In Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition, Justin Buckley Dyer provides a succinct account of the development of American antislavery constitutionalism in the years preceding the Civil War. Within the context of recent revisionist scholarship, Dyer argues that the theoretical foundations of American constitutionalism - which he identifies with principles of natural law - were antagonistic to slavery. Still, the continued existence of slavery in the nineteenth century created a tension between practice and principle. In a series of case studies, Dyer reconstructs the constitutional arguments of prominent antislavery thinkers such as John Quincy Adams, John McLean, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who collectively sought to overcome the legacy of slavery by emphasizing the natural law foundations of American constitutionalism. What emerges is a convoluted understanding of American constitutional development that challenges traditional narratives of linear progress while highlighting the centrality of natural law to America's greatest constitutional crisis.
Justin Buckley Dyer holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma and an MA and Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas, Austin. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His research has been published in Polity, the Journal of Politics, PS: Political Science and Politics and Perspectives on Political Science.
1. Prologue: slavery and the laws and rights of nature; 2. Introduction: the apple of gold; 3. Somerset and the antislavery constitutional tradition; 4. Constitutional disharmony in The Antelope and La Amistad; 5. Constitutional construction in Prigg and Dred Scott; 6. Natural law, providence, and Lincoln's constitutional statesmanship; 7. Public reason and the wrong of slavery; 8. Conclusion: the heritage of the antislavery constitutional tradition.