Antislavery Constitutionalism and the Problem of Consent
Since the 1950s, when Philip S. Foner prepared the first collected edition of Douglass's works and found that “no commercial publisher or even university press displayed the slightest interest in making available the letters, editorials, and speeches of this man of towering dimensions,” there has been a striking revival of interest in Frederick Douglass. Little of this new attention has been directed toward Douglass's constitutional views; yet they formed a most important difference between Douglass and Lincoln. In 1876, at the unveiling of the Freedman's Monument in Washington, D.C., Douglass said, “To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states.”1 Lincoln, of course, regarded these “supposed” constitutional guarantees as binding.
In June 1861, Douglass noted “with moderate exultation, the change which has taken place recently in the attitude of Mr. Garrison and his friends, in respect to the American Union.” With the outbreak of war, Douglass's onetime mentor came to see virtues in the Constitution and the Union that he had not seen, or at least had not stressed, before—