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Abstract

This paper examines the debates of the Washington and Graham Literary Societies at Washington College in the 1850s. It has two purposes. The first is to use the debate topics as a gauge of the issues on the minds of Washington College’s students, particularly as they related to slavery and empire. This is part of the growing literature on the intellectual history of the pre-Civil War South and of its connection to slavery, for issues of race and slavery were common in the debates. The second is a more theoretical point. I seek to intervene in the popular constitutionalism literature by showing yet another place that Americans engaged significant constitutional issues. Moreover, the debates reflect that constitutional issues, like Union, were part of a larger matrix of ideas about the economy, nationalism, and race.

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