Nathan Dane (b. 1752, d. 1835) was a Massachusetts attorney and delegate to the Continental Congress who helped draft the Northwest Ordinance of 1787; he inserted the clause that prohibited slavery from being introduced into the region now covered by Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the northeastern part of Minnesota. Soon thereafter, Dane was a critical player in the ratification of the United States Constitution in the states of Massachusetts and New York. He later served as a Massachusetts state legislator, and wrote a lengthy legal treatise titled "General Abridgement and Digest of American Law." He donated the proceeds from that treatise to help establish Harvard Law School, which used to be known as Dane Law School. His other lengthy treatise, titled "A Moral and Political Survey of America," has not yet been published.Filling six volumes and 3500 pages, Dane's unpublished treatise was written over the course of about 50 years, and it has been described as, "arguably the first broad-based national history from English and Spanish colonization through the end of the War of Independence." According to one biographer, "The 'Survey' evinces unquestionably great research, and comprehends a vast amount of information; but it is marked with the same neglect of style which is so obvious in Mr. Dane's other writings." A 1914 newspaper advertisement for the unpublished manuscript emphasized that it presents information about Native Americans' point of view, because Dane was concerned that, "We have all our accounts of Indian Affairs from only one side — from white men only."
The objects of his unpublished treatise, as described by Dane, were as follows:
First, to bring into view the moral and political principles of the various parts of America, from its discovery by Columbus in 1492, to the establishment of the Federal Constitution in 1790; tracing those of civilized America to their true sources in the old world; making Federal America the principal object: Secondly, to form a just idea of the moral and political condition and character of men here in the same period: Thirdly, useful reflections, on proper occasions, especially in regard to that character and those principles of law and liberty, on which has arisen a great and enlightened nation, in United America—principles most essential to the preservation of its present condition: Fourthly, to do a little towards preserving in our country, a manly moral character—"a moral regulated liberty"—where this character and this wise union of law and liberty, are so very important, and where a vicious character and licentious liberty would soon destroy self-government.
Working in cooperation with Special Collections at Wellesley College, our staff and advisors helped bring this informative treatise back from obscurity by contributing hundreds of dollars to digitize the treatise, which was completed in 2010.
Last Updated June 21, 2011.