Aaron Hall, University of California, Berkeley
Richard S. Dunn Dissertation Fellow
“Slavery and the Constitutional Sublime: Claiming the Founding in Antebellum America”
Aaron Hall's research examines the transformation of US constitutional culture from the early national period through the Civil War. It analyzes how antebellum Americans invented an authoritative constitutional Founding in the course of fighting over slavery and state power, and it traces the consequences of this investment by living generations in a prescriptive past. At the conjuncture of sectional schisms and a vanishing authorial generation, adversarial publics began to invoke the attributed understandings of constitutional fathers to sanction clashing visions for the national future. From courtrooms and conventions to schoolbooks and mobs, a constitutional culture took hold that relied upon narratives of Founding history - subjectively understood and frequently contested - to govern legal and political possibilities. This constitutionalism structured how full citizens, enslaved people and free people of color provoked, experienced and navigated grave fights over slavery. And it left a legacy that endured long after emancipation and amendment.