Amidst all the discussion of race on Yale's campus today, I thought that I'd post a short paper on an article that appeared in the Yale Law Journal back in 1921, which argued that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was constitutional. Why Yale professor Allen Johnson argued about that Act seventy years after its passage -- and sixty plus years after it was repealed by Civil War -- is an interesting story. My take is that it was part of the academic re-writing of the history of the eras of slavery and Civil War, which portrayed the south in a positive light. It was part, I argue, of the academic reconciliation between North and South. We're well-familiar with books from academics like Johnson's colleague U.B. Phillips, which argued in essence that slavery was not all that bad, as well as books like Thomas Dixon's The Clansman, which argued that Reconstruction was a period of rule by corrupt former slaves and their Northern allies. But Johnson's article, I argue in the brief paper, is a forgotten piece of the academic defense of the South and it demonstrates that efforts at reconciliation that placed blame on the North are even more wide-spread than we had realized. You can read the paper here.
A while back I wrote about the bookplate to my copy of Allen Johnson's Readings in Recent American Constitutional History, 1876-1926. I have used that bookplate as the illustration of this post.
Update twenty minutes after my initial post: As I have found before when I write about race, there are (very quickly) comments expressing anger that I'd write about race and the legal history of it. I've taken that comment down. If the (as usual anonymous) author wants to engage in a serious discussion, I'll welcome his (I'm guessing) next comment. It's significant that a comment criticizing my article (and suggesting I guess that both Johnson's piece and mine are unimportant and obvious at the same time) would appear within minutes of the posting of this piece. This is great testimony to the continued salience of race and the discussion of race.