Blacks and Rights: A Bittersweet Legacy

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Some antebellum critics of the infamous Dred Scott “blacks have no rights” thesis suggested that this view resulted from a failure to appreciate that the humanity of blacks bestowed rights on them too. One plausible explanation for why many defenders of slavery and black subordination rejected this argument, which I shall develop in this paper, is that the prevailing political ideology of antebellum America contained a substantive conception of rights possession as well as well–entrenched allegations of black inferiority that were exploited to render the “blacks have no rights” thesis conceptually unproblematic. Elucidating the logic of arguments for and against the ‘blacks have no rights’ thesis will contribute to a broader understanding of the bittersweet legacy of rights discourse in American political thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-439
Number of pages20
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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