Paul Finkelman

Paul Finkelman is the John E. Murray Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an expert in constitutional history and constitutional law, freedom of religion, the law of slavery, civil liberties and the American Civil War, and legal issues surrounding baseball. He is the author of more than fifty books, and coedits the Ohio University Press series New Approaches to Midwestern Studies.

Listed in: History · Ohio and Regional · Food Studies · Biography · African American Studies · Slavery and Slave Trade · American History · Law · American Civil War · Women’s Studies · Legal History · Literary Studies

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Congress and the People’s Contest · The Conduct of the Civil War
Edited by Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon

The American Civil War was the first ever to be fought with railroads moving troops and the telegraph connecting civilian leadership to commanders in the field. New developments arose at a moment’s notice. As a result, the young nation’s political structure and culture often struggled to keep up. When war began, Congress was not even in session.




In Essentials, Unity · An Economic History of the Grange Movement
By Jenny Bourne · Preface by Paul Finkelman

The Patrons of Husbandry—or the Grange—is the longest-lived US agricultural society and, since its founding shortly after the Civil War, has had immeasurable influence on social change as enacted by ordinary Americans. The Grange sought to relieve the struggles of small farmers by encouraging collaboration. Pathbreaking for its inclusion of women, the Grange is also well known for its association with Gilded Age laws aimed at curbing the monopoly power of railroads.




“When Lincoln took office, in March 1861, the national government had no power to touch slavery in the states where it existed. Lincoln understood this, and said as much in his first inaugural address, noting: ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.’”

“Take ten talented historians of the Civil War era, lock them in a room, and let none of them out until they have said the most enlightening things ever uttered about Abraham Lincoln and emancipation, and the result would be close to what we have in this book. From the perspectives of political, demographic, and legal studies, these essays describe the essential factors in the Lincoln equation that destroyed that great blot on freedom’s escutcheon—human slavery.”

Allen C. Guelzo, author of Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction




Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie · A History of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio
Edited by Paul Finkelman and Roberta Sue Alexander

Explores the many ways that the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has affected the region, the nation, the development of American law, and American politics.

“From the Fugitive Slave Act trials in the 1850s to the draft registration resister trial in the 1980s, political activists have voiced their claims about the most salient issues of the times during their trials in federal courts. While the trial of Eugene Debs is the most well-known example discussed in the book, the stories of all the litigants in these politically charged cases are eloquent testimonies. Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie also provides a close-up view of the role of federal law in addressing social issues, including labor strife, race discrimination, the death penalty, and environmental damage. This book makes a significant contribution to the field of legal history.”

Rebecca E. Zietlow, Charles W. Fornoff Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo College of Law, and author of Enforcing Equality: Congress, the Constitution and the Protection of Individual Rights




During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status—and more importantly the status of slavery within them—paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a draconian fugitive slave law in the Compromise of 1850, but this only exacerbated sectional tensions.

“Anyone looking for a summary of the Compromise and its impact on antebellum politics would be hard-pressed to do better than these two chapters from two of its best and most celebrated historians (Michael Holt and Paul Finkelman).”

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society




In the Shadow of Freedom · The Politics of Slavery in the National Capital
Edited by Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon

Few images of early America were more striking, and jarring, than that of slaves in the capital city of the world’s most important free republic. Black slaves served and sustained the legislators, bureaucrats, jurists, cabinet officials, military leaders, and even the presidents who lived and worked there.

“These articles succeed admirably in emphasizing the irony of slavery’s centrality in what Finkelman terms ‘the seat of power of the world’s most prominent democratic republic.‘”

Journal of American History




The Dred Scott Case · Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law
Edited by David Thomas Konig, Paul Finkelman, and Christopher Alan Bracey

In 1846 two slaves, Dred and Harriet Scott, filed petitions for their freedom in the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. As the first true civil rights case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Dred Scott v. Sandford raised issues that have not been fully resolved despite three amendments to the Constitution and more than a century and a half of litigation.

“(T)hese essays have collectively expanded the context of the case and greatly enriched our understanding of its impact, then and now.… (an) enormously thought-provoking volume.”

Civil War Book Review




Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism · From the Missouri Compromise to the Age of Jackson
Edited by Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon

In 1815 the United States was a proud and confident nation. Its second war with England had come to a successful conclusion, and Americans seemed united as never before. The collapse of the Federalist party left the Jeffersonian Republicans in control of virtually all important governmental offices. This period of harmony—what historians once called the Era of Good Feeling—was not illusory, but it was far from stable.

“The essays are interesting, sophisticated, and nuanced explorations that have new things to say and new ways of thinking about the topics they discuss.… In many of these pieces the authors flesh out our understanding, in others they challenge the usual understanding.”

The Journal of American History




Selected as a 2007 Michigan Notable Book
Winner of Michigan’s State History Award

The History of Michigan Law offers the first serious survey of Michigan's rich legal past. Michigan legislators have played a leading role in developing modern civil rights law, protecting the environment, and assuring the right to counsel for those accused of crimes. Michigan was the first jurisdiction in the English-speaking world to abolish the death penalty.

"From property rights to civil rights, prohibition to abortion, Michigan has been at the center of some of the nation’s greatest legal controversies. With this marvelous collection, editors Paul Finkelman and Martin Hershock shed new light on the state’s complex, contentious legal history. Impeccably researched and engagingly written, the twelve essays collected here represent scholarship at its very best."

Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age




Terrible Swift Sword · The Legacy of John Brown
Edited by Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman

More than two centuries after his birth and almost a century and a half after his death, the legendary life and legacy of John Brown go marching on. Variously deemed martyr, madman, monster, terrorist, and saint, he remains one of the most controversial figures in America’s history. Brown’s actions in Kansas and in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, were major catalysts for the American Civil War, and continue today to evoke praise or condemnation.

“There’s fresh material, fresh perspective, and more.”

Peter Wallenstein, author of Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia