Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A New Essay Collection on the Thirteenth Amendment

Here's a book announcement for a new collection of essays, The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment (Columbia University Press 2010).
In these original essays, America's leading historians and legal scholars reassess the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and its relevance to issues of liberty, justice, and equality. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, reasserting the radical, egalitarian dimensions of the Constitution. It also laid the foundations for future civil rights and social justice legislation. Yet subsequent reinterpretation and misappropriation have curbed more substantive change. With constitutional jurisprudence undergoing a revival, The Promises of Liberty provides a full portrait of the Thirteenth Amendment and its potential for ensuring liberty.

The collection begins with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Brion Davis, who discusses the failure of the Thirteenth Amendment to achieve its framers' objectives. The next piece, by Alexander Tsesis, provides a detailed account of the Amendment's revolutionary character. James M. McPherson, another Pulitzer recipient, recounts the influence of abolitionists on the ratification process, and Paul Finkelman focuses on who freed the slaves and President Lincoln's commitment to ending slavery. Michael Vorenberg revisits the nineteenth century's understanding of freedom and citizenship and the Amendment's surprisingly small role in the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods. William M. Wiecek shows how the Supreme Court's narrow interpretation once rendered the guarantee of freedom nearly illusory, and the collection's third Pulitzer Prize winner, David M. Oshinsky, explains how peonage undermined the prohibition against compulsory service.

Subsequent essays relate the Thirteenth Amendment to congressional authority, hate crimes legislation, the labor movement, and immigrant rights. These chapters analyze unique features of the amendment along with its elusive meanings and affirm its power to reform criminal and immigration law, affirmative action policies, and the protection of civil liberties.
Here are some blurbs:
"The Thirteenth Amendment freeing the slaves was a landmark not only for the Constitution but for American society. Yet its enforcement and application, beyond the simple fact of emancipation, remain a source of both inspiration and disappointment. In this impressive collection of essays, a stellar group of historians and legal scholars address the Amendment's origins and early applications and the tantalizing though frustrated idea that its promise of equality remains to be fulfilled. From the vantage point of history and the law alike, The Promises of Liberty enables an understanding of why the Thirteenth Amendment mattered and why its complex legacy is so challenging to assess." — Jack Rakove, Stanford University, author of The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence and Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America

"Alexander Tsesis has edited a fascinating collection of essays from experts who explain why the Thirteenth Amendment did not fulfill the promises of liberty during Reconstruction and afterward. He provides the most extensive scholarly discussion of the history of the Amendment published in decades. Essays on the application of the Thirteenth Amendment to today's controversies are enlightening and provocative." — Mary Frances Berry, University of Pennsylvania

"These provocative and learned essays restore the Thirteenth Amendment to a central place in the long history of citizenship and freedom in the United States. They demonstrate its continuing relevance to overcoming inequalities in today's society." — Eric Foner, Columbia University, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery