Constitution Day Address at Dickinson College: Panel to Discuss Fugitive Slave Law and Immigration Policy

Assessing a Forgotten Legacy

by Kim Flinchbaugh

A panel of experts will deliver Dickinson’s Winfield C. Cook Constitution Day Address, “The Fugitive Slave Law and the Crisis Over Immigration Policy: Assessing a Forgotten Legacy,” on Monday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter (ATS) Auditorium. The event will be available on a video livestream.

The controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Law provoked a bitter national debate over open borders, due process, family separation, federal power and northern states’ rights. A panel of experts will discuss those earlier controversies and assess how they might offer important insights or perspective for the current and increasingly intense debates over Trump Administration immigration policies. Panelists include Richard Blackett of Vanderbilt University, Andrew Delbanco of Columbia University and Judith Giesberg of Villanova University. The panel will be moderated by Professor of History Matthew Pinsker, the Brian Pohanka Chair of Civil War History at Dickinson.

Blackett is Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and the Politics of Freedom and Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Freedom.

Delbanco is the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of several books, including most recently College: What it Was, Is, and Should BeMelville: His World and Work and his forthcoming book, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War, which will be published this fall.

Giesberg is professor of history at Villanova University. She is the author of Civil War Sisterhood: The United States Sanitary Commission and Women’s Politics in TransitionArmy at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home FrontKeystone State in Crisis:  Pennsylvania in the Civil WarEmilie Davis’s Civil War: The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863-1865 and Sex and the Civil War. Currently, Giesberg is directing a digital project, Last Seen:  Finding Family After Slavery, that is collecting, digitizing, and transcribing information from want ads taken out by former enslaved people looking for family members lost to the domestic slave trade.           

In addition to his position in Dickinson’s history department, Pinsker also serves as director of the House Divided Project, an innovative effort to build digital resources on the Civil War era. He is the author of two books: Abraham Lincoln (a volume in the American Presidents Reference Series from Congressional Quarterly Press), and Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home. Pinsker is currently working on a book entitled, Boss Lincoln: The Partisan Life of Abraham Lincoln.

The annual Constitution Day address is endowed through the generosity of Winfield C. Cook, former Dickinson trustee. Each year, the Clarke Forum invites a prominent public figure to campus to speak on a contemporary issue related to the Constitution. The event celebrates the signing of the United States Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, and commemorates Dickinson’s connection to that document, through college-namesake John Dickinson’s participation as an original signer. Previous speakers have included Kenneth Starr, Ira Glasser, Lowell Weicker, Marjorie Rendell, Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Kimberlé Crenshaw.

The event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and the House Divided Project and co-sponsored by the departments of history and American studies and the Program in Policy Studies.

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Published September 16, 2018