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Welcome Remarks for "The Trouble with Minna: A Case of Slavery and Emancipation in the Antebellum North"

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased that you could be with us today, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through YouTube.

Before we bring out our today’s speaker, Hendrik Hartog, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up later this month.

On Thursday, April 19, at 7 p.m., we will host the 11th Annual McGowan Forum on Women in Leadership: Women in Foreign Service. A panel of leaders in the diplomatic field will discuss their experiences, explore critical viewpoints, and offer advice to young women entering the field of American foreign service.

The following week, on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m., our program “Remembering Vietnam: Medics, Corpsman, and Nurses” will feature a panel of Vietnam veterans and historians who will recount their experiences and explain the duties of medical personnel in Vietnam.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. Check our website or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

When thinking of slavery and emancipation in the United States, certain assumptions spring to mind. Our first thoughts are probably of the Civil War, the years immediately surrounding it, and the states of the Confederacy. Further consideration brings up the Underground Railroad, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Hendrick Hartog’s new book, The Trouble with Minna, takes us to an unexpected time and place—New Jersey, in 1840. In a period of gradual emancipation in this northern state, the concepts of freedom, rights, and responsibilities were examined and debated.

One court case led Professor Hartog to more fully examine the world in which these people involved lived—an unfamiliar world to us—in which slavery and freedom were not neatly defined.

The documentary record—whether here in the National Archives, in state archives, or in local repositories—makes unfamiliar worlds known to us.  We often speak of “digging” through the records and “unearthing” documents, as if the researcher were on an archaeological expedition. The historian working in an archive IS an explorer, reminding us that there are always new stories to learn and new facets to stories we thought were already told.

Now I will turn over the lectern to today’s guest author.

Hendrik Hartog is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University and a former director of the university's program in American studies. Before coming to Princeton, he taught in the law schools of the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University.

Hartog has spent his scholarly and teaching life working in the social history of American law, studying how broad political and cultural themes have been expressed in ordinary legal conflicts. He has worked in a variety of areas of American legal history as it affects city life, constitutional rights claims, marriage, and inheritance and old age as well as the historiography of legal change.

He is the author of Public Property and Private Power: The Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730–1870 (1983), Man and Wife in America: A History (2000)—cited in the majority opinion in Obergefeld v. Hodges, where the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage as a constitutional right—and Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (2012).

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Hendrick Hartog.