Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



College professors in the nineteenth-century South lavished a great deal of attention on the issues of slavery and constitutionalism, and they paid careful attention to the connections between these issues and the idea of natural rights. In this dissertation I offer an analysis of the lives and writings of three generations of college professors in nineteenth-century Virginia, focusing especially on St. George Tucker and his descendants. As a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and as a delegate to the Annapolis convention, Tucker can rightly be considered as one of the founding fathers. But he is best known for inaugurating the academic discourse on the issues of slavery and constitutionalism in his capacity as professor of law at the College of William and Mary. His sons, Henry and Beverley Tucker, and his grandson John Randolph Tucker kept this academic tradition alive. Members of the Tucker family continuously espoused a modern theory of natural rights based upon a contractual understanding of how people come to exist in society. By the 1850s, however, some professors such as George Frederick Holmes had abandoned the philosophy of modern natural rights in favor of a re-articulation of classic or ancient natural right: a non-contractual conception of the right to rule. This recovery made possible the “positive good” defense of slavery, but it put a strain upon the orthodox theory of constitutional interpretation that had been at the center of Virginian political thought. This dissertation examines how the Tuckers and others strove to keep the philosophy of the founding generation alive throughout the various political upheavals of the nineteenth century.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

William J. Cooper Jr.



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History Commons