“First cotton gin” from Harpers Weekly (Library of Congress)

America’s sordid racial story begins with involuntary immigration and slavery. Race-based bondage was enshrined in the country’s legal system at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. At that time, according to Edmund Morgan, Yale’s renowned colonial historian, slavery was considered a “moral anachronism.” The delegates could not have insisted on the abolition of slavery, noted Morgan: “To have done so would have ended the convention.” The young struggling republic faced an ugly choice—a nation with slavery, or no nation at all.


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