Slavery and the Constitution

William I. BOWDITCH

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Item#: 120864 price:$2,100.00

Slavery and the Constitution
Slavery and the Constitution

"THE LEADING CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR FOR GARRISON AND THE RADICAL ABOLITIONISTS": FIRST EDITION OF WILLIAM BOWDITCH'S HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL SLAVERY AND THE CONSTITUTION, 1849

BOWDITCH, William I. Slavery and the Constitution. Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1849. Octavo, period-style full speckled calf gilt, black morocco spine label; pp. (iv), (1), 2-156. $2100.

First edition of abolitionist attorney Bowditch's incendiary 1849 work declaring the Constitution a proslavery document, defiantly announcing—"we are a nation of slaveholders"—a crucial work in the highly public dispute that split apart Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

"To this day historians argue about the relationship of slavery to the Constitution" (Finkelman, Slavery & the Law, 17). That debate was especially consequential in the 1840s when it splintered the abolitionist movement and caused a public rift between Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. By 1850 Douglass came to believe that the Constitution, "coupled with moral and natural law principles… empowered, indeed demanded, that Congress abolish slavery" (Pepke, 48). It was a position that Garrison, who had partnered with Douglass since the early 1840s, strongly opposed, instead arguing the Constitution was irrevocably proslavery. Slavery and the Constitution, by prominent abolitionist Bowditch, appeared at a turning point in that schism.

The "leading constitutional scholar for Garrison and the radical abolitionists," Bowditch saw the Constitution as "a covenant with death and agreement with hell" (Thompson, Anti-Slavery Political Writings). In many ways he "outdid Garrison in terms of a proslavery interpretation." Here he closely analyzes the Constitution, its framers, interpreters and legislators, to boldly state: "we are a nation of slaveholders! (emphasis in original). Bowditch and his wife Sarah also "operated a safe house of the Underground Railroad" and, after Harpers Ferry, sheltered the son of John Brown (Snodgrass, Underground Railroad, 68). Key historians in the current debate include Paul Finkelman, who particularly highlights the Constitution's provision "for the indirect election of the president through an electoral college… incorporating slaves into the scheme through the three-fifths clause." He further points to "a hardening of legal doctrine and constitutional interpretation that… made slavery a fundamental and entrenched legal and social institution" (Slavery, 19). Sabin 7010. Cohen 9899.

A near-fine copy, beautifully bound.

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