Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress

Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress

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In the 1830s slavery was so deeply entrenched that it could not even be discussed in Congress, which had enacted a "gag rule" to ensure that anti-slavery petitions would be summarily rejected. This stirring book chronicles the parliamentary battle to bring "the peculiar institution" into the national debate, a battle that some historians have called "the Pearl Harbor of the slavery controversy." The campaign to make slavery officially and respectably debatable was waged by John Quincy Adams who spent nine years defying gags, accusations of treason, and assassination threats. In the end he made his case through a combination of cunning and sheer endurance. Telling this story with a brilliant command of detail, Arguing About Slavery endows history with majestic sweep, heroism, and moral weight.

"Dramatic, immediate, intensely readable, fascinating and often moving."--New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679768449
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/1998
Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 619,737
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.23(d)

About the Author

William Lee Miller has taught at Yale University, Smith College, Indiana University, and the University of Virginia, where he is currently Miller Center of Public Affairs Scholar in Ethics and Institutions. He has been an editor and writer on a political magazine, a speechwriter, and a three-term alderman. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Arguing About Slavery, which won the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress.

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Arguing About Slavery : John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book offers an account of the fight in the US House of Representatives from 1835 - 1844 over efforts by Southern legislators to block reception of petitions asking for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The central figure is John Quincy Adams, who had served as President for one term in the 1820s but was back in the House by the 1830s. The fight set the stage for the political battles of the 1840s and 1850s that in turn led up to the Civil War. Beyond the drama of the story, and the colorful leaders Miller depicts, the book offers wonderful insights into the strategies and tactics of the abolitionist movement. This has to be one of the first efforts in American history involving substantial numbers of third party, grassroots advocates -- that is, ordinary citizens organized in support of a goal that would not benefit them directly. The lessons learned in the petition fight have been transmitted through successive generations of advocates working on different causes, and are still useful lessons for those of us working to shape public policies today.
DeputyHeadmistress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well read person, said Miss Charlotte Mason, will be familiar with "Men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, principles for the conduct of life, in fact, practical philosophy, is what the emergencies of the times require us to possess and to be able to communicate."We don't learn these good things in a year, but rather, these qualities "are the gathered harvests of many seasons' sowing of poetry, literature, history."When Miss Mason talked about sowing literature and history, she was referring to putting children in touch with good books. Lucidity, personal conviction, directness- these are some of the qualities we look for when selecting the books for our children to read. We want what Charlotte Mason called 'living books.'One such book is Arguing About Slavery. I knew we had found a living book, one written with that personal conviction which Charlotte [Mason] mentions, when I read this in the introduction:"I discovered the true story told in these pages while I was working onsomething else- on "America's Moral and Intellectual Underpinnings," as Irather grandly put it. I had decided to deal with that subject, not a smallone, by telling stories. When I came across this one, it grabbed me by thecollar, threw me upon the floor, sat upon my chest and insisted on being told."The author is William Lee Miller. He researched the congressional records during the decades prior to 1861, reviewing the discussions, arguments, and fights on the issue of slavery. He shares them here, with plentiful commentary and background research, meticulously documented. His style is riveting, the story fascinating, and his personal conviction clearly evident.Our two oldest girls read it when they were 14 and 16. They were captivated. My eldest made a copybook of quotes from this book alone. MIdway through the 500 pagevolume she had six pages (double sided) of handwritten quotes. She met people in the pages of this book whom she felt she 'knew' and she was eager to find out more about them.The (then) 14 y.o. was also working through the book on her own, making her owncopybook. The two girls planned to share their quotebooks when they weredone, to see if they selected any of the same quotes. Years later, this remains one of their favorite books ever read for school or any other reason. The Head Girl actually wrote a fan letter to the author (we are not fan letter writers in general), and yes, he responded. She still keeps her notebook and refers to it occasionally. This was probably one of the ten most important books we've ever read for school.It is not enough, said my educational mentor, "to teach reasoning, logic, we must have knowledge of character, of principles, of God most of all, because "without knowledge, Reason carries a man into the wilderness and Rebellion joins company."Arguing About Slavery is full of good seed to sow.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miller's book discusses the the breaking of the Gag Rule in the House of Representatives. This rule forbade the discussion of or criticism of slavery. Though we frequently forget that John Quincy Adams was much more than 6th president of the United States, he was also an early opponent of slavery, and served for many years in the house. It was he was instrumental in overturning this house rule. Miller creates a great context to understand the nation and slavery's place in it--the growth of abolitionist movements, both within the church and outside of it, as well as the growing abolitionist press.
EdwCarney More than 1 year ago
This book is engrossing in every way. It is a glimpse into the mechanism of our early Congress as well as a reminder of how divisive the slavery issue was. The culture of the powerful in the Southern slave society is revealed in all its arrogance. It is also a reminder of how important a man John Quincy Adams was, especially in his late career as Congressman Adams. The parallels to contemporary political conflicts are striking, but are merely left to us readers to observe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A decade-long Congressional debate that took place 160 years ago seems an impossible subject to make interesting. Yet William Lee Miller makes it more than merely interesting; rather, 'lively,' 'engaging,' 'inspiring' more accurately describe Miller's work. This story of one man--one good man--standing firmly upon principle at the center of the our antebellum hurricane embracing and speaking simple truth and right stirs the heart and uplifts the soul. This book will be read for generations to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Any lifetime student of Early American History and the War for Southern Independence/War of the Rebellion/Civil War will do him- or herself a great service reading Miller's work illustrating a fascinating chapter in our pre-war history. Especially aggravating was watching hardheaded Southern politicians hurt the 94% of their [non-slaveowning] population for the benefit of 1 in 15 who were slaveowners. By enforcing gags denying discussion of slavery in the House of Representatives, they presented themselves as opponents of Freedom Speech and the Right of Petition - two fo the founding elements in the Original American Republic. The debates of 1836-1844 are a slim or nonexistent chapter in any school textbook. I strongly recommend it as important reading for a well rounded education. While the book is 4-stars; Miller's personal epilogues at the end net 2 stars for promoting overly symplistic, popular assumptions about why this war was really fought. This can be hard reading to anyone well read on the multitude of cultural, moral, religious, political, work ethic differences between the primarily Puritan North and the [Celtic] South. Nonetheless....Buy it! Read it! Scribble lots of notes in it. You'll be referring back to it over and over again. Chris Kelley Seattle, WA Member, Washington Civil War Association