GLC: “Sex, Antislavery, and Commerce: The Making of American Human Rights”

Event time: 
Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - 5:30pm
230 Prospect St, Room 101 See map
Event description: 

GLC-sponsored Paper Discussion, Amy Dru Stanley (Assoc. Prof., History, Univ. of Chicago) 4:00—5:30pm, 230 Prospect St, Room 101

“Sex, Antislavery, and Commerce: The Making of American Human Rights”

                This paper focuses on wrongs of sex, illuminating the relationship between the limits of the Thirteenth Amendment and the reach of the Commerce Clause. For more than a century, it has been the commerce power rather than the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments that Congress has invoked in legislating against women’s subjection—from the ban on white slave trafficking to the ban on violence against women—making the flow of trade a source of protection against violations of free will and invasions of the body. This paper traces the path of the law that has linked the rights of persons to commercial exchange. It examines the limits of antislavery constitutionalism and the consequent legal and moral perplexities posed by acts of Congress that connect human wellbeing to traffic in commodities across the borders of states.  It argues that the rules of the market economy have come to penetrate ever more deeply into social existence, and the antislavery distinction between persons and things has eroded—but perversely for ostensibly emancipatory ends. The paper is part of a forthcoming book, “From Slave Emancipation to the Commerce Power: An American History of Human Rights” (Harvard University Press), and a version of it will appear in Sven Beckert and Chris Desan, eds., “American Capitalism: New Histories.”