Dark Bargain Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution

Lawrence Goldstone

Walker & Company



240 Pages


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On September 17, 1787, at the State House in Philadelphia, thirty-nine men from twelve states signed America's Constitution after months of often bitter debate. No issue was of greater concern to the delegates than that of slavery. It resounded through debates on the definition of treason, the disposition of the rich lands west of the Alleghenies, the admission of new states, representation and taxation, the need for a national census, and the very makeup of the legislative and executive branches of the new government. As Lawrence Goldstone makes clear in Dark Bargain, "to a significant and disquieting degree, America's most sacred document was molded and shaped by the most notorious institution in its history." Through the style of narrative history, Goldstone chronicles the daily debates and backroom conferences in inns and taverns through July and August of that summer, revealing how tenuous the document was, and how an agreement between unlikely collaborators got the delegates past their most difficult point.


Praise for Dark Bargain

"What makes Mr. Goldstone's book engaging is that he does not marshal facts to disparage the framers, but to restore the convention—and hence, the constitution—to human proportions. In doing so, he creates a riveting drama, where the outcome of the convention is never certain."—Washington Times
"A thoughtful new study of the framing of the Constitution and of the compromise over the role of slavery in the composition of the new government."—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Dark Bargain is a long-overdue corrective . . . With sound research and a lively style, Goldstone shows there was no such thing as a single 'original intent.' that he does so in such a robust, entertaining and accessible style is an advantage that even the Constitution's drafters would have appreciated."—The Denver Post
"Dark Bargain puts slavery near the heart of the making of the Constitution, where it belongs. Goldstone's narrative is lively and carefully researched, and we learn more than we knew about James Madison and the other 'founding fathers.'"—Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States
"I thought I'd read the Constitution, but this book turns a good, harsh light on the founding documents, not to mention the Founders, who look in these pages to have been a shrewd and self-loving clique."—Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family
"Slavery has always lurked around the periphery of our constitutional history. In this disturbing yet scintillating work of scholarship, Lawrence Goldstone has restored the peculiar institution to its rightful, horrific place at the center. Fascinating and important."—James Grant, author of John Adams: Party of One

Reviews from Goodreads



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Goldstone has written, along with his wife Nancy, several other books including Out of the Flames, The Friar and the Cipher, Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World, and Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Tales.
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  • Lawrence Goldstone

  • Lawrence Goldstone holds a Ph.D. in American Constitutional Studies and is the co-author with his wife, Nancy, of the highly-praised works of narrative history, Out of the Flames and The Friar and the Cipher.