Did the Slaves Author the Thirteenth Amendment? An Essay in Redemptive History

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Publication Date

Summer 1993


American constitutional interpretation is deeply traditionalist, and privileges original intent. The difficulty with thus authorizing the past in interpreting the Thirteenth Amendment is that it purports to abolish custom and tradition as unjust. This essay argues that, given the Amendment’s denunciation of the polity that enacted it as illegitimate, its questionable formal pedigree, and the agency of the slaves in precipitating, defining, and resolving the crisis that enabled it, the slaves have a moral claim to status as its authors. It follows that the original intent guiding interpretation should be that of the slaves themselves.

Publication Title

Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities

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