|Writing About Race in Nineteenth-Century America:
Literature and Law
Seminar: English 661
Spring 2004 Instructor: Terry Oggel T 7-9:40pm; Anderson 100 Office: Hibbs 348 Office Hours: MW 5-6:00pm Phone: 828-9382
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Texts for Required Reading
Boucicault, Dion. The Octoroon (1859). Feedback, 2002.
Chesnutt, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition (1901). Penguin, 1993.
Chesnutt, Charles W. The Wife of His Youth, and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899).
U of Michigan P, 1968.
Stowe, Harriet B. Dred (1856). Penguin, 2000.
Tourgée, Albion. A Fool’s Errand (1879). Waveland, 1991.
Twain, Mark. Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins (1894). Ed. S. Berger.
On VCU Reserve
Accomando, Christina. “The Regulations of Robbers”: Legal Fictions of Slavery and
Barnes, Albert. An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery (1855). 1969.
Berlin, Ira. Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South. 1992.
Buck, Paul. Road to Reunion: 1865-1900. 1937.
Davis, Mary Kemp. Nat Turner Before the Bar of Judgment: Fictional Treatments of the
Southampton Slave Insurrection. 1999.
Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents. Ed. P. Finkelman. 1997.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) in Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the
United States (U.S. Supreme Court Reports). Vol. 60: 691-795.
Ericson, David F. The Debate Over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in
Antebellum America. 2000.
Finkelman, Paul. Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson.
Genovese, Eugene. A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the
White Christian South. 1998.
----------. The Slaveholders' Dilemma: Freedom and Progress in Southern Conservative
Thought, 1820-1860. 1992.
Harris, Robert J. The Quest for Equality: The Constitution, Congress and the Supreme
Court. 1960. Rpt. 1977.
Holmes, Oliver Wendell. The Common Law (1881). 1963.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of the Brown v. Board of Education and
Black America’s Struggle for Equality. 1987.
Logan, Rayford. The Betrayal of the Negro. 1965.
Logan, Shirley Wilson. “We Are Coming”: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-
Century Black Women. 1999.
McKitrick, Eric L. Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. 1963.
Miller, Loren. The Petitioners: The Story of the Supreme Court of the United States and
the Negro. 1966.
Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Ed. K. Greenberg. 2003.
The Thin Disguise: Turning Point in Negro History. Plessy v. Ferguson: A Documentary
Presentation (1864-1896). Ed. O. Olsen. 1967.
Patterson, James T. Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its
Troubled Legacy. 2001.
Paulson, Ross Evans. Liberty, Equality, and Justice: Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and
the Regulation of Business 1865-1932. 1997.
Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Ed. B. Thomas. 1997.
Ross, F.A. Slavery Ordained of God (1857). 1969.
Sielke, Sabine. Reading Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American
Literature and Culture, 1790-1990. 2002.
Slavery and the Law. Ed. P. Finkelman. 1997.
Stokes, Mason. The Color of Sex: Whiteness, Heterosexuality, and the Fictions of White
Sundquist, Eric. To Wake the Nations. 1993.
With Pen and Voice: A Critical Anthology of Nineteenth-Century African-American
Women. Ed. S. Logan. 1995.
Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitu-
tional Law. Eds. P. Kurland and G. Gasper. Vol. 3 (Dred Scott), Vol. 8 (“Civil Rights
Cases”), Vol. 13 (Plessy).
Supreme Court Reporter (does not go back as far as Dred Scott). Vol. 3 (“The Civil
Rights Cases”), Vol. 16 (Plessy).
Great American Trials. Ed. E. Knappman. 1994.
United States Supreme Court Decisions: An Index. 2nd ed. Ed. N. Guenther. 1983.
United States Reports. Vol. 60 (Dred Scott), Vol. 109 (“The Civil Rights Cases”), Vol.
163 (Plessy). Found in Government Documents microfiche, currently located on the
second floor in Periodicals (call number Ju 6.8). The fiche is in a black metal fiche
cabinet, around the corner to the left behind the service desk. There are microfiche
reader/printers in that room as well.
Blee, Kathleen. Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s. 1991.
For convenience and cost, we will use on-line versions for the texts of the decisions of
the cases we will study. We will access them from LexisNexis, via VCU Libraries
homepage. The LexisNexis text is fundamentally the “United States Supreme Court
Reports” (Lawyers’ Edition) text, though each of the non-electronic versions of U.S.
Supreme Court decisions (available at both VCU and UR) has additional valuable
information not included in the LexisNexis version. Consulting these print forms
would be valuable.
At the University of Richmond law library
Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitu-
tional Law. Eds. P. Kurland and G. Gasper. Vol. 3 (Dred Scott), Vol. 8 (“The Civil
Rights Cases”), Vol. 13 (Plessy).
Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States [“United States
Supreme Court Reports”]. Lawyers’ Edition. Book 15 (Dred Scott), Book 27 (“The
Civil Rights Cases”), Book 41 (Plessy).
Supreme Court Reporter. Vol. 3 (“The Civil Rights Cases”), Vol. 16 (Plessy).
United States Reports…. Vol. 60 (Dred Scott), Vol. 109 (“The Civil Rights Cases”), Vol.
United States Statutes At Large. Fugitive Slave Act, approved 18 Sep 1850 (Vol. IX:
462-465); Kansas-Nebraska Act, approved 30 May 1854 (Vol. X: 277-290); Civil
Rights Act, approved 1 Mar 1875 (Vol. XVIII, pt. 3: 335-337).
Readings in the Philosophy of Law. Ed. John Arthur and William Shaw. 1984.
Printed copies of this Course Description and the Course Outline will be distributed in class. Thet will also be available on my Website, http://www.people.vcu.edu/~toggel/,
where they will be updated during the semester as necessary.
This class, in conjunction with my other class this spring on the same theme, will be connected via e-mail for discussions and for dissemination of information. In effect, we’ll form our own mini-listserv. By e-mail, I’ll forward to you information about Websites concerning people, events and texts that are relevant to our study.
This course will investigate issues of race as they were treated in two modes of writing—legal and literary—during the second half of America’s nineteenth century, the period when the United States moved from slavery through Reconstruction to post-Reconstruction. Selected federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions will be studied and discussed in class, from the Compromise of 1850 and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) to Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and including, among others, the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and three Constitutional Amendments—13 (1865), 14 (1868), and 15 (1870). Alongside these legal texts, prominent literary engagements with race will be examined, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Dred (1856) and Dion Boucicault’s play The Octoroon (1859) to Charles W. Chesnutt’s novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901). Familiarity with Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) is assumed. These two literary texts will be major points of reference throughout the course.
The focus of the course will not be only on individual texts in both modes but also on the interplay between texts in the two modes—the influence of one on the other, or the parallels and analogs between the two modes. For example, imaginative worlds dealing with race after the Compromise of 1850 and its Fugitive Slave Act will be much different than ones before that turning-point—characters and events will reflect this change, as will narratorial tensions and anxieties. As part of this, we will compare law’s use of language with literature’s, asking, What does law try to do? What literature? The idea of duality is an example: during the last half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution to authorize different citizenship rights for individuals on the state and on the national levels. This same theme might be treated imaginatively in literature by tropes in language, with disguises, and with characters of mixed bloods and crossed-genders. Such interaction between the two modes of writing is elsewhere shown by explicit references in literature to specific laws like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854. Among the several legal writings in the course, we will focus on the Dred Scott, “The Civil Rights Cases,” and the Plessy Supreme Court decisions—both the decisions themselves (including concurring and dissenting opinions) and, for Plessy, the briefs filed with the Court for oral arguments, as well.
Speaking of “legal writing”—there’s so much, what does that mean for this course? By “legal writing,” we’ll mean four categories of legal documents: the Constitution and its Amendments; legislation passed by the U.S. Congress [“Statutes”]; decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the arguments leading up to those decisions; and presidential proclamations.
In addition to reading and discussing the required literary and legal texts, students will engage in independent research and writing. There is a good deal of relatively uncharted territory here. For instance, students will be encouraged to pursue intertextuality of a sort opposite to what I suggest above; that is, of the influence of literature on law. Or to consider the possibility that social class might have been used nearly interchangeably with race as a legal and literary determinant, sometimes employed as a camouflage to hide underlying racial prejudice. Or to examine the ways that burgeoning capitalism affected the largely Northern U.S. Supreme Court’s consistently conservative decisions during the period. Or to investigate the striking emphasis on gender in the period: for example, what role(s) did white women play in establishing and enforcing laws and social conventions about race; what role(s) did black women play in “racial uplift”? Or to delve into the extraordinary way organized religion contended with the matter of slavery and its aftermath. As appropriate in a seminar, individual classes will regularly feature student-led discussions and reports on students’ reading and thinking.
At least four major public events of the period (besides the Civil War itself) will also receive attention: Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831), the Mexican War (1846-48); John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry and his trial and execution in 1859; and the Atlanta Cotton Exposition of 1895.
As ancillary events, the course might include two field trips, one to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., for a day’s hearings in early January; and in the spring, a day’s visit to Harper’s Ferry.
Methods, Objectives and Requirements
By way of a reminder: this is one of two courses on the same topic that are involved in this joint enterprise this spring semester—a senior seminar and a graduate seminar. There will be some overlap, with both courses reading some of the same texts, but there will be differences, too, both quantitative and qualitative, with different texts, different assignments, different requirements, and different expectations.
This graduate seminar will begin by studying the U.S. Constitution, paying particular attention to the way it treats race and related issues—property, voting rights, and the like—most importantly in the document itself, not only in the first ten Amendments (“Bill of Rights”). Our work takes off from this—everything we study will be in the context of the Constitution. Besides that document, the legal writings we will study are modifications of the Constitution (Amendments), Acts of Congress made in presumed compliance with it, Supreme Court decisions interpreting and adjudicating all of these, and presidential proclamations. We will study literature within this legal context.
This will be our primary focus—literature in the context of law. To gain a grasp of that context, we will study selected legal writings and touch on their contexts—social, political and military. When we examine legal and literary writings, we will read between the lines, looking for attitudes and predispositions, looking for meanings that are disguised and camouflaged, listening to silences—for what isn’t said. The legal writings are carefully conceived and written—they have social and political purposes and are carefully crafted. Gradually through the semester, we will gain a firmer grasp of both modes and will find ourselves making comparative observations. By this intertextual method, we will become more sophisticated readers of literature and of its interrelatedness with another, contemporary mode of writing and thinking. We will understand the profound role race has had on the development of America in the nineteenth century (and lasting unto today), even when race seems not to be an issue.
For this seminar to succeed, students will need to be prepared for each class and then they will need to participate. Class participation by everyone will be crucial. There will be some lecturing, but the exchange of ideas among students will characterize our meetings. Students will make oral presentations in class; segments of some meetings will be led by students, alone or in groups of two or three. Class attendance is required. Absences are serious. Missed classes must be explained, in advance when possible and promptly afterwards when not. As a policy, missed work cannot be made up.
By about one-third of the way through the semester, students should begin to focus on some aspect of the course’s core topic for their independent research. They will develop this with guidance from the instructor. Students are encouraged to consider a broad range of areas to study. Focusing on literature and race or literature and law and race is fine. Finding other combinations is tempting, too: there are many possibilities, including gender, class, economics, religion, industrialism, politics, immigration, Native Americans, Asians and many others. The literature of the time reflects it all. The only requirement is that the topic correspond to the focus of the course. Toward the end of the semester, class time will be devoted to reports by students on their research and writing. The research paper, around 25 pages excluding notes and the list of works cited, will be the single most important piece of work produced. Papers must be submitted in print form, not online. Late papers will be penalized.
Grades will be determined from the research paper, the oral presentations, exams and quizzes, if any, and, very importantly, from class participation day in and day out.
Unless otherwise noted, assigned readings must be read in toto by the day they are assigned.