The Confluence of Law and Antebellum Black Literature

Andrea L. McArdle

CUNY School of Law

Law & Literature, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 183, 2005

This article argues that the acculturation of black Bostonians to the rhetoric of the law during the Revolutionary era was constitutive and sustaining. This article examines how three pivotal Boston-based antebellum authors—Prince Hall, David Walker, and Maria Stewart appropriated the rhetoric of legal pleading used in Revolutionary-era government petitions and freedom suits (petitioning for redress of grievances, closely analyzing precedential texts, distilling ideas into reasoned arguments, adding factual proof, the pointed use of narrative and interrogative mode) to produce a literature of complaint and rights-assertion. The central premise of the article is that antebellum black texts used these lawyerly discursive practices ironically, as an empowering move, to draw attention to the disparity between the rhetoric of rights and actual practice. Because these "lawyers' words" called upon the authority and salience of the law as a source of rights in the process of claiming rights, lawyerly discourse served as a sustaining strategy of empowerment for black people, and captured the sense of irony in their experience.

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Date posted: August 27, 2007  

Suggested Citation

McArdle, Andrea L., The Confluence of Law and Antebellum Black Literature. Law & Literature, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 183, 2005 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1005541

Contact Information

Andrea L. McArdle (Contact Author)
CUNY School of Law ( email )
2 Court Square
Room 4/309
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States
(718) 340-4348 (Phone)
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