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Comments on James Oakes, “The Compromising Expedient”, 17 Cardozo L. Rev. 2057 (1996)


Professor Oakes's excellent paper convincingly characterizes the 1787 Constitution as a reactionary abandonment of the antislavery ethos of the 1776 Revolution that had appeared to set the new country on a course toward the abolition of slavery. "What," he asks, "accounts for the Constitution's failure to promote the cause already pushed so far by the Revolution?" If we could answer this question, we might not only explain the reactionary falling away from the Revolution, but also shed light on the historically parallel phenomena that Oakes identifies at the end of his paper-the abandonment of the emancipatory impulse from the Civil War and the first Reconstruction "by a sustained political reaction" that lasted far longer than the radicalism of the 1860s and the shift in our time from the comparatively lesser achievements of the so-called Second Reconstruction of the 1960s, to a reaction that "has gone on now for a quarter of a century and... shows no signs of slowing down."' Indeed, I would say not only that the reactionary process has not slowed down since 1970, but it has recently gathered new speed in the electoral triumph of the Gingrich-Republican "Contract With America"-which some have called the "Contract on

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