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3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97202, USA

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Presented by Paul Finkelman, Robert E. and Susan T. Rydell Visiting Professor at Gustavus Adolphus College.

This talk explores the debate over whether the Constitution was a proslavery, "Covenant with Death, and an Agreement in Hell," as the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison put it, or a document that was inherently anti-slavery, as some scholars, like James Oakes and more emphatically Sean Wilentz have argued.  The talk argues that for a variety of reasons, Garrison was theoretically and constitutionally correct, and then explains why some 19th century opponents of slavery, like Lincoln, Salmon P. Chase, and Frederick Douglass (after about 1852) argued that it was a pro-liberty document. In the end, they were wrong about the constitution as it was written in 1787 and understood by almost every lawyer, judge, and political leader before 1861.  It became "available" to opponents of slavery only after secession took 11 slave states out of the political and constitutional calculation, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Army, now augmented by some 200,000 Black soldiers, most of whom were held in bondage when the war began, were able to implement Lincoln's new policy.

Sponsored by the history department. Free and open to the public. Masks are required for this event.

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