Slavery a Good Place to Start with Con Law
The Law Teacher, Volume 3, number 1 (Fall 1995), p. 11.
About the Author
Charles A. Rees is a professor of law at the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Contact him there at 1420 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-5779, (410) 837-4468, FAX (410) 837-4560.
Slavery: Was it the near-fatal defect of our Constitution? Was it part of a necessary compromise to create a new Union? Or was it a flaw only in hindsight, based on the perspective of our more enlightened age?
The topic of slavery (and its aftermath) has much to tell us about the framers and about our Constitution, history, politics, and people. I began to think more about the topic at a conference on Constitutional Law, sponsored several years ago by the Association of American Law Schools.
At the conference, Sanford Levinson encouraged participants to make slavery a major topic of the introductory course in constitutional law. Professor Levinson said slavery should be taught, not just to develop cultural literacy and political awareness, but also to raise crucial issues about lawyers' professional role, about contemporary legal features of our society, and about law and morality. Suzanna Sherry encouraged participants to teach their Constitutional Law students not only the latest Supreme Court decisions, but also the history of the Court, the Constitution, and the United States.
I left the conference determined to provide my students more historical materials on slavery and its aftermath. How to do so was the question; most casebooks pay only scant attention to slavery.
I have developed a lesson to be used during an introductory class in a basic Constitutional Law course. I assigned students to read the Constitution; the history of the adoption of the Constitution and its most significant amendments; a fragment of the Slaughter-House Cases dealing with African slavery, Dred Scott, the Civil War, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments; the Sit-In Cases of the 1960s; and federal civil rights legislation (Reconstruction and contemporary).
I found the lesson useful, and I believe my students did, too. Law teachers who are interested in using the topic of slavery as a starting point for constitutional awareness easily can incorporate the lesson. Contact me to receive a copy.