Abolitionists, Antislavery Constitutionalism, and Pursuit of National Reconstruction
Chapter 4 turns to abolitionists’ development of antislavery constitutionalism and their project for national reconstruction. The chapter argues that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are markers of a civic refounding of the U.S. Constitution that promised new membership, principles, and institutional arrangements for the political community. These transformations were first imagined not by Lincoln or leading congressmen, but by a new group of American revolutionaries: abolitionists, white and black. They launched a profound vision of freedom from servitude, equal rights, and full citizenship for black men. By exploring abolitionists’ complex movement to challenge and transform fundamental law, the chapter shows how many different participants helped imagine a new antislavery Constitution and reinvent the Declaration of Independence as a promise of racial equality and integration. These reformers’ ideals, discourses, and pressures shaped the constitutional politics of the era, including Republican Party platforms, Lincoln’s move for emancipation, and creation of the Reconstruction Amendments.
Keywords: slavery, free blacks, abolition, abolitionists, antislavery constitutionalism, Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln, equal protection, black citizenship
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