Fugitive Slaves: Fighting for Freedom in the Courts

Queens College, Hist. 288 (Law, Crime & Society in U.S. History)

I will teach this course as instructor of record in spring 2021 to 30 students. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the course will be taught fully online.
This course is a section of “Law, Crime, and Society in United States History,” a 200-level course that introduces History majors to the discipline of Legal History. I designed this course on the same premise as my research: courtroom battles over the freedom and rights of accused fugitive slaves cut to the heart of the debates over slavery, property, and citizenship that defined early America, and are vital to understanding the coming of the Civil War. The course will also serve as an introduction to Constitutional History and early American law, and will be of particular interest to students who are interested in how law shapes society (and may be considering law school).
Students will read three contemporary books on slave flight and the underground railroad. They’ll also read excerpts from fugitive slave cases, congressional debates, and legislation. Our weekly synchronous meetings will be entirely discussion based, combining seminar-style discussion of the week’s reading with a close read of relevant primary sources and cases. Between live meetings, students will watch 10-15 minute topical “mini-lectures” I have written and recorded that will introduce them to relevant historical themes, scholarly debates, and legal concepts. Over the course of the semester students will write three papers, which offer them the chance to analyze a case in order to weigh in on the debates that animate American Legal History scholarship.