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Parution : 10/2020
Editeur : Cambridge University Press
ISBN : 978-1-1084-9612-4
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The Antebellum Origins of the Modern Constitution

Slavery and the Spirit of the American Founding

Simon J. Gilhooley

Présentation de l'éditeur

This book argues that conflicts over slavery and abolition in the early American Republic generated a mode of constitutional interpretation that remains powerful today: the belief that the historical spirit of founding holds authority over the current moment. Simon J. Gilhooley traces how debates around the existence of slavery in the District of Columbia gave rise to the articulation of this constitutional interpretation, which constrained the radical potential of the constitutional text. To reconstruct the origins of this interpretation, Gilhooley draws on rich sources that include historical newspapers, pamphlets, and congressional debates. Examining free black activism in the North, Abolitionism in the 1830s, and the evolution of pro-slavery thought, this book shows how in navigating the existence of slavery in the District and the fundamental constitutional issue of the enslaved's personhood, Antebellum opponents of abolition came to promote an enduring but constraining constitutional imaginary.

'Gilhooley gives us a new and profoundly original account of the roots, during the era of slavery, of today's battles over constitutional interpretation. In the process, he reconceives the political legacy of the 1820s and 1830s, scrambles our contemporary assumptions about the ideological meaning of the different theories of the Constitution, and thoroughly dissects the American worship of the founders. This is a terrific book and one to be returned to again and again.' Aziz Rana, Cornell University

Simon J. Gilhooley is Assistant Professor, Political Studies and American Studies, Bard College, New York. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, among others.



1. The Constitutional Imaginaries of the Missouri Crisis
2. The Declaration of Independence and Black Citizenship in the 1820s
3. Abolitionism and the Constitution in the 1830s
4. The Slaveholding South and the Constitutionalization of Slavery
5. Theories of the Federal Compact in the 1830s
6. Slavery, The District of Columbia, and the Constitution
7. The Congressional Crisis of 1836
8: The Compact and the Election of 1836
9. The Afterlife of the Compact of 1836

Cambridge Studies on the American Constitution , 275 pages.  £ 85.00


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