A closely argued critique that exposes the deadly implications of the Constitution’s careful euphemisms about slavery.




A historian finds the seeds of an inevitable civil war embedded in the “contradictions, ambiguities, and silences” about slavery in the Constitution.

Fully aware of the embarrassing disconnect between the American Revolution’s rhetoric and the facts on the ground, the colonists adopted a politics of slavery that sought to normalize or dissolve the institution into euphemisms like “species of property.” By the 1780s, with America newly independent, enlightened minds foresaw the end of slavery, but that movement collided with a simultaneous push for a stronger federal government. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention issues of state sovereignty and representation were inextricably bound “with the question of slaves as taxable wealth and as persons in, but seemingly not of, the polity.” Waldstreicher (History/Temple Univ.; Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution, 2004, etc.) efficiently demonstrates how the Framers, without mentioning slavery, crafted a document which, through several interlocking provisions, sought to preserve the institution while strengthening the proposed national government. Rejecting the lazy notion that the Framers either ignored or “left unfinished” the business of slavery, Waldstreicher reveals how they were actually obsessed with it, turning disagreements about it into a structure “to manage doubts and conflicts about nationhood as well as slavery itself.” In the subsequent ratification debate, which the author rightly terms “the beginnings of American national politics,” the Constitution’s simultaneous precision and vagueness permitted advocates to defend it as proslavery in some states, antislavery in others. Anti-federalists knew the Constitution would impair the people’s ability, locally or nationally, to affect slavery, and they saw in its ambiguities a perfect illustration of its threat to state sovereignty. Nevertheless, the people approved the Convention’s handiwork, confirming a pattern of dealmaking over slavery that held until the beginning of the Civil War.

A closely argued critique that exposes the deadly implications of the Constitution’s careful euphemisms about slavery.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9453-0

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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