The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Here is the press release:
The Georgetown Center for the Constitution will award its 2021 Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 to Professor Sean Wilentz of Princeton University for his book, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding (Harvard University Press, 2018). Mr. Wilentz will receive the Cooley Prize at an award ceremony in the Spring of 2021. The evening event will also feature the Thomas M. Cooley Judicial Lecture, to be delivered by the Honorable Neomi Rao of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The Center's faculty director, Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett, explained the decision:
Sean Wilentz's timely book strikes at the now-conventional wisdom that the U.S. Constitution endorsed slavery or "property in man." Wilentz describes how the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 propelled a powerful antislavery movement. Wilentz meticulously shows that antislavery forces at the Constitutional Convention successfully resisted slaveholders' persistent efforts to include language that would expressly legitimate the concept of "property in man."
He then traces how the wording of the Declaration and the Constitution were effectively used by an increasingly assertive antislavery movement in the 19th Century. This agitation culminated in the formation of the antislavery Republican Party with a platform consciously designed to implement the Declaration's principles while remaining faithful to the Constitution's text. The victory of the Republican platform at the polls in 1860 immediately triggered Southern secession and the civil war that culminated in the formal amendment that ended slavery in the United States. This is a narrative that all Americans today need to know.
The previous Cooley Prize winners were:
- 2020: Keith Whittington (Princeton) for his book, Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress From the Founding to the Present (Kansas, 2019).
- 2019: Professor Richard Fallon (Harvard) for his book, Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court (Harvard, 2018)
- 2018: Professors Gary Lawson (Boston University) & Guy Seidman (IDC Herzliya—Radzyner School of Law) for their book, A Great Power of Attorney: Understanding the Fiduciary Constitution (Kansas, 2017).
Congratulations to Professor Wilentz. You don't have to wait until 2021 to buy and read his important book!