession of the south. Here is where the rubber hits the road. The constitution of the CSA in 1861 is largely identical to the constitution of the USA adopted in 1787 in every way EXCEPT in the way it treats slaves. As Wilentz write, "Everywhere the Federal Convention excluded property in man, the Confederate constitution pointedly included it." In other words, the southern states seceded from the Union in order to create a slaveholders' nation. The Constitution did not allow it, so the south had to secede. Secession was treason, so that meant civil war. Because the south wanted a slaveholders' nation and the north did not. Simple as that. And a lot of people died.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charles Gonzalez

    I initially was going to give this work 4 but when I finished I realized that it met the standards I have for 5 stars; a work that captivates the reader, challenges preconceptions, encourages individual thought and analysis while motivating the reader to explore ways in which the work connects to our current world and political/cultural climate. This book meets those criteria 100%. Wilentz is a experienced and excellent storyteller and takes the reader on a historical/cultural/political ride fro I initially was going to give this work 4 but when I finished I realized that it met the standards I have for 5 stars; a work that captivates the reader, challenges preconceptions, encourages individual thought and analysis while motivating the reader to explore ways in which the work connects to our current world and political/cultural climate. This book meets those criteria 100%. Wilentz is a experienced and excellent storyteller and takes the reader on a historical/cultural/political ride from the time of the Articles of Confederation to the passage of the 13th Amendment. In between he shares the details of a fight that began in Philadelphia in 1787 and lasted to 1865. Back and forth between southern slavers and northern abolitionists, debates over the slave trade and slavery’s extension to territories and new states, the story is one centered on a central issue, is property in man a part of the Constitution or isn’t it? While initially the south went along reluctantly with the compromise of the Convention, subsequent generations of southern leaders and thinkers clawed back that limitation and finally in the form of John C Calhoun found its strongest advocate. Ultimately, the argument hinges on the federal case; does Congress have the power to limit slavery in new states and territories? Therein lies the inevitable fights resulting in the Missouri Compromise and the fights over the Kansas-Nebraska Act that had the effect of cracking the existing party structures and led eventually to the emergence of the Republican Party and Lincoln. The connections to our politics today and overlaps with political fissures in our nation are too numerous to detail but there they are. Heartily recommend this relatively short and quick read to all and am looking forward to tearing into more Wilentz soon.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Cook

    The premise of the book is that because the framers did not sanction slavery as a matter of principle, the antislavery legacy of the Constitution has been “slighted” and “misconstrued” for over 200 years. The argument of the book is that the Constitution, as ratified in 1788, was less racist and pro-slavery than many have thought. The nation’s founding document contained a fundamental antislavery ideal built into it. Enslaved people were defined legally as “persons” and not property. The usual e The premise of the book is that because the framers did not sanction slavery as a matter of principle, the antislavery legacy of the Constitution has been “slighted” and “misconstrued” for over 200 years. The argument of the book is that the Constitution, as ratified in 1788, was less racist and pro-slavery than many have thought. The nation’s founding document contained a fundamental antislavery ideal built into it. Enslaved people were defined legally as “persons” and not property. The usual evidence for constitutional recognition of slavery is the three-fifths compromise, the continuation of the Atlantic slave trade until 1808 and the fugitive slave clause. None of these provisions contained the actual words “slave” or “slavery.” Nowhere do these words exist in the Constitution, that is, until after the Civil War, with ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments. Wilentz deftly demonstrates how Northern antislavery delegates combined forces with some moderate Upper South delegates to ensure the United States “would not validate slavery in national law.” All references to persons “bound to service” or “held to service” were the deliberate and intentional consequence of these hard-fought efforts. Wilentz argues that the framers covered up their concessions to slavery with “confounding euphemisms.” Within weeks of the Federal Convention, Benjamin Gale, a Connecticut millowner, accused the delegates of writing a “dark, intricate, artful, crafty and unintelligible” document, the worst he’d ever read or seen, he complained. “Why could they have not spoke in plain terms — Negroes?” On the other hand, the inviolability of private property, then as now, meant that the most ardent pro-slavery delegates and supporters did not see subterfuge but surrender. They wanted explicit language to protect existing state slavery laws, enshrining their natural right to own human beings. Patrick Henry said he “smelt a rat” when he noted, the “absence in the Constitution of any categorical guarantee to the slaveholders of their rights to property in man.” The difference between these two constitutional interpretations would shape the most consequential political debates over territorial expansion, the limits of federal power and one of the most basic questions of American democracy, whether or not blacks had any rights whites were “bound to respect.” James Madison was the most important constitutional architect of the nation. When he made possible the publication of his notes breaking the seal on the convention’s agreed-upon secrecy. They revealed that during a key debate over import duties on the slave trade, he had persuaded the framers not “to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men. The reason of duties did not hold, as slaves are not like merchandise, consumed. etc.” With that posthumous revelation, Wilentz argues, “the framers left room for political efforts aimed at slavery’s restriction, and eventually, its destruction, even under a Constitution that safeguarded slavery.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Williams

    Well-reasoned and thoroughly researched. The book does a good job of succinctly making its point: the Constitution as ratified did not condone slavery, but it did concede too much to slavery’s interests. This concession allowed pro-slavery politicians to “re-write” the document as one expressly validating slavery. The sole silver lining, in Mr. Wilentz’s telling, is that the Constitution provided enough room for a politics of anti-slavery to spawn and then prosper with such notables as Abe Linco Well-reasoned and thoroughly researched. The book does a good job of succinctly making its point: the Constitution as ratified did not condone slavery, but it did concede too much to slavery’s interests. This concession allowed pro-slavery politicians to “re-write” the document as one expressly validating slavery. The sole silver lining, in Mr. Wilentz’s telling, is that the Constitution provided enough room for a politics of anti-slavery to spawn and then prosper with such notables as Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass coalescing around a reading of the Constitution that didn’t expressly provide for property in man. One critique is that the author didn’t sufficiently address Lost Cause historical narratives. He paints a picture of the slave states wanting to use the federal government to expand slavery, yet doesn’t explicitly come out and use this fact to combat the myth that the South just wanted to be left alone and let “State’s rights” handle the question of slavery. Still, there is enough here for the reader to understand that slavery was essential to the founding and the civil war.

  10. 5 out of 5

    A.J.

    Wilentz's No Property in Men delivers well-argued, well-researched thesis that contrary to common perception, the seeds of American slavery's destruction were sown at the start of the American republic - in the very federal constitution that governs the United States today. Detailed and meticulous, Wilentz's book is a useful history and a worthy argument against those who denigrate the Constitution as a flaw and compromised document that actually protected the institution of chattel slavery. Wilentz's No Property in Men delivers well-argued, well-researched thesis that contrary to common perception, the seeds of American slavery's destruction were sown at the start of the American republic - in the very federal constitution that governs the United States today. Detailed and meticulous, Wilentz's book is a useful history and a worthy argument against those who denigrate the Constitution as a flaw and compromised document that actually protected the institution of chattel slavery.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Interesting take on the compromises of the Constitution and the expectations of the anti-slavery founders. Mostly relies on the writings and experiences of those in power in the founding and antebellum period.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jennings

    The conclusions were really interesting but the details often overwhelmed me. I think that I would have enjoyed it more in an essay form.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Fascinating read about how slavery could not be explicitly encoded but had to be ever present when the Constitution was being written.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I

  15. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Monahan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donn Headley

  17. 4 out of 5

    John

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Light

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  20. 5 out of 5

    TJ O'Grady

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt Doran

  23. 4 out of 5

    Henry

  24. 4 out of 5

    Robert Goebel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  27. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark Grannis

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sadece Erkan Yıldız

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.