Friday, September 18, 2015
The question of whether the institution of chattel slavery is inherent in the Constitution is being debated in the popular press.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Sean Wilentz argues that "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." He concludes
Far from a proslavery compact of “racist principles,” the Constitution was based on a repudiation of the idea of a nation dedicated to the proposition of property in humans. Without that antislavery outcome in 1787, slavery would not have reached “ultimate extinction” in 1865.
Over at the New Republic, Lawrence Goldstone argues Wilentz is absolutely wrong. Sure, the Constitution's framers avoided the word "slavery" in the document itself, just as in the debates they "almost always employed euphemisms such as 'this unique species of property, 'this unhappy class,' or 'such other persons.' " Goldstone concludes that perhaps it may be correct to say that "the Constitution didn’t specifically anoint slavery as a national institution," but nevertheless "in clause after clause it tried to make certain that slavery would endure as one."
To see such matters debated in the popular press, even in such abbreviated form, has been stimulating to many ConLaw students studying the issue in class.