The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Non-GC Events

Dec. 30 The Education Department at the New-York Historical Society: How Slavery Killed the Constitution of 1787


February 20, 27, March 6, 13, 20 and 27, 2015
Sponsored by the Institute for Constitutional History


Several large and small unknowns were rooted in the Constitution of l787 as it emerged from the hands of the framers and ratifiers. Chief among them were: (1) the structure of power as between the new national government and the states, (2) the place of slavery in the new constitutional arrangement, and (3) the location of the final interpretative authority with regard to the first two unknowns: whether in the Supreme Court of the United States; or in the state courts; or in specially elected state conventions; or in the will of the national electorate operating through the evolving new political party system; or, finally, in the god of battles?

In addition to acquainting participants with useful scholarship and relevant primary sources, this seminar’s objective is to trace the working-out of these constitutional uncertainties in the period leading to secession and Civil War–the period during which pro-slavery forces and state sovereignty theory converged to challenge the authority of the federal government. We also will explore the possibility that the slavery issue, almost from the outset of government under the Constitution of 1787, permeated every major aspect of constitutional law–making the antebellum period a distinct epoch in American constitutional history, one that ended with the Union victory and with the Civil War Amendments.

The seminar is designed for graduate students and junior faculty in history, political science, law, and related disciplines. All participants will be expected to complete the assigned readings and participate in seminar discussions. Although the Institute cannot offer academic credit directly for the seminar, students may be able to earn graduate credit through their home departments by completing an independent research project in conjunction with the seminar. Please consult with your advisor and/or director of graduate studies about these possibilities. Space is limited, so applicants should send a copy of their c.v. and a short statement on how this seminar will be useful to them in their research, teaching, or professional development. Materials will be accepted only by email at until December 30, 2014. Successful applicants will be notified soon thereafter. For further information, please contact Maeva Marcus at (202) 994-6562 or send an email to

For more information visit the following link