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No Property in Man

No Property in Man

Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding, With a New Preface

Sean Wilentz

ISBN 9780674241428

Publication date: 09/03/2019

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“Wilentz brings a lifetime of learning and a mastery of political history to this brilliant book.”
—David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
A Foreign Affairs Best Book of the Year

Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of slavery. In this essential reconsideration of the creation and legacy of our nation’s founding document, Sean Wilentz reveals the tortured compromises that led the Founders to abide slavery without legitimizing it, a deliberate ambiguity that fractured the nation seventy years later. Contesting the Southern proslavery version of the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass pointed to the framers’ refusal to validate what they called “property in man.” No Property in Man has opened a fresh debate about the political and legal struggles over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Civil War. It drives straight to the heart of the single most contentious issue in all of American history.

“Revealing and passionately argued…[Wilentz] insists that because the framers did not sanction slavery as a matter of principle, the antislavery legacy of the Constitution has been…‘misconstrued’ for over 200 years.”
—Khalil Gibran Muhammad, New York Times

“Wilentz’s careful and insightful analysis helps us understand how Americans who hated slavery, such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could come to see the Constitution as an ally in their struggle.”
—Eric Foner


  • What does Wilentz know that others have gotten so terribly wrong about the founding connection between slavery and racism? In his revealing and passionately argued book, he insists that because the framers did not sanction slavery as a matter of principle, the antislavery legacy of the Constitution has been ‘slighted’ and ‘misconstrued’ for over 200 years.

    —Khalil Gibran Muhammad, New York Times


  • Sean Wilentz is George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous books on American history and politics, including The Rise of American Democracy, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and The Politicians and the Egalitarians, chosen as Best History Book of the Year by Kirkus and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wilentz’s writings on American music have earned him two Grammy nominations and two Deems-Taylor-ASCAP awards.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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