852: RARE – “Are the Free Colored Persons reckoned as free white persons?”

852: RARE – “Are the Free Colored Persons reckoned as free white persons?”

While processing a bequest, Special Collections staff came across a first edition secondary school textbook written by Joseph Story, the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard.

Entitled The Constitutional Class Book: Being a brief exposition of the Constitution of the United States, the book is inscribed, “To Jane Sumner, a present from the author.” The book has Jane’s autograph in both the front and back, with a few annotations throughout.

Title page and front paste-down:

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Jane Sumner’s autograph from the back paste-down:

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Jane was the younger sister of Charles Sumner, the abolitionist senator from Massachusetts. The Story and Sumner families were close friends. Jane’s father, Charles Pinckney, had known Joseph Story at Harvard. Born in 1820, Jane died in 1837 following a two-year battle with typhoid fever. Her father wrote that “she was well informed for one of her years.” Encouraged by her brother, Charles, she studied Latin and French.

Growing up in the Sumner family influenced Jane’s thoughts on slavery. In the book, Story explains that in calculating population for representation in the House of Representatives, “three fifths of the [state’s] slaves are added to the number of free persons.” Under this Jane wrote, “Are the free colored persons reckoned as free white persons?”

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Story had avoided race, referring instead to “slaves” and “free persons,” but the fourteen-year-old Sumner, familiar with the growing abolitionist movement, knew there was more to the issue.

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