Reading Group: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass as Constitutional Interpreters

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TUE 2:40 - 4:40 pm ONLINE

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This course will be taught entirely online via Zoom.

Two of the most important figures in our past concerning especially the degree to which the United States Constitution protected slavery were Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Lincoln began as a Whig who, among other things, supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as a necessary compromise to maintain the Union.  He then becomes a Republican who suggests that a “House Divided” cannot stand and ends up engaging in a war that results in the death of 750,000 participants and, of course, with the legal elimination of chattel slavery.  Frederick Douglass, born a slaver in Maryland, becomes probably the most important voice (and certainly the most photographed figure) of the Abolitionist movement.  He begins as a Garrisonian who treats the Constitution as a “Covenant with Death and an Agreement with Hell.”  He ends up giving a speech in Glasgow on how the Constitution, correctly understood, is “anti-slavery.”  And he becomes a friend of Lincoln who pays him a noted, though not uncomplicated, tribute after his death.

This will be a one-credit “reading course.”  Grading will be pass/fail.  What this means, in practice, is that we will meet for seven two-hour sessions during the first half of the spring semester.  The readings will consist entirely of writings and speeches by Lincoln and Douglass (though Stephen A. Douglas may slip in as well should we assign any of the Lincoln-Douglas debates).  There will be no examination or requirement for an extended paper, but each of you will be expected to write a short (400-500 word) response paper each week to the assigned readings, beginning with the first week.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

The Portable Abraham Lincoln *
Lincoln, Abraham
Penguin Publishing Group
ISBN: 978-0-14-310564-0


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