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Seeing the Light: Lysander Spooner's Increasingly Popular Constitutionalism


On Tuesday July 4, 1854, it was hot and humid at Harmony Grove; “the heat of the weather…was extreme.” But this did not deter a large audience from gathering at this location in Framingham, Massachusetts. This was the spot upon which many of them had assembled, under the organization of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, for the past 8 years. They came by crowded railroad cars (from Boston, Milford, and Worcester), and by horse and carriage from many other surrounding towns, eager to hear speeches by prominent members of the antislavery community. William Lloyd Garrison was not the first to speak, but his actions were the most memorable. Addressing the audience, Garrison held up, and systematically burned, three documents: a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act; a copy of a recent court decision that ordered the free state of Massachusetts to use its facilities to assist in the capture of fugitive slaves; and a copy of the United States Constitution. This was no mere symbolic act; it conveyed an important part of the Garrisonian argument. Namely, that the Constitution was “a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.”

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Helen J. Knowles, “The Constitution and Slavery: A Special Relationship,” Slavery and Abolition 28 (2007): 309–28

David Tatham, “An Unrecorded Winslow Homer Lithograph,” American Art Journal 19 (1987): 7576

Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, “Confrontation and Abolition in the 1850s,” Journal of American History 58 (1972): 923

Corey Brettschneider, “Popular Constitutionalism and the Case for Judicial Review,” Political Theory 34 (2006): 517

Lloyd R. Morris, Incredible New York: High Life and Low Life of Last Hundred Years (New York: Random House, 1975), 5

Ralph Volney Harlow, “Gerrit Smith and the John Brown Raid,” The American Historical Review 38 (1932): 5556

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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