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On September 17, 1787, delegates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved the Constitution for ratification by the states. Two-hundred and twenty-six years later, AEI's Program on American Citizenship celebrated the occasion by hosting its second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture. Michael Zuckert of the University of Notre Dame spoke on the topic of slavery at the Constitutional Convention.
Zuckert noted that the debate over slavery's place in the Constitution is divided into two factions: "neo-Lincolnians" who argue that the Constitution provided minimal protection to the institution of slavery, and "neo-Garrisonians" who condemn the Constitution for its perceived promotion of slavery.
However, in tracing the historical context of the constitutional provisions linked to slavery -- the Fugitive Slave Clause, the Three-Fifths Clause, and the slave trade clause -- Zuckert found that the Constitution neither endorsed slavery nor wholly rejected it. Instead, he suggested a third, more historically accurate interpretation called "neo-Madisonian," in which slavery remained legal but was not considered legitimate.
The framers, he argued, believed that slavery would eventually fade away on its own, and they thus limited the new federal government's involvement with slavery to only those issues that required addressing for comity among the states.
The lecture was held in honor of Walter Berns, AEI's great constitutional scholar. At the event, AEI President Arthur Brooks announced a new website devoted to the scholarship of Walter Berns: WalterBerns.org.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, seminal events in America’s effort to deal with and overcome the legacy of slavery. Key to understanding that legacy is the place of slavery at the 1787 Constitutional Convention and thence in the US Constitution.
Join us on September 17 for the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as Michael Zuckert, Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor and department chair of political science at the University of Notre Dame, critically examines the leading “pro-” and “anti-slavery” interpretations of the Constitutional Convention and offers an alternative analysis tied to a more accurate and less anachronistic reading of the principles and politics of the founding era.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Arthur Brooks, AEI
Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
Adjournment and Wine & Cheese Reception
For more information, please contact Will Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.862.5946.
For media inquiries, please contact MediaServices@aei.org, 202.862.5829.
Arthur C. Brooks is the president of AEI. Until January 1, 2009, he was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University. He is the author of 10 books and many articles on topics ranging from the economics of the arts to applied mathematics. His most recent books include “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise” (Basic Books, 2012), “The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future” (Basic Books, May 2010), “Gross National Happiness” (Basic Books, 2008), “Social Entrepreneurship” (Prentice-Hall, 2008), and “Who Really Cares” (Basic Books, 2006). Before pursuing his work in public policy, Brooks spent 12 years as a professional French hornist with the City Orchestra of Barcelona and other ensembles.
Michael Zuckert is Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor and department chair of political science at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in political philosophy and theory, American political thought, and American constitutional law, among others. Zuckert has published extensively on a variety of topics related to political theory, including writing “Natural Rights and the New Republicanism” (Princeton University Press, 1994) and the award-winning “The Natural Rights Republic” (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997). He coauthored and coproduced the public radio series “Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson: A Nine Part Drama for the Radio;” was senior scholar for Liberty!, a six-hour public television series on the American Revolution; and served as a senior adviser to the PBS series on Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. He is currently completing “Natural rights and the New Constitutionalism,” a study of American constitutionalism in a theoretical context.