Categories: Legal History Constitutional Law


Schwartz, David

Course Data

Room 3247
MW 4:10pm-5:30pm

Pass/Fail: No

Past Grade Distributions

Course Description

The American Civil War tested, defined and redefined the United States Constitution more deeply, and in more varied ways, than any other episode in U.S. history since the founding itself. This seminar is designed to explore some of the ways in which that statement is true. Each week, we will examine a different topic in which government actors and individuals tested constitutional understandings or limits in the run-up to the Civil War, during the armed conflict, and in the Reconstruction period. Course materials will include primary and secondary historical material and contemporary judicial decisions.

Topics will include: the constitutional status of slavery and constitutional structures designed to protect slave property in the antebellum period; the constitutional arguments for secession; the scope of presidential war powers as asserted by Lincoln (e.g., the blockade of Southern ports, the suspension of habeas corpus); the redefinition of Congressional power by the Republican congresses of 1862-64; the constitutional issues surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation; the Confederate constitution; the state of civil liberties in the north and south; the constitutional questions around readmitting rebellious states into the Union; the post-war Amendments and reconstruction; and others.

Students taking the course to meet the upper level Legal Writing requirement must produce a seminar paper of at least 15 pages and a revision. Students not taking the course to meet this requirement, will have the option of writing a series of short reflection papers in lieu of the longer research paper.

On completion of this course, you should be able to:

1) Understand and explain in your own words, at least 8 major constitutional problems raised by the Civil War (understood to include slavery and secession prior to the outbreak of war, and the Reconstruction period and its aftermath);

2) Demonstrate and contrast, in a clear, concise and analytical way a connection between two of these constitutional problems and current constitutional problems, thinking critically about the difficulty of historical analogy and translation;

3) Formulate an answer to the question “why is race discrimination unconstitutional?” in a way that thinks critically and doesn’t entirely rely on stock answers to that question;

4) Create effective written and oral presentations explaining and analyzing a complex constitutional law/history question, in 3-5 minute (spoken) or 1,000-1,200 word (written) formats;

5) Prepare an in-depth historical analysis of one major constitutional problem raised by the Civil War (understood to include slavery and secession prior to the outbreak of war, and the Reconstruction period and its aftermath) [paper track].

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