Thursday, May 10, 2018

Lahav and Newmyer on the Fugitive Slave Clause in Massachusetts

Alexandra D. Lahav and R. Kent Newmyer, University of Connecticut Law School, have published The Law Wars in Massachusetts, l830-1860: How a Band of Upstart Radical Lawyers Defeated the Forces of Law and Order, and Struck a Blow for Freedom and Equality Under Law online in the American Journal of Legal History:
Benjamin R. Curtis (NYPL)
The article reframes the debate on the period of rebellion against the fugitive slave clause in Massachusetts in the period leading up to the Civil War. Traditionally this story has been framed as a battle between the Christian morality of the Garrisonians and the positivism of the law-and-order conservatives. In fact, there was a third alternative, one that prevailed for a brief time, grounded in legal principles of due process and equality before the law. We show how the radical lawyers confronted and defeated the conservative legal elite, including the likes of Joseph Story, Daniel Webster and Benjamin Robbins Curtis, using legal arguments and a comprehensive litigation strategy. The story we tell has implications for today, when lawyers and scholars debate the power of legal arguments to effect social change.