Professor Walter Dellinger discusses slavery and the Constitution

September 10, 2007Duke Law News

Professor Walter E. Dellinger III will reflect on slavery and the U.S. Constitution when he delivers Duke University’s Constitution Day address on Sept. 17. His talk, titled “Slavery, Unenumerated Rights and the Constitution: Reflections on the Summer of 1787” will get underway at 12:15 p.m. in room 3041 at Duke Law School, located at the corner of Science Drive and Towerview Road on Duke’s West Campus.

This event, sponsored by Duke University and the Program in Public Law at Duke Law School, is free and open to the public. Parking is available at the Bryan Center.

Constitution Day celebrates the birthday of, and encourages learning about, the U.S. Constitution. On Sept. 17, 1787, 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting to sign the Constitution.

“I think it’s important on every anniversary of the Constitution to reflect on its defects as well as its glories,” says Dellinger of his choice of topic. “When the Framers left Philadelphia on Sept.17, 1787, they had for the first time committed the whole nation to the enforcement of slavery, leading the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in the 1850's to condemn the Constitution as ‘a covenant with death, an agreement made in hell.’ The Constitution also made commitments to fundamental values that may have sowed the seeds of slavery's destruction. In this respect the Constitution was a document at war with itself, a tension that would require an actual and brutal war to resolve.”

A renowned constitutional scholar, appellate, and Supreme Court advocate, Dellinger served as acting U.S. solicitor general for the Court’s 1996-97 term. From 1993-96 he headed the Office of Legal Counsel, serving as the principal legal adviser to President Clinton. He currently chairs the appellate practice at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.

“Slavery, Unenumerated Rights and the Constitution: Reflections on the Summer of 1787” will be webcast live at

For more information, contact Frances Presma at 613-7248 or