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  • Cited by 2
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2019
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Book description

In an incisive analysis of over two dozen clauses as well as several 'unwritten' rules and practices, The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War shows how the Constitution aggravated the sectional conflict over slavery to the point of civil war. Going beyond the fugitive slave clause, the three-fifths clause, and the international slave trade clause, Michael F. Conlin demonstrates that many more constitutional provisions and practices played a crucial role in the bloody conflict that claimed the lives of over 750,000 Americans. He also reveals that ordinary Americans in the mid-nineteenth century had a surprisingly sophisticated knowledge of the provisions and the methods of interpretation of the Constitution. Lastly, Conlin reminds us that many of the debates that divide Americans today were present in the 1850s: minority rights vs. majority rule, original intent vs. a living Constitution, state's rights vs. federal supremacy, judicial activism vs. legislative prerogative, secession vs. union, and counter-majoritarianism vs. democracy.


‘The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War is a must-read for anyone interested in either the constitutional dimensions of the conflict over slavery or the influence of constitutional arguments on public policy debates more generally.'

Earl Maltz - author of Slavery and the Supreme Court, 1825–1861

‘The Constitutional Origins of the American Civil War is a fascinating read about the role of the Constitution in causing the Civil War. Exhaustively researched and expertly written, the book sheds critical light on how a 4,000-word document that never used the word ‘slavery' could contribute to a war over it seventy years later.'

Jason A. Gillmer - author of Slavery and Freedom in Texas: Stories from the Courtroom, 1821–1871

‘Michael F. Conlin has given us an authoritative biography of the Founders' Constitution as the People's charter. His exhaustively researched and brilliantly argued book should lay to rest any doubt that the original Constitution was responsible for the Civil War.'

H. Robert Baker - Georgia State University

'Conlin’s study offers fresh insight on the causes of the Civil War … Highly recommended.’

S. J. Ramold Source: Choice

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