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History As It Happens

Apr 12, 2022

This is the third installment in an occasional series that will focus on slavery, the Constitution, and the ongoing debate over the meaning of the American founding.

Was the Constitution pro- or anti-slavery? Maybe that is the wrong question to ask, even though it remains the question at the heart of public discourse about the founding generation. In this episode, Sean Wilentz and James Oakes -- two major scholars of eighteenth and nineteenth century America -- argue the Constitution was a contested document that marked the beginning of a political conflict over the future of slavery and, therefore, the nature of American democracy. They reject race-centered interpretations that elide early political conflicts over enslavement and the hard-fought progress won by Black Americans and their white allies. The American Revolution was an event of world-historical importance, marking a turning point in the history of human enslavement because it gave life to the world's first abolitionist movement.