Sunday, December 4, 2016

In His Own Words, John Quincy Adams on Slavery

John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery, Selections from the Diary by David Waldstreicher and Matthew Mason traces Adams' evolving understanding of slavery, drawing from Adams diary.

After serving as president Adams' home state of Massachusetts elected him to the House of Representatives. Adams remained in the House until his death. Adams never shirked the call to serve his country. He was a diplomat, Senator, Secretary of State, and President. Adams literately died on the floor of the House.

Adams, like his parents, believed slaves must be freed, but how that was to be accomplished, and the intensity of his personal commitment to ending slavery, evolved over his lifetime. It was not until late in his life that he took up the cause in earnest, battling a government controlled by the South and the Gag Rule that banned any petition for abolition to be presented in the House.

The book consists of diary extracts with commentary from the authors providing a framework to understand their context.

The issue of slavery was problematic since the inception of America. Removing Jefferson's clause on slavery from the Constitution may have allowed the States to unite, but the "United States" only came after the Civil War and the adoption of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Adams' career was spanned these two pivotal events.

The diary reveals both his aversion to slavery and his aversion to pressing the issue. He believed that the Abolitionists demand was too radical. He agonized that the divide over slavery would bring an end to the American experiment through war; he thought that the disbanding of the country and reforming under a new Constitution a better option. Slaves were property, and the Constitution defended personal property--a huge stumbling block. The flaw, he felt, was in the Constitution itself.

How would the slave owners be compensated? And what did the country do with the freedmen? He discredited the idea of buying up land in Africa and deporting all people of color back to their 'homeland.' Did America want to have colonies, after it had rejected being a colony? And he felt it was wrong to deport free blacks who were citizens of this country. (Although many wanted to get rid of freedmen, they were such a problem.)

Adams fought against allowing new slave states without a balance of non-slave states and contended against Britain's desire to search American ships for contraband slaves as allowing foreign countries legal authority over Americans.

The Electoral College was established to balance power between the populous Northern industrial states and the rural South with its large slave population. During Adams tenure in the House, the South, and slave owners, was in control of government.

It was impressed on me how the issues Adams grappled with have never been really solved in America. We still have racism and prejudice, our country still is threatened to be torn apart over sectional, regional and class differences. I hope to God that a Gag Rule is never again enacted against free speech.

Adams was in his upper seventies and still working day and night, praying for self control, searching to understand how to bridge the gap between Constitutional law and God's will for the freedom of the enslaved. I felt his pain, his anguish, and the burden of the legacy of behind being an Adams--a man appointed by God, his parents, and his own self imposed high standards to make a mark in history. He knew he would not live to see the end of slavery, but like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, believed he was preparing the road for the work of those who would come after him.

The Introduction was wonderful, and I was excited to get reading. It took me some time to get used to the book's format and to get a feel for Adams' style. For a while I wasn't sure I would finish the book. But as events precipitated during the 2016 election I felt the subject's relevance and was motivated to finish the book. So very glad I did not give up. I commend the authors for the huge undertaking of tackling Adams' massive diary to pull together this narrative that illumines Adams, his time, and an important part of American history.

Read John Quincy Adams diary at

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery
by David Waldstreicher and Matthew Mason
Oxford University Press
Publication Dec. 1, 2016
$29.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9780199947959
If you follow my blog you know I have a special interest in John Quincy Adams. My education on American presidents started with my reading over a dozen books on the presidents while making The President's Quilt.
Louise Catherine Adams
Remember the Ladies
by Nancy A Bekofske
I read more books on their wives while designing and creating Remember the Ladies, my Redwork quilt on the First Ladies. I was very interested in learning more about Louisa Catherine Adams, John Quincy's wife, and jumped at the change to read and review her biography The Other Mrs. Adams by Margery M. Heffron, which I reviewed here.

And as I was finishing Heffron's book I accepted the challenge of making a John Quincy quilt for The Presidents Quilt project organized by Sue Reich. As I designed the quilt I read another half dozen books on Adams! My John Quincy Adams and Remember the Ladies quilts appears in Reich's book Presidential and Patriotic Quilts and it has been touring the country for over a year now! Read about the book at

John Quincy Adams by Nancy A Bekofske
Read my review of The Remarkable Life of John Quincy Adams at
Read about JQA push for the Smithsonian Institute in my review of The Stranger and the Statesman at
Read about the annexation of Texas and the Gag Rule in America 1844 at

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