Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution

"Crisis of the Constitution: Slavery & Secession"


Beginning in the 1830s, leading voices in the South, the foremost being John C. Calhoun, embraced slavery as what they called a “positive good,” and rejected any limits on slavery. These Southerners knew the Founders opposed slavery in principle—and also knew they had taken significant actions, for example with the Northwest Ordinance, to contain the institution and to roll it back wherever possible—but they thought that the Founders were wrong to do so.


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Discussion Questions

  1. In what specific ways did the “positive good” school reject the theory and practice of the American Founders regarding slavery?
  2. How does the new view of slavery and of human nature in the South serve as the foundation for a new view of sovereignty?
  3. On what basis does Abraham Lincoln argue that there is no legal right to secession?

Q & A Session

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Mickey Craig is the William and Berniece Grewcock Professor of Politics and Chairman and Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, where he has been teaching since 1986. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Arkansas State University, and both his Masters of Arts and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School.