Institute for Constitutional History: Antislavery Constitutionalism

Event Details

End: December 16, 2018

The Institute for Constitutional History is pleased to announce another seminar for advanced graduate students and junior faculty: Antislavery Constitutionalism.


James Oakes is Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His most recent books are Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 and The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War.

Sean Wilentz is George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous books on American history and politics, including The Rise of American Democracy, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding, has just been published.


Sooner or later every major political dispute becomes a dispute over the Constitution. This is as true today for issues such as abortion rights, gun control, and the war powers of the president, but if anything it was even more true in the nineteenth century, when differences over banks and tariffs became differences over what the Constitution did or did not allow. But nowhere did the Constitution figure more prominently than in the increasingly rancorous debates over slavery. Indeed, what the Constitution did or did not allow the federal government to do about slavery was present at the creation of the Constitution in the Philadelphia convention of 1787. For decades scholars have investigated the proslavery compromises embedded within the Constitution, but much less attention has been paid to antislavery constitutionalism. This was a body of thought that carefully specified what the federal government could and could not do to put slavery on what Abraham Lincoln called a “course of ultimate extinction.”


Thursday afternoons, 3:00–5:00 p.m., February 14, 28, March 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2019. The seminar will be held at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York City.


The seminar is designed for graduate students and junior faculty in history, political science, law, and related disciplines. All participants will be expected to complete the assigned readings and participate in seminar discussions. Although the Institute cannot offer academic credit directly for the seminar, students may be able to earn graduate credit through their home departments by completing an independent research project in conjunction with the seminar. Please consult with your advisor and/or director of graduate studies about these possibilities. Space is limited, so applicants should send a copy of their C.V. and a short statement on how this seminar will be useful to them in their research, teaching, or professional development. Materials will be accepted only by email at until December 15, 2018. Successful applicants will be notified soon thereafter. For further information, please contact Maeva Marcus at (202) 994-6562 or send an email to


There is no tuition or other charge for this seminar, though participants will be expected to acquire the assigned books on their own.


The Institute for Constitutional History (ICH) is the nation’s premier institute dedicated to ensuring that future generations of Americans understand the substance and historical development of the U.S. Constitution. Located at the New York Historical Society and the George Washington University Law School, the Institute is co-sponsored by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Political Science Association. The Association of American Law Schools is a cooperating entity. ICH prepares junior scholars and college instructors to convey to their readers and students the important role the Constitution has played in shaping American society. ICH also provides a national forum for the preparation and dissemination of humanistic, interdisciplinary scholarship on American constitutional history.