Paul Finkelman


From 1787 until the Civil War, slavery was probably the single most important economic institution in the United States. On the eve of the Civil War, slave property was worth at least two billion dollars. In the aggregate, the value of all the slaves in the United States exceeded the total value of all the nations railroads or all its factories. Slavery led to two major political compromises of the antebellum period, as well as to the most politically divisive Supreme Court decision in our history. Vast amounts of political and legal energy went into dealing with the institution. It was a central issue at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and remained at the center of much of American politics until after the Civil War. Slavery was the root cause of the Civil War itself, and the eradication of slavery led to the adoption of three constitutional Amendments, which in many ways remade the Constitution. Finally, slavery shaped many of the key decisions of the 19th century and led to the creation of doctrine that continues to affect modern Constitutional law today.