Sep 17, 2022
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the American constitutional system, and of its English antecedents, was its extended tolerance — even protection — of categorizing persons as property. Chattel slavery, in short.
But perhaps its greatest triumph was to make possible slavery’s end — an outcome agonizingly delayed but finally achieved. We rightly insist that the sad story be told, and its legacies confronted. But we need equally to discern how the end happened and recall its origins.
What hinge point first pivoted law, and the public sentiment undergirding it, toward removing that taint? That’s the largely forgotten story to tell this Constitution Day 2022: I take you back 250 years to find the first legal crack in the ancient system of enslavement.
Read Professor Emeritus of History Bill Woodward's Constitution Day essay titled, "Freeing James Somerset: Start of the Long Journey to the Thirteenth Amendment."