Understanding Slavery and the American Founding: A Conversation with Gordon Lloyd

with Gordon Lloyd

This new conversation in Liberty Law Talk is with Gordon Lloyd, a scholar of the American founding. Lloyd focuses on the debates in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the state constitutional ratifying conventions of 1788 in order to better understand the compromises leading framers made to accommodate the institution of slavery in the early republic.  Many, however, would dispute the term “compromises” and argue that it is an inaccurate understanding of the Constitution’s relationship to slavery. Numerous historical arguments center on the protections the Constitution provided to slaveholders through the three-fifths clause, the fugitive slave clause, and the twenty-year restriction that prevented Congress from prohibiting the importation of slaves. Indeed, more recent scholarship goes beyond even these explicit clauses and seeks to indict the Constitution’s structural provisions of equal state representation in the Senate and the use of the electoral college to elect the president, among other arguments, as core features of our “Slaveholder’s Union.”

Of course, prior to twentieth century historical scholarship William Lloyd Garrison had famously asserted that the Constitution was “a pact with the devil.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott seemingly affirmed Garrison’s judgment if one assumes that Chief Justice Taney’s opinion was an accurate rendition of the Constitution’s relationship with slavery. In the course of the conversation, Lloyd challenges many of these arguments.