Skip to content


Annette Gordon-Reed

  • Growing Up with Juneteenth

    June 22, 2020

    An article by Annette Gordon-ReedWhen I was a little girl, in Texas, I thought Juneteenth belonged to us, meaning to the state of Texas generally and to black Texans specifically. In my small town, the story of Gordon Granger, the U.S. Army general who announced, in Galveston, on June 19, 1865, that slavery was over, was told with seriousness and bits of gallows humor. The older people joked that the Emancipation Proclamation had actually been signed two years before, but “the white people” wanted to get a few extra harvest seasons in before they told “the Negroes” about it. My father would say, with a sardonic smile and a short laugh, that it was worse than that: “the slaves have never really been freed.” The jokes played upon several basic truths. The Emancipation Proclamation had, in fact, been signed more than two years before, but its provisions could only be applied in areas controlled by the U.S. Army. Confederate forces in Texas did not surrender until June 2, 1865. Even after Granger’s announcement, many whites in Texas continued to enslave people who had not heard the news. Those who had heard were often forcibly prevented from acting as if any material change had taken place. Freedom had come in legal terms, but the story was not so clear on the ground as it was on paper. Former enslavers unleashed violence upon the people whom they had claimed as property, and others threatened to do so in order to make people work. Amid joy and hope was great malevolence and power. As my father’s jibe suggested, the legacies of slavery still lingered, putting true freedom out of reach. I don’t recall white Texans celebrating Juneteenth. Then again, I wouldn’t know; the holiday was part of the summer, and summer took kids in my home town out of the schools and back into our racially separated communities.

  • Must we allow symbols of racism on public land?

    June 22, 2020

    The police killing of George Floyd sparked widespread protests and reignited efforts across the U.S. to remove Confederate and other statues viewed as symbols of slavery and racism. In several cities, these tributes have been vandalized or torn down by protestors or removed by public officials. A high-profile decision to tear down a famous bronze figure of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., was halted by a court challenge, which was extended indefinitely on Thursday. A 2018 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found there are more than 1,700 monuments to the Confederacy still in public spaces. Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian of U.S. slavery, legal scholar, and member of the Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, spoke with the Gazette about the issue. Gordon-Reed is a professor of history and the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School. She won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her explosive 2008 work, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.”

  • Emancipation Day celebration June 19, 1900

    ‘Juneteenth is a day of reflection of how we as a country and as individuals continue to reckon with slavery’

    June 18, 2020

    Tomiko Brown-Nagin spoke with Harvard Law Today about the history of Juneteenth and its particular relevance more than 150 years later.

  • The Problem of Police Powers for People Living While Black

    June 15, 2020

    An article by Annette Gordon-Reed: A few years back, I was on my way to an appearance at the Brattleboro Literary Festival, in Vermont. My coauthor, Peter S. Onuf, and I had decided to rent a car and drive up from New York, taking the scenic route. The weather was great, and it would be an adventure. Night fell as we drove through Massachusetts, and we were in the middle of a conversation when I noticed lights flashing behind us. Peter saw them too, and immediately pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Perhaps because we were on the highway, and it was dark, the officer came to the passenger side of the car, where I was sitting. He motioned for me to open my window. I complied. He asked if we knew why we had been pulled over, and we were at a total loss. He said Peter had veered over the center line on the road. The problem with that explanation was that there was no line on that stretch of road. There had been some construction, and workers were in the process of putting a new lines down, as we could see looking farther ahead. He asked our names, which we gave. He asked Peter for his license. And then he asked me for my ID. I was sitting there calmly, wearing my seat belt; I doubt seriously that the officer would have asked Peter’s wife, who is white, for her identification under these circumstances. The thing that was unusual about the two of us—and which, I believe, made the officer “suspicious” of us—was that Peter is white and I am black. We were an incongruous couple and had no reason to be together unless we were up to no good. Aside from writing works of history, I teach Criminal Procedure at Harvard Law School. But the intricacies of the law at that moment in the car were the furthest thing from my mind. What mattered was my deep awareness of the raw power of the person who had a gun and who had pulled us over for crossing a line that did not exist.

  • The Coronavirus and the Rise of the States

    May 27, 2020

    In early April, after the Trump administration brushed aside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appeals for ventilators, Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, shipped 140 of the breathing devices to help New York blunt COVID-19. China chipped in with another 1,000. Weeks later, Cuomo sent 400 ventilators to Massachusetts after its governor, Charlie Baker, came close to a public meltdown over federal interference with his efforts to buy medical supplies...In a complete reversal of what has long been the normal crisis or wartime dynamic, action and authority have devolved from the White House to the governor’s mansions during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the states that have emerged as the counterweight to Trumpian dysfunction, a development that has led Trump to rage against the very people confronting the daily doses of death and despair—and the fallout from his incompetence and indifference...In the absence of sane federal policy, moreover, these and other governors have begun working with their neighbors...The hardest-hit Northeastern states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware, followed suit, as did the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. States have established compacts before, on issues ranging from criminal justice to the environment and transportation. But there is likely no historical precedent for states “banding together in the face of inaction by the federal government,” according to constitutional law professor Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard Law. “This situation is not like the drivers of the typical interstate compacts,” Gordon-Reed says. “This is different, as an acute health crisis in which time is of the essence and could have been ameliorated with a coordinated effort.”

  • I. Glenn Cohen

    Professor Glenn Cohen discusses how Harvard Law course can help prepare incoming law students across America

    May 20, 2020

    Harvard Law Today recently spoke by email with Zero-L’s faculty director, Professor I. Glenn Cohen, about the program, the decision to make it available for free to interested American law schools this year, and how he expects it can help them and their students prepare for the fall semester.

  • Preparing to Move On in a Time of Losses

    May 4, 2020

    An article by Annette Gordon-ReedFirst, I want to say how deeply sorry I am about the circumstances that make this type of commencement address necessary. Students in their final year are special. They are on the cusp of finishing a multiyear journey that has inevitably helped transform them in ways anticipated and not. From my own experiences at college and law school, and as a parent of college graduates, I know that senior year can be a time of mixed emotions. I recall being excited about graduating but also slightly alarmed. “They’re going to make us leave!” I joked to my friends as we sat outside on a perfect spring day. Those final weeks of getting ready for graduation—wrapping up classes and making plans for my family to come up for the ceremony—helped ease the tension by forcing me to remember what those years had been about: preparation to move on in life. There is no way to hide from the stark fact that you have been deprived of that preparation. You have missed out on some things that I’m sure most of you were looking forward to greatly: having your parents—for the first time for some of you—get to see the place where you lived and learned, meet your friends and their families in person, and share the pomp and circumstance as you were sent on your way. But the sense of loss is, I suspect, about more than the graduation ceremony.

  • Four black men (Harvard Law's first black graduates)

    Celebrating Black History Month: A look back at historic firsts

    February 24, 2020

    Professors Annette Gordon-Reed, Kenneth Mack and David Wilkins discuss the Harvard Law School's first black graduates and the legacy of African Americans at HLS throughout the years.

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Vision of Equality Was Not All-Inclusive. But It Was Transformative

    February 20, 2020

    An article by Annette Gordon-Reed: Thomas Jefferson began life in a monarchy, under the reign of George II, in one of Britain’s North American colonies—Virginia. In this monarchical system everyone knew his or her place, with little expectation of being able to move very far outside of it. Though the American provincials were not on a par with the aristocrats in the mother country, they had developed their own version of hierarchy. Jefferson, by dint of his family ties, was born at the top, and there would have been no reason to suspect that he would ever come to be associated with the idea of equality. This is especially so given that he was born into a slave society, and his family fully participated in the institution of slavery. From an early age, he would have understood what unequal status meant, with his lifelong involvement in the most extreme version of it as a slave owner. The equality of humankind was simply not an expectation in his world.

  • For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in America. Today most of the sites of this trade are forgotten.

    February 18, 2020

    Sarah Elizabeth Adams was around 5 when her mother was sold to a slave dealer in Lynchburg, Va. The auction took place in the mid-1840s, in the town of Marion, Va. Sallie, as she was called, was herself sold that day, but not with her mother: A man named Thomas Thurman purchased Sallie to take care of his sick wife. Sallie and her family were among the 1.2 million enslaved men, women and children sold in the United States between approximately 1760 and 1860, according to the historian Michael Tadman. After the American Revolution, cotton production grew rapidly, and demand for enslaved workers on the vast plantations of the Deep South intensified...Even well-known sites of slave labor look different when seen through the lens of the auction. When Thomas Jefferson died, on July 4, 1826, the enslaved people he owned at Monticello suddenly faced a perilous future...Spurred on by the pioneering research of Annette Gordon-Reed, Lucia Stanton, Niya Bates and others, Monticello has more fully acknowledged Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as not just the writer of the Declaration of Independence but also an enslaver. At his plantation, the auctions are described in an exhibit, but in downtown Charlottesville, where the second occurred, there is no specific mention of the auction.

  • On GPS: Trump’s impeachment through the lens of history

    December 23, 2019

    Historian Jon Meacham, Harvard Law School Professor Annette Gordon-Reed and CNN Presidential Historian Tim Naftali discuss with Fareed what makes President Trump's impeachment unique to past presidents. Naftali tells Fareed the House withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate has never happened before in an impeachment crisis because this is the first time control of Congress has been split during an impeachment.

  • Nancy Pelosi stands holding the gavel during impeachment vote against President Trump.

    Minow, Gordon-Reed probe what impeachment means and where it leads

    December 19, 2019

    To gain a better understanding of the issues in play following the House impeachment of President Donald Trump, the Harvard Gazette asked faculty and affiliates in history, law, politics, government, psychology, and media to offer their thoughts.

  • Harvard Explores Slavery Connections Further

    November 22, 2019

    President Lawrence S. Bacow emailed the community on November 21 to announce an “initiative on Harvard and the legacy of slavery,” backed by an initial $5 million in funding and overseen by a faculty committee led by Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Paul professor of constitutional law and professor of history. ... Joining Brown-Nagin and Beckert on the presidential committee are: Annette Gordon-Reed, Warren professor of American legal history and professor of history; ... Martha Minow, 300thAnniversary University Professor (former Law School dean);

  • Jefferson’s Doomed Educational Experiment

    November 11, 2019

    A book review by Annette Gordon-Reed: Thomas Jefferson had a severe case of New England envy. Though that region had formed the most consistent bloc of opposition to him and his political party, almost from the beginning of his time on the national stage, he admired many things about the place. First and foremost, he looked with longing toward New England’s system of town meetings, which gathered citizens together to discuss and make decisions about their local communities. Jefferson considered this form of participatory democracy crucial to building and maintaining a healthy republican society. And then there was the region’s profusion of educational institutions. Jefferson admired those as well—even if he did not always agree with what was being taught there. The hard work of democracy, including well-ordered community decision making, required an educated populace. That is why he waged a campaign for a system of publicly supported education in Virginia for many years.

  • The Real Texas

    October 8, 2019

    An article by Annette Gordon-Reed: Andrew J. Torget begins his 2015 book Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800–1850 with the story of five people whose journey into what was then “northern New Spain” effectively captures the origins of what would become the largest of the contiguous states of the American Union. In 1819 “Marian, Richard, and Tivi” escaped from slavery on a plantation in Louisiana, hoping to find freedom in Spanish territory. The following year, James Kirkham, the man who claimed ownership of them, went looking for the escapees, and on his way encountered another Anglo-American, Moses Austin. Austin, a Connecticut-born Missouri transplant, would gain a place in history for getting the first land grant “from Spanish authorities to begin settling American families in Texas”—the name the Spanish had given the region that they had fought to take from the Comanches for over a century. Austin’s task was not just to convince whites to move to Texas. He also had to encourage “the Spanish government…to endorse the enslavement of men and women like Marian, Richard, and Tivi, since American farmers would not abandon the United States if they also had to abandon the labor system that made their cotton fields so profitable.”

  • Andy Boes sitting in Harkness

    Common Knowledge

    August 28, 2019

    Harvard Law School’s new online course Zero-L helps prime incoming students for success

  • How the 1619 Project Came Together

    August 20, 2019

    ...This month is the 400th anniversary of that ship’s arrival. To commemorate this historic moment and its legacy, The New York Times Magazine has dedicated an entire issue and special broadsheet section, out this Sunday, to exploring the history of slavery and mapping the ways in which it has touched nearly every aspect of contemporary life in the United States. The 1619 Project began as an idea pitched by Nikole Hannah-Jones, one of the magazine’s staff writers, during a meeting in January.  ... Those involved knew it was a big task, one that would require the expertise of those who have dedicated their entire lives and careers to studying the nuances of what it means to be a black person in America. Ms. Hannah-Jones invited 18 scholars and historians — including Kellie Jones, a Columbia University art historian and 2016 MacArthur Fellow; Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and history at Harvard; and William Darity, a professor of public policy at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University — to meet with editors and journalists at The Times early this year.

  • Hamilton exhibition promises ‘deeper dive’ into Founding Father’s life

    April 29, 2019

    A week before the public opening of "Hamilton: The Exhibition" -- the brainchild of "Hamilton" composer/lyricist/writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and his team -- exhibition creative director David Korins insisted everything was on schedule. A 360-degree, immersive, football field-sized homage to Alexander Hamilton, the exhibition opened Saturday on Chicago's Northerly Island. It represents a "deeper dive" into the life and times of the Founding Father and first treasury secretary depicted in Miranda's blockbuster musical. ...More than two years in the making, the exhibition is a collaboration between Miranda, Korins, director Thomas Kail, producer Jeffrey Seller and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire with assistance from Yale University historian Joanne Freeman and Harvard Law professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed.

  • notes and comment 3

    Collaboration zone

    April 26, 2019

    Library event provides unique opportunity for faculty-student interaction.

  • ‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ an immersive history lesson beyond the musical

    April 26, 2019

    With its unique blend of music, dance and history lesson, the musical “Hamilton” proved to be something new and innovative for the stage. Now the team behind that mega-hit has created “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” touted as something else new and innovative. ... But does the general public want more Hamilton? That’s the question that will be answered as the exhibit makes its debut in Chicago. ... To bring more depth and an academic accuracy to the museum-quality exhibit, Yale University historian Joanne Freeman and Harvard law professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed served as consultants.

  • The Daily 202: Ralph Northam should read these books to better understand racism, historians say

    February 12, 2019

    Virginia’s Democratic governor declared this weekend that he’s “not going anywhere.” Refusing to resign, the 59-year-old promised to pursue racial equality during the final three years of his term. ... More than a dozen scholars sent suggestions for what the governor should be reading. ... To understand that awful chapter, Ayers recommends Northam looks at “Life in Black and White,” which focuses on Northern Virginia, by Brenda Stevenson. He also suggests “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” by Annette Gordon-Reed. ... Gordon-Reed, a Harvard historian who earned the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for “The Hemingses,” suggests a book by Philip Morgan that might appeal to Northam: “Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake & Lowcountry.”

  • Historians irked by musical ‘Hamilton’ escalate their duel

    February 4, 2019

    Ever since the historical musical “Hamilton” began its march to near-universal infatuation, one group has noticeable withheld its applause — historians. Many academics argue the portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the star of our $10 bills, is a counterfeit. Now they’re escalating their fight. Ishmael Reed, who has been nominated twice for a National Book Award, has chosen to fight fire with fire — collecting his critique of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed show into a play. ... Harvard Law professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who has criticized the show in the past and is offering her historical consultation for the exhibit. She attended a reading of Reed’s play and sounded a hopeful note that both sides can come together. “There’s room for my earlier commentary, Mr. Reed’s take, the grand musical itself, and now a good faith effort to consider the musical’s subject in his real-world historical context— which is what the exhibit Is designed to do,” she said.

  • Tickets Go On Sale February 15 For HAMILTON: THE EXHIBITION

    January 29, 2019

    Hamilton: The Exhibition takes visitors deeper into the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, while at the same time chronicling the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America. ... Hamilton: The Exhibition is a collaboration between Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, creative director and set designer David Korins, producer Jeffrey Seller, orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, and Yale University historian Joanne Freeman. Harvard Law Professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed is also providing historical consultation.

  • What Messages Do Confederate Icons Convey?

    January 28, 2019

    Harvard history professor Annette Gordon-Reed previews a lecture she’s giving in Houston on the impact of Confederate symbols on display in the public square. ... In the audio above, Gordon-Reed tells Houston Matters producer Maggie Martinabout the messages—both explicit and hidden—that Confederate icons convey to the public.

  • Say hello to Remy, Harvard’s cat-in-residence

    January 16, 2019

    ... Remy, an orange tabby, wanders the school in search of patches of sunlight, snuggly boxes, and friendly interactions. He’s wildly popular — a Facebook page dedicated to “Remy the Humanities Cat” has more than 2,500 followers. He was featured in a Harvard Gazette article in the fall that was among the campus news site’s best-read stories of 2018. And he recently was the star of his own Twitter moment. ... Still, not everyone is familiar with Remy. Law professor Annette Gordon-Reed tweeted a photo Tuesday of Remy slinking along a hallway at the law school and said this was the first time she had seen the feline on campus. Remy’s many fans and supporters quickly spoke up to let Gordon-Reed know that the kitty is well-traveled and a Remy appreciation fest promptly began.

  • The Best of Print 2018: America’s Original Sin

    January 2, 2019

    By Annette Gordon-Reed: The documents most closely associated with the creation of the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—present a problem with which Americans have been contending from the country’s beginning: how to reconcile the values espoused in those texts with the United States’ original sin of slavery, the flaw that marred the country’s creation, warped its prospects, and eventually plunged it into civil war. The Declaration of Independence had a specific purpose: to cut the ties between the American colonies and Great Britain and establish a new country that would take its place among the nations of the world. But thanks to the vaulting language of its famous preamble, the document instantly came to mean more than that. Its confident statement that “all men are created equal,” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” put notions of freedom and equality at the heart of the American experiment. Yet it was written by a slave owner, Thomas Jefferson, and released into 13 colonies that all, to one degree or another, allowed slavery.

  • Jan Ellen Lewis, Expert on Jefferson’s Other Family, Dies at 69

    September 6, 2018

    Jan Ellen Lewis, a historian whose fascination with Thomas Jefferson and his family led her to organize a groundbreaking conference to reassess his legacy after DNA testing showed that he had fathered children with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, died on Aug. 28 in Manhattan. She was 69...“The stories that had been told about the women in Jefferson’s life had this almost honeyed, treacly portrayal of his relationship with his daughters and granddaughters,” Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and history at Harvard, said in a telephone interview. “Jan saw there was much more substance to them. Jefferson helped raise them to be his intellectual equals, and he treated them that way.” In her own book “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” published in 1997, Professor Gordon-Reed wrote that there was strong proof of a relationship between Jefferson and Hemings even before the DNA testing.

  • Update on panel’s examination of April arrest

    September 6, 2018

    On April 13, the Cambridge Police Department arrested a Harvard College student, a development that sparked concerns on campus and in the larger community. In the days that followed, then-President Drew Faust sent a message to the community expressing her concern, noting that the student was in obvious distress. She called for a better understanding of how that had happened and whether authorities could have interceded earlier and more effectively. To help ensure that the facts surrounding the arrest are clear and that recommendations are made for the future, a review committee was established, chaired by Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The committee worked through the summer and plans to issue a final report and recommendations this fall. The Gazette spoke with Gordon-Reed about the committee’s activities so far, and its next steps.

  • Sally Hemings Takes Center Stage

    June 19, 2018

    An op-ed by Annette Gordon-Reed. Sally Hemings takes center stage in Monticello on Saturday when the Thomas Jefferson Foundation opens an exhibit in a space where she is said to have lived for some time. Her story is told through the recollections of her son Madison Hemings, the third of four children she and Thomas Jefferson had who lived to adulthood. His memoir, published in an Ohio newspaper in 1873, gives vital information about the Hemings family genealogy, his mother’s life and the course of his own history. As part of a major renovation of the plantation’s southern wing, visitors will for the first time see Sally Hemings depicted as a central figure in life on the mountain.

  • Faust Forms Committee to ‘Review’ Lead-Up to Arrest of Black Student

    May 1, 2018

    University President Drew G. Faust has formed a “review committee” to determine the exact “sequence of events” leading to the forcible arrest of a black undergraduate April 13 and to undertake a “systematic examination” of a wide variety of Harvard policies. “The committee will start by determining the sequence of events leading to the student’s events,” Faust wrote in an email to students Monday. The results of that determination will then "inform a more systematic examination of opportunities for improvement across a range of institutional activities," Faust wrote...Harvard Law School and History professor Annette Gordon-Reed will chair the committee, according to Faust’s email. The group will include six other individuals including professors at the Business School, Kennedy School, Graduate School of Education, and Medical School, as well as a House faculty dean...BLSA has called the incident an instance of police brutality, and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Faust later called the incident “disturbing.” Harvard Law professors Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Dehlia Umunna, who lead the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute, are now legally representing the student.

  • Losing King: Shock, sorrow, anger, and a voice time hasn’t silenced

    April 4, 2018

    Fifty years ago the murder of a Baptist minister turned Civil Rights giant shook the nation. Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn...We asked a group of Harvard scholars to reflect on King’s life, death, and legacy. Historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Henry Louis Gates Jr. recalled where they were when they heard about the assassination...Gordon-Reed, 9 years old in 1968, was with her mother at the home of one her friends “when her son came into the room and told us that King had been assassinated.”...Gordon-Reed said her mother and father “were not surprised” by King’s murder. “It was clear that he was making lots of people angry. The possibility of violence was always present given all that was at stake.”

  • Harvard Chooses Lawrence Bacow as Its Next President

    February 12, 2018

    Harvard University’s next president will be Lawrence S. Bacow, a former president of Tufts University and a top academic officer at M.I.T., who was chosen for his diplomatic and leadership skills at a time when higher education is under fire, the university announced on Sunday...Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard professor of legal history who is known for her scholarship on Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave, said Mr. Bacow was a good choice. “Larry has impressive credentials, numerous ties to Harvard, and from what I know of him, he has great values, including a commitment to diversity,” she said.

  • America Was Built On Slavery (audio)

    January 30, 2018

    The Declaration of Independence doesn’t mince words when it states that “all men are created equal.” And yet the country’s other foundational document – The Constitution – protected the most unequal of institutions in slavery. Harvard Law Professor Annette Gordon-Reed joins us to talk about how America has struggled since its founding to reconcile these conflicting ideas. Her essay “America’s Original Sin” appears in Foreign Affairs magazine.

  • Female Trouble

    January 22, 2018

    A book review by Annette Gordon-Reed. The title of Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her unsuccessful campaign for the presidency, What Happened, has no question mark at the end, although many people around the world might reflexively add one. Clinton’s defeat surprised—stunned—many, including, as is clear from her recollections, Clinton herself. The majority of polls of the likely electorate indicated that she was headed for a nearly certain win, although her prolonged struggle for the Democratic nomination against a wild-haired, septuagenarian socialist from Vermont was a blinking sign of danger ahead. A significant number of voters were in no mood to play it safe, and the safe choice was what Clinton far too confidently offered in both the primaries and the general election.

  • The Fight Over Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Was a Fight for the Future of the United States

    January 3, 2018

    An article by Annette Gordon-Reed. It promised to be a spectacle in a period that had seen its share of them. Three years after the end of a bloody civil war that had sundered the Union, and nearly three years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the government of the United States had triggered the most serious process in the constitutional mechanism: the power of impeachment. On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted along party lines, 126 to 47, to impeach President Andrew Johnson for having committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Days later, a House committee drew up nine articles of impeachment against the 17th president...The confrontation between Johnson and the men who wanted to remove him from office, the so-called Radical Republicans, was a fight over the future direction of the United States; a fight with implications that reverberate to this day.

  • America’s Original Sin

    December 12, 2017

    An article by Annette Gordon-Reed. The documents most closely associated with the creation of the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—present a problem with which Americans have been contending from the country’s beginning: how to reconcile the values espoused in those texts with the United States’ original sin of slavery, the flaw that marred the country’s creation, warped its prospects, and eventually plunged it into civil war.

  • Students taking photo of plaque that recognizes the enslaved people who were integral to the founding of Harvard Law School.


    November 29, 2017

    On a clear, windy afternoon in early September at the opening of its bicentennial observance, Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial on campus.

  • We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates review – on white supremacy

    November 20, 2017

    A book review by Annette Gordon-Reed. It is no surprise that the election of the first black president of the United States would occasion much thinking, writing and talking about the subject of race in America...At the same time, how galling it was for the not insignificant number of white Americans who fervently believed that the US began as a country for white people, and should forever remain so. The president of the United States serves as a symbol of the nation; America’s face and voice to the world. All the reasons why many saw Obama’s election as evidence of the country’s endless capacity for adjustment and renewal, an occasion for pride, were for others evidence of America’s degradation, a source of intolerable shame and anger. Something had to be done. What was done, Ta-Nehisi Coates says in We Were Eight Years in Power, the book of essays that follows his bestselling and influential Between the World and Me, was to seek to erase with extreme prejudice the effects of the country having lived under a black president by electing the man Coates dubs in the book’s final essay “The First White President” (Trump’s “ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power”).

  • Loretta Lynch and Annette Gordon-Reed

    Loretta Lynch and Annette Gordon-Reed: A conversation

    November 2, 2017

    As part of Harvard Law School's bicentennial summit, former Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch ’84 and Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 looked back on their time together at Harvard Law School and discussed their subsequent careers.

  • The Supreme Court: the ‘least dangerous’ branch of government? (audio)

    October 2, 2017

    Today is the opening day of the Supreme Court's fall term. Harvard law and history professor Annette Gordon-Reed is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and this hour in a Chautauqua Lecture she explores the origins, and the evolution, of the nation's highest court. Alexander Hamilton called it "the least dangerous" branch of government. She titled her lecture, "The Supreme Court: Hamilton's vision vs. reality."

  • HLS celebrates its connection to the arts 7

    HLS celebrates connection to the arts

    September 27, 2017

    The Harvard Law School community gathered on Sept. 15 and 16 for a bicentennial festival celebrating HLS in the Arts featuring talks, art, films and performances by HLS faculty, students, staff and alumni.

  • Mike Pence erroneously credits Thomas Jefferson with small government quote

    September 22, 2017

    Vice President Mike Pence defended the diminished role of Washington in the latest health care bill introduced in the Senate by citing ardent anti-Federalist Thomas Jefferson..."Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Government that governs least governs best,’ " Pence said. "I mean, the question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the healthcare needs in your community? Your governor and your state legislature, or a congressman and a president in a far off nation’s capital?" It must be nice to have Jefferson on your side — except Jefferson didn’t say it. "This comes up a lot," said Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard legal history professor who has written extensively about Jefferson.

  • Looking back at the founding of Harvard Law School

    Looking back at the founding of Harvard Law School

    September 13, 2017

    To officially open Harvard Law School’s Bicentennial celebration, a panel of Harvard Law School faculty members gathered on Sept. 5 to discuss the law school’s early history.

  • Harvard Law Unveils Monument to Donor’s Slaves

    September 7, 2017

    ...Law dean John Manning said at a dedication ceremony Tuesday that the law school should be open about its origins and ties to the slave trade. “Our school was founded with wealth generated through the profoundly immoral institution of slavery,”...The text of the plaque was drafted by history and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed, who has written extensively on Thomas Jefferson’s slaves...Gordon-Reed noted during the dedication ceremony on Tuesday that the memorial does not include the names of the slaves whose toil helped fund the law school’s founding, because many of their names are unknown. “The words are designed to invoke all of their spirits and bring them into our minds and our memories with the hope that it will spur us to try to bring to the world what was not give to them: the law’s protection and regard, and justice.” But some slave names were recorded in documents, which were read aloud at the dedication by law professor Janet Halley.

  • “To Be True to Our Complicated History”

    September 7, 2017

    Midway through the list of names was when the crowd fell fully silent. Some 300 people, suddenly pinned in place, stood motionless in a half-circle around the outdoor podium where Janet Halley, Royall professor of law, was reading out the names of slaves who’d once belonged to Isaac Royall Jr., the eighteenth-century sugar-plantation owner whose fortune endowed Halley’s professorship and helped establish Harvard Law School...Inside Wasserstein Hall earlier in the evening, listeners had heard some of that complicated history from Warren visiting professor of American legal history Daniel Coquillette. The author of On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century, he spoke not only about Royall, a brutal slave owner whose plantation in Antigua was notorious (he kept a 500-acre farm in Medford, too), but also about the school’s connections to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793—which most faculty members at the time strongly supported, Coquillette sai...After Coquillette’s remarks—and a panel discussion that followed, with Halley, Warren professor of American legal history Annette Gordon-Reed, Klein professor of law Randall Kennedy, and Schipper professor of law Bruce Mann—audience members filed out into the courtyard to see the new memorial revealed.

  • At Law School, honor for the enslaved

    September 7, 2017

    As part of Harvard University’s efforts to recognize its early ties to slavery, officials yesterday unveiled a memorial to honor the enslaved people whose work helped found Harvard Law School...Recognizing the legacy of slavery at the Law School is important for coming to terms with the past and for reminding future lawyers of their duty to make the legal system wiser and fairer, said John F. Manning, the School’s Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and professor of law...[Annette] Gordon-Reed, who has written extensively about slavery and who drafted the words on the plaque, said the memorial doesn’t contain names because it’s impossible to know the identities of all the Africans the Royalls enslaved in Antigua and Medford, whose work built much of the wealth used to found the Law School...In a touching moment during the ceremony, Janet Halley, the Royall Professor of Law, who has spoken openly about the connections between her chair and slavery, read aloud the names of those enslaved who were found listed in the Royalls’ records.

  • Law School Unveils Slavery Monument, Reflects on History

    September 6, 2017

    Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial dedicated to slaves owned by the Royall family, whose donations helped endow the institution, at an event Tuesday evening. The plaque, which sits on a rock in the plaza between Langdell Hall and the Caspersen Student Center, reads, “In honor of the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of Harvard Law School. May we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory.” University President Drew G. Faust, newly appointed Dean of the Law School John F. Manning, and Law School professors Annette Gordon-Reed and Janet E. Halley each spoke at the dedication...Adrian D. Perkins, a member of the school’s student government, said seeing the monument gave him “profound happiness” as a student leader and African American student. He said the student government is planning a number of ways to address racial concerns on campus this year.

  • Harvard Law School unveils memorial honoring enslaved people who enabled its founding 2

    Harvard Law School unveils memorial honoring enslaved people who enabled its founding

    September 5, 2017

    On Sept. 5, at the opening of its Bicentennial observance, Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial to the enslaved people whose labor helped make possible the founding of the school.

  • Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

    August 28, 2017

    An essay by Annette Gordon-Reed. Sally Hemings has been described as “an enigma,” the enslaved woman who first came to public notice at the turn of the 19th century when James Callender, an enemy of the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, wrote with racist virulence of “SALLY,” who lived at Monticello and had borne children by Jefferson. Hemings came back into the news earlier this year, after the Thomas Jefferson Foundation announced plans to restore a space where Hemings likely resided, for a time, at Monticello.

  • The Differences Between The Founding Fathers And Confederate Leaders (audio)

    August 22, 2017

    An interview with Annette Gordon-Reed. President Trump has asked if the U.S. should take down statues of slave-owning Founding Fathers. Scott Simon speaks with historian Annette Gordon-Reed about their differences from Confederate leaders.