Just over a year before sixty white men gathered in Salem to write Oregon’s constitution (on display at the Oregon Historical Society from July 17 to September 3), the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its notorious Dred Scott decision, which held that no black person living in the United States, whether free or enslaved, had the rights of a U.S. citizen. The decision also deemed the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, permitting new U.S. territories and states to leave the question of slavery open to their own voters. The drafters of Oregon’s constitution had tremendous latitude to determine who could immigrate, vote, own property, sue in court, or even control their own labor power.
Kenneth Coleman will discuss the national and regional historical context of the Oregon Constitutional Convention and the ultimate outcome of debates surrounding slavery, racial exclusion, and woman suffrage. He will also consider the meaning of representational democracy in antebellum Oregon, focusing on those Oregonians who had no access to the convention or the right to vote on its final draft, with particular focus on how the state constitution would have affected James D. Saules, a black man who had lived in the region long before most of the constitution’s framers had arrived.
Kenneth Coleman received his master of arts in history from Portland State University and currently resides in Portland, Oregon, where he works as an independent historian, writer, and musician. He left a career in marketing with the intention of studying the philosophy of history but instead became fascinated by the complicated colonial and racial history of the Pacific Northwest. In 2017, Oregon State University Press published his first book, Dangerous Subjects: James D. Saules and the Rise of Black Exclusion in Oregon.
Ability Accommodation Information
This event provides the following accommodations:
- Handicap Accessible