History 233 Reading Guide

The Jacksonian Persuasion:  Abolitionism, Feminism and Jacksonian Politics as Responses to American Society

  • Vincent Gordon Harding, "Wrestling toward the Dawn:  The Afro-American Freedom Movement and the Changing Constitution" Journal of American History 74.3 (1987), 718-739.   JSTOR
  • Ellen Carol Dubois, "Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers:  Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820-1878," Journal of American History 74.3 (1987), 836-863.   JSTOR


NOTE: with most of the readings for this class, we have kept our focus squarely on the eras of the American Revolution and the early National period.  These two articles, written for a commemorative issue of the Journal of American History on the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Constitution of the United States, represent a departure from that pattern, and they give us an opportunity to explore the fruitions of two of the "radical" reinterpretations of the Constitution.

  • In what ways did the African American Freedom movement and the Woman's Movement represent radical reform?
  • To which constitutional principles (or potential principles) did African Americans (the "black freedom movement) and women (primarily, although not entirely, white women in the woman's rights movement) turn to make their case for their full rights as citizens?  How did their strategies change (and remain consistent) over their long (and continuing) efforts to achieve equal rights?
  • Why did these efforts first emerge publicly in the early national period?  How were these conceived as part—albeit an unintentional part—of the "republican" experiment?
  • What is the significance of the "strategic antagonism" between black suffrage and woman suffrage (DuBois, 849)?  What does that tell us about the era, the movements, and the Constitution?
  • Why was the resistance to equality so forceful and enduring?
  • What do these long, persistent, thwarted efforts to transform the Constitution (versus the "intentions" of the Founders and the "interests" of the "keepers of the Constitution") tell us about that document as the foundation of the country?