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Law of Slavery and Washington College Lecture Topic

On Thursday, Sept. 29, distinguished legal historian Alfred Brophy will deliver the 2011 Hendricks Lecture in Law and History. The topic of Prof. Brophy’s talk is “The Jurisprudence of Slavery, Freedom, and Union at Washington College, 1831-1861.”

The lecture will begin at 3:00 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater, Elrod Commons on the campus of Washington and Lee University. The event is free and open to the public.

In his talk, Prof. Brophy will discuss the ideas about law and constitutionalism at Washington College—and in Lexington more generally — in the thirty years leading into Civil War. He details the shift from Enlightenment ideas about freedom —even if circumscribed by economic reality — to the reluctant embrace of slavery, because it was part of the Constitution.

In contrast with Virginia Military Institute, where pro-slavery and pro-secession ideas were more prevalent, Brophy argues that at Washington College there were a wide range of ideas related to Union, slavery, utility, sentiment, Republicanism, and constitutionalism.  He says Washington College and Lexington emerge as important formulators of the Southern response to changes in the United States in the years leading into Civil War, as Southerners discussed the mandates of jurisprudence and constitutionalism and the future of slavery and Union.

“I’m very excited that Professor Brophy will be delivering this year’s Hendricks lecture,” said W&L law professor and legal history scholar David Millon, who will introduce Prof. Brophy. “Drawing on unexpected and generally overlooked sources, Professor Brophy’s lecture promises to shed interesting and important light on thinking about law, property rights, and slavery at Washington College during the decades leading up to the Civil War.”

Al Brophy is the Judge John J. Parker distinguished professor of law at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 (Oxford University Press, 2002) and Reparations Pro and Con (Oxford University Press 2006), co-author of Integrating Spaces: Property Law and Race (Aspen 2011), and co-editor of Transformations in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Morton Horwitz (Harvard 2009 and 2010). He is completing a study of jurisprudence in the old south, tentatively titled University, Court, and Slave.  It focuses on academics’ writings and those of judges and politicians.  Washington College and VMI loom large in that study.

“I’m extraordinarily honored to be in the company of the three distinguished senior scholars who have delivered the Hendricks lecture in previous years,” said Brophy. “And I’m delighted to have the chance to talk about the extraordinarily rich records at Washington and Lee’s archives, from debates of the literary societies, to landscape art, to graduation addresses, and how we can recover the sophisticated ideas about law and constitutionalism in circulation there.  We can see our country’s struggle over slavery and Union in microcosm in Lexington.  The ideas discussed and promulgated here helped shape our nation’s course.”

The Law and History lecture series was endowed by alumnus Pete Hendricks (’66A, ’69L), who has a private practice in Atlanta specializing in land use zoning and government permitting. A history major himself, Hendricks also endowed the Ollie Crenshaw Prize in History at the University several years ago in honor of his favorite professor.

News Contact:
Peter Jetton
School of Law Director of Communications
(540) 458-8782