This Day in History

May 8, 1858: John Brown and Constitutional Convention

Time Periods: 1850
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, Slavery and Resistance

Major Martin Delany shown as a U.S. Army officer at the end of the Civil War (left) and John Brown portrait by Robert Shetterly (right)

On May 8, 1858, John Brown, Martin Delany, and others gathered for a Constitutional Convention in Chatham, Canada. They adopted a, provisional constitution and ordinances for the people of the United States, the preamble of which began,

Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion . . . . Therefore, we, citizens of the United States and the oppressed people who . . . are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect . . . ordain and establish for ourselves the following provisional constitution and ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives and liberties, and govern our actions.

Read John Brown’s Provisional Constitution.

To learn about more alternative constitutions read America’s Forgotten Constitutions by Robert Tsai.

Teach about the people’s history of Abolitionism with this lesson,  ‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement.