MACON – Mercer University’s Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center for America’s Founding Principles will welcome City University of New York (CUNY) Professor Dr. James Oakes for a lecture on “Dueling Constitutions: The Conflict over Slavery in the Early Republic” in observance of Constitution Day.

Dr. James Oakes
Dr. James Oakes

Dr. Oakes, who serves as chair of humanities and distinguished professor of history, American studies and Africana studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, will speak Sept. 14, 6-7:15 p.m., in the Presidents Dining Room inside the University Center.

“We’re very excited to be hosting one of the country’s leading historians of the early republic,” said Dr. Will Jordan, associate professor of political science and co-director of the McDonald Center. “Professor Oakes’ scholarship is absolutely first rate, and it also has the great benefit of shedding light on some important issues that are widely misunderstood and continue to roil our politics.”

One of the leading historians of 19th-century America, Dr. Oakes has an international reputation for path-breaking scholarship and has tackled the history of the United States from the Revolution through the Civil War.

His early work focused on the South, examining slavery as an economic and social system that shaped Southern life. His pioneering books include The Ruling Race (1982; 2nd ed., 1998), Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (1990), The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007) and Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (2012). The latter two garnered, respectively, the 2008 and 2013 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, an annual award for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War era.

His most recent book, The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution, was published by W.W. Norton in January 2021 and is a finalist for the 2022 Lincoln Prize.

Dr. Oakes earned his bachelor’s degree from Baruch College and master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California–Berkeley. He has been on the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center since 1997 and previously taught at Princeton and Northwestern universities.

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