Aaron R Hall

PhD Candidate

North America

My dissertation examines the transformation of U.S. constitutional culture from the early national period through the Civil War. It analyzes how antebellum Americans invented an authoritative constitutional Founding in the course of fighting over slavery and state power, and it traces the consequences of this investment by living generations in a prescriptive past. At the conjuncture of sectional schisms and a vanishing authorial generation, adversarial publics began to invoke ascribed understandings of constitutional fathers to sanction clashing visions for the national future. From courtrooms and conventions to schoolbooks and mobs, a constitutional culture took hold that relied upon narratives of Founding history—subjectively understood and frequently contested—to govern legal and political possibilities. This constitutionalism structured how full citizens, enslaved people and free people of color provoked, experienced and navigated grave fights over slavery. And it left a legacy that endured long after emancipation and amendment.

I am also developing a second project that studies American slavery as a form of governance. To this end, my research considers how slavery provided an instrument of state power and defining state interest, how enslaved people experienced layers of authority surrounding, and how public power constructed the ostensibly private plantation.

Research Interests

  • Slavery
  • Race and the Law
  • Constitutional History
  • Legal History
  • State Formation and Statecraft
  • History of Capitalism
  • Political Culture
  • Labor History
  • Environmental History
  • Southern History
  • Law and Society
  • American Political Development


"Slaves of the State: Infrastructure and Governance through Slavery in the Antebellum South," Journal of American History (forthcoming).

"Reframing the Fathers' Constitution: The Centralized State and Centrality of Slavery in the Confederate Constitutional Order," Journal of Southern History, Volume 83:2 (May 2017), 255-96.

"Class Jurisprudes: Free Labor Ideology and For-Profit Penal Labor in Gilded Age Courts," Law & Social Inquiry, Volume 43:3 (Summer 2018), 678-705.

"Public Slaves and State Engineers: Modern Statecraft on Louisiana's Waterways, 1831-1861," Journal of Southern History (forthcoming)

"'Plant Yourselves on its Primal Granite': Slavery, Public History and the Antebellum Roots of Originalism," Law and History Review (forthcoming)

Select Fellowships

Samuel I. Golieb Fellowship in Legal History, New York University School of Law, 2018-2019

Richard S. Dunn Dissertation Fellowship, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 2017-18

Gilder Lehrman Institute Research Fellowship, 2016