This seminar examines American slavery as a historical reality, an affront to the country's promises of liberty and equality, and a political problem. Participants will begin with the introduction of slavery into Jamestown and the development of colonial and (later) state slave laws. But we will focus primarily on how the institution shaped the Constitution and how the Constitution shaped the institution. Participants will examine how the slave clauses in the Constitution came to be there and what they meant. We will trace the federal government's involvement (and sometimes lack of involvement) with the issues of slavery.  And we will explore how the Constitution at first hindered and then finally enabled a speedy resolution to the problem of slavery. The seminar will lay special emphasis on Lincoln's efforts to limit slavery in a manner that was constitutionally permissible.  Finally, students will examine the struggles to adopt the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

Seminar Scholar

Nicholas Wood is the Cassius Marcellus Clay Postdoctoral Associate in Early American History at Yale University.  His scholarly interests center around the issues of slavery, race, and politics from the American Revolution into the antebellum era. 

During his time at Yale, Wood will be completing his book manuscript, Before Garrison: Antislavery & Politics in the New Nation.  Wood received his BA at Rutgers University – New Brunswick, his MA at Rutgers University – Camden, and his PhD from the University of Virginia.  His research has been supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities postdoctoral fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia and a dissertation fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American studies as well as numerous short term fellowships from institutions including Haverford College and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Links to his CV and scholarship can be found at: