May 2019 Annual Meeting

Sandy Smith welcomed members and reviewed the Princeton Area League’s achievements and advocacy this year. She noted that we’ve grown to 56 members, while membership in New Jersey has increased 25%. Four new Leagues have been created. LWVNJ is piloting Get Out the Vote (GOTV) for LWVUS, and the League will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.

Sandy Smith, Kathleen Moriarty, Jennifer Howard, and Ellen Kemp were our delegates at the LWVNJ Convention, where our nominee, Ann Armstrong of Somerset, shared the Distinguished Service Award with Peggy Dellinger of Monmouth. Ari Berman was the keynote speaker. His well-received book, Give Us The Ballot, is available in paperback.

The Rita Ludlum Award was presented by Carol Collier, Rita’s daughter, to Madeleine Zullow and Katherine Benjamin, both high school students who emulated Rita in working for the League. We were delighted to have Carol and the parents of our awardees join us. Sandy thanked Kathleen Moriarty for having taken charge of the Rita Ludlum Award project.

The budget, Princeton League Positions, Leadership Committee, and Nominating Committee were approved. (Members received these documents via email prior to the meeting.) Sandy welcomed the new members of the LC: Cindy Gordon, who will take on publicity, and Jeanne Turner, who will organize GOTV.

Sandy thanked Sean Wilentz for giving his time as our speaker and Kip Cherry for inviting him. Sandy also thanked the organizers of the Annual Dinner: Kathleen Moriarty, Nancy Hall, and Ellen Kemp – and Toshi Abe for the sound system and videotaping. Sandy herself deserves tremendous thanks for having done all the paperwork and overseen every detail of the Annual Meeting.

We were honored to have as our guest speaker Sean Wilentz, the George Henry Davis Professor of American History at Princeton University, whose topic was "Slavery and its Opponents at America's Founding." Professor Wilentz’s reputation and topic drew a number of guests to the dinner. Toshi Abe videotaped the talk, and a link to the video will be posted in the near future.

Dr. Wilentz presented his contention, elaborated in his recent book “No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding,” that the Constitution, as ratified in 1788, was less racist and pro-slavery than many have thought. Referring often to colleagues with whom he disagrees, Dr. Wilentz explained that his interpretation is based on the fact that in the Constitution enslaved people were defined legally as “persons” and not property. Because the framers were not about to challenge property law, they were careful not to refer to slaves as property. Nor do the words “slave” or “slavery” appear in the Constitution as ratified in 1788. Thus, although many of the framers were slaveholders themselves, they ensured that slavery was not enshrined in federal law.

Dr. Wilentz traced the history of slavery, acknowledging its influence on the framers of the Constitution. Quakers, in 1688, were the first people anytime and anywhere to question slavery. Until then, from the Greeks and Romans on, slavery had been accepted as something the Lord intended. But it took another 70 years before questioning became action. In 1776, antislavery was a new position, encouraged by Evangelicals, the Enlightenment and changes in economic structure. The first antislavery society appeared in Philadelphia in 1777. In 1783, four Quakers carried an antislavery petition to Nassau Hall, where the Continental Congress was meeting. The petition died in committee. And it wasn’t until 1807 that the slave trade was ended.

But, Dr. Wilentz noted, framers like Madison, though a slaveholder himself, recognized that slavery had to go. A committee man able to control the 55 lawyers in the room, Madison managed to keep slavery out of national law through the careful wording of the three-fifths compromise and other provisions. Dr. Wilentz acknowledged that the compromises over slavery did not please abolitionists and did give slaveholders more power. By counting “three fifths of all other Persons” along with white citizens, the six slave states had disproportionate representation in Congress. Dr. Wilentz also noted that New World slavery was racist, unlike Greek and Roman slavery, and much more cruel. But, he argued, the Constitution did not promote slavery but instead laid the foundation for an antislavery society.