Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature

Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature

Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature

Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature

Synopsis

Gregg Crane examines the interaction between civic identity and race and justice within American law and literature in this study. He recounts the efforts of literary and legal figures to bring the nation's law in accord with the moral consensus that slavery and racial oppression are evil. Covering such writers as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass, and a range of novelists, poets, philosophers, politicians, lawyers and judges, this original book will revise the relationship between race and nationalism in American literature.

Excerpt

To merit the near religious veneration it has received, the U. S. Constitution has had to represent something different from and better than a democratic majority's power to enact its will. As Edwin Corwin notes in his landmark essay on the higher law background of the Constitution, most Americans have revered the national charter because they believe it to embody universal principles of justice. And despite the obvious and manifold injustices of American history, this “constitutional faith” in Justice Hugo Black's apt term, has not been wholly misplaced. In its various formulations, the higher law conviction that, in Martin Luther King's words, “an unjust law is no law” has had a marked impact on American constitutionalism, inspiring such milestones as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Civil War amendments, the Nineteenth Amendment (women's suffrage), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), theCivil Rights Act of 1964, theVoting Rights Act of 1965, and Romer v. Evans (1996).

To illustrate the ethical basis of the American constitutional system, Chief Justice Earl Warren's 1970 lecture “All Men Are Created Equal” quotes the famous lines from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, in which the “Mother of Exiles” says to theworld, “Givemeyour tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. ” Consistent with the heterogeneous American community suggested by Lazarus's poem, Warren imagines culturally heterodox experience as granting onespecial insight into thenatureof justice. Thus, Justice Benjamin Cardozo's experience as a Jewish-American (knowing “first-hand the evils of discrimination”) enabled him to separate the egalitarian ideals grounding the Constitution from its racist history. In Warren's allusions to Lazarus and Cardozo, we can infer two key aspects of higher law constitutionalism. First, it tends in a cosmopolitan direction, ascribing the discovery of justice to our ability to cross boundaries of identity, which ability, in turn, enables consensual political and social association among . . .

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