Nicholas Guyatt teaches American history at Cambridge. His latest book is Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans ­Invented Racial Segregation.
 (June 2019)

Follow Nicholas Guyatt on Twitter: @NicholasGuyatt.


How Proslavery Was the Constitution?

Titus Kaphar: Page 4 of Jefferson’s ‘Farm Book’..., 2018. That page of Jefferson’s ledger lists the names of enslaved people on his plantation at Monticello in January 1774.

No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding

by Sean Wilentz
Were the Founding Fathers responsible for American slavery? William Lloyd Garrison, the celebrated abolitionist, certainly thought so. In an uncompromising address in Framingham, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1854, Garrison denounced the hypocrisy of a nation that declared that “all men are created equal” while holding nearly four million African-Americans in bondage. The US Constitution was hopelessly implicated in this terrible crime, Garrison claimed: it kept free states like Massachusetts in a union with slave states like South Carolina, and it increased the influence of slave states in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College by counting enslaved people as three fifths of a human being. When Garrison finished excoriating the Founders, he pulled a copy of the Constitution from his pocket, branded it “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” and set it on fire.