Slavery and the Constitution: Upcoming Lecture Speaks to Origins of Ongoing Racial Tensions

Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States, despite owning slaves themselves, despised the practice of slavery.  In his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade and, by implication, slavery. Nonetheless, the South had become reliant on slavery, and political unity was a necessity for young America’s success. Thus, the shameful institution weaseled its way into the United States Constitution, and there remained unchallenged until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. David Waldstreicher is one of academia’s foremost scholars on the slave issue in early America, and will speak on slavery and the Constitution on Thursday, September 15th, at 11:00 a.m. in the HBLL Auditorium.

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In particular, he will speak on “James Madison’s Constitution and the Problem of Slavery.” Madison was also a Founding Father who seemed unable to come to terms with slavery, despite the fact that he owned nearly 100 of them at the time of his death. BYU associate professor of history Matthew Mason, who studies slavery and the early U.S. republic, is optimistic about the upcoming lecture. “My hope for this year’s event,” he says, “is that a broad community of students and others at BYU will be able to think in more informed ways about the complex relationship between slavery and the founding of the United States. This will fulfill a key purpose of Constitution Day, which…is to help people know more about—and consequently come to a fuller appreciation of—the founding of the United States and its ongoing impact. The ongoing importance of racial prejudice in our national life is just one way this lecture’s exploration of slavery and the founding should be of wide interest.”

david-waldstreicherDr. Waldstreicher is a Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York. He holds a PhD from Yale University, and has previously served as a professor at Bennington College, Yale, Temple University, and the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of several books, including Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification, which Mason opines is “the best book-length treatment of how slavery and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution interrelated.” He is on the editorial board of Reviews in American History and is co-editor of the Early American Studies book series at the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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