Sean Wilentz is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of ­American History at Princeton. His most recent book is No Property in Man: 
Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding. (May 2020)

Follow Sean Wilentz on Twitter: @seanwilentz.


Abolition’s First Wave

The seal of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, circa 1789

Standard-Bearers of Equality: America’s First Abolition Movement

by Paul J. Polgar
William Lloyd Garrison stands in history alongside Frederick Douglass as the preeminent leader of the American abolitionist movement. According to his close coworker Wendell Phillips, there was barely a ripple of antislavery excitement anywhere in the country when Garrison, with miraculous acumen, became “the first man to begin a movement …

The Culmination of Republican Decay

Sarah Palin with Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, Ames, Iowa, January 2016

American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump

by Tim Alberta
Much of the wreckage Trump has caused is simply the expression of his willingness to pursue long-standing Republican policies while coarsening the polarizing politics practiced by the George W. Bush White House.

How Our Politics Broke

If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How It Might Be Saved

by Michael Tomasky
In his appearance before the House Oversight Committee in late February, President Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen saved his most disturbing words for his concluding statement, when he said he fears that if Trump loses the 2020 election, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Cohen …


What Tom Cotton Gets So Wrong About Slavery and the Constitution

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arizona, walking past a portrait of John C. Calhoun, leader of the proslavery faction in the Senate, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 23, 2016

None of the delegates who framed the Constitution in 1787 called slavery a “necessary evil.” Some of them called slavery an evil, but not a necessary one. Gouverneur Morris of New York, for example, declared to the Constitutional Convention that he would “never concur in upholding domestic slavery,” that “nefarious institution” based on “the most cruel bondages”—“the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.” The great majority of the Framers joined Morris in fighting to ensure that slavery would be excluded from national law.

Say It Is So: Baseball’s Disgrace

Fans’ mementos adorning the grave of Chicago White Sox player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson at Woodlawn Memorial Park, Greenville, South Carolina, 2003

Baseball faces a moment of truth unlike any it has known in a century. Until and unless Commissioner Manfred lifts his ludicrous immunity offer and deals severely with the incriminated participating players as well as their management by banishing them all from the game, he will have thrown baseball back to where it was in 1919. If he continues feebly to accede to the corruption of baseball, Commissioner Manfred should himself be forced to wander in the eternal purgatory of the field of dreams inhabited by the Black Sox. What would Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis rule? You’re out!

American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen’

Former enslaved people in a Southern town shortly after the end of the Civil War, circa 1865

A fixture and force in Western culture, time out of mind, slavery, and more specifically racial slavery, had been essential to the European settlement of the New World ever since the Portuguese pioneered the plantation system with enslaved African labor in the sixteenth century. Apart from sporadic protests, the spread of slavery went virtually unchallenged by European and British settlers let alone their governments; periodic slave revolts and insurrectionary plots did not appreciably slow the rise of the plantation complex that at its height stretched from Brazil to the Caribbean to British North America. Yet few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.