Anthony Ives’ article has been accepted for publication at Journal of Politics.
Title: Frederick Douglass’s Reform Textualism: An Alternative Jurisprudence Consistent with the Fundamental Purpose of Law
Abstract: Frederick Douglass famously argued that the Constitution was “a glorious liberty document.” More than this, Douglass denied that the document possessed even one proslavery provision. Most contemporary scholars, although arriving at this conclusion from quite varied premises, have suggested that such a position advocates an overly naïve approach to the text. Responding to these critics, I demonstrate that Douglass’s jurisprudence, which I classify as “reform textualism,” is both legally plausible and normatively attractive. This is because Douglass succeeds in grounding his constitutional interpretation in both the text of the Constitution and a defensible philosophy of law. By taking the words of the Preamble seriously and generating a compelling account of the purpose and nature of law, Frederick Douglass presents a textually-grounded, “moral reading” of the Constitution, without recourse to either originalism or the concept of the living constitution.