Critical Review - Slavery and the Founders , Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson 2nd edition by Paul Finkelman - Book Report/Review Example

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The birth of the American constitution on the one hand and the establishment of slavery as an institution on the other, are both two key but contradictory elements in early American history. Historians like to present events and characters as if they belong in one or other of…
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Critical Book Review - Slavery and the Founders , Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson 2nd edition by Paul Finkelman
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Download file to see previous pages This is perhaps the main message of the book, but there are many interesting other avenues that the author explores while laying out his reasoning in support of this general view.
The title of the first chapter sums up the main contention of the book in a characteristically provocative fashion: “Making a Covenant with Death.” The Covenant that Finkelman mentions is the American Constitution, and the subtitle explains what he means by this: “Slavery and the Constitutional Convention” (p. 3). The author understands the Constitution as being from the outset a “slaveholder’s compact” (p. ix) which is designed to preserve the status and privilege of the few white slave owners against the encroachment of increasing numbers of African slaves. In legislating for slavery to exist under certain conditions in different parts of the country, the Constitution solidified slavery into the very foundation of the nation. Finkelman builds his case using contemporary documents from the time when the Constitution was first being hammered out between the experts gathered in the Constitutional Convention. He argues that although some members present wanted to enshrine freedom from slavery into the Constitution “On every issue at the Convention slave owners had won major concessions from the rest of the nation” (p. 35). Finkelman uses colorful language, often borrowed from other historians, to characterize the terrible compromises that were hammered out, just in order to push through the American Constitution, as for example when he describes the slavery issue in the Convention discussions as “the Witch at the Christening” (p. 105).
Some key historical documents are carefully examined including the 1787 Constitution, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Finkelman explains how the demarcation of a boundary which separated the states where slavery was allowed from the states where it was officially outlawed ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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