Cover: No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding, from Harvard University PressCover: No Property in Man in HARDCOVER

No Property in Man

Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding

Product Details


$26.95 • £23.95 • €24.95

ISBN 9780674972223

Publication Date: 09/06/2018


368 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures


Add to Cart

Educators: Request an Exam Copy (Learn more)

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

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

Examines the debate over the legal status of enslaved people that began with the writing of the Constitution and continued up to the Civil War—a period in American history in which he finds an important lesson for how to achieve political change in a democracy… No American historian of his generation has written so well on so many different subjects; few even come close.The Nation

Demonstrating that the Constitution both protected slavery and left open the possibility of an antislavery politics, 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, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

Stimulating…draws on letters, speeches and public debates to enlarge our sense of slavery’s political dimension in the founding period.—David S. Reynolds, Wall Street Journal

Wilentz shows what we dearly need to see now as much as ever: that slavery and antislavery were joined at the hip in the American founding, as well as in the tragic history that led to the Civil War. The Constitution possessed fatal complicity with racial slavery but also sowed seeds of its destruction. Wilentz brings a lifetime of learning and a mastery of political history to this brilliant book.—David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Sean Wilentz offers readers a forceful argument, an attentiveness to competing perspectives, an appreciation for nuance and irony, a thorough mastery of pertinent sources, and elegant writing. This is a book that both specialists and generalists will profit from reading.—Randall Kennedy, author of For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law

Like Sherlock Holmes noticing the dog that didn’t bark, Sean Wilentz discerns the revealing absence of a property right in slaves that hardline Southerners failed to secure at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Clearly and without apology, Wilentz explains the framers’ familiar compromises with slavery. But until now no historian has examined the critical concession antislavery delegates refused to make. There would be no constitutional right of property in man.—James Oakes, author of The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War

Was the U.S. Constitution, as the South Carolinian states-man John C. Calhoun believed, a pro-slavery document, or did it, as President Abraham Lincoln argued, deny slavery a place in national law and point toward abolition? Although most Americans outside the academy would assume that Calhoun was wrong and Lincoln right, the contrary view has gained so much ground among academics in recent years that Wilentz’s qualified endorsement of Lincoln’s interpretation is both bracing and brave. Wilentz’s thoroughly researched argument serves as a useful example of solid scholarship and effective writing on a sensitive topic.—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

An insightful account of slavery’s place in United States politics from the nation’s founding to the start of the Civil War. One of the leading political historians of our time, Wilentz draws on his extensive knowledge of the period to give readers fresh insights into historians’ long-running debate over slavery’s place in American politics.—Frank Towers, Labour

Will reshape American thinking on a deep American matter… Goes to the heart of the present-day consternation over the national identity and its history.—Paul Berman, The Tablet

Undeniably enlightening.Kirkus Reviews

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, by Peter Wilson, from Harvard University Press

A Lesson in German Military History with Peter Wilson

In his landmark book Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, acclaimed historian Peter H. Wilson offers a masterful reappraisal of German militarism and warfighting over the last five centuries, leading to the rise of Prussia and the world wars. Below, Wilson answers our questions about this complex history,