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Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress Hardcover – January 16, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In tracing the growing hostility between North and South over the extension of slavery into the Western territories, Miller (The First Liberty) pays special attention to the so-called gag rule, in force from 1834 to 1844, which blocked discussion of antislavery proposals in the House of Representatives. The central figure in Miller's study is John Quincy Adams, in his second career as U.S. representative from Massachusetts, and his heroic fight for repeal of the gag rule and for the right to petition Congress for the abolition of slavery. The author recounts how the ex-president succeeded in spite of the bitter denunciation of his opponents and a concerted effort in 1842 to have him censured. Miller calls the repeal of the gag rule "the first clear victory over the Slave Power in the United States." He captures the confrontations on the floor of the House and the eloquence of the speakers, in a conflict of words and ideas that would ultimately lead to the Civil War. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Miller (The First Liberty, LJ 2/1/86) covers the great debates in the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1845 on the legality of slavery in the United States. Even though the period is well before the Civil War, the author feels that this battle really began the intense feelings that culminated in the war. He sets the stage for the debate, then intersperses direct quotations from the Congressional Globe and Register of Debates, with the personal beliefs of the participants, the mood and feelings from the various regions or states, as well as his own interpretation of the discussions. Miller ties all this together within a framework of the political climate and writings of the period. He gives an excellent portrayal of the House of Representatives, its makeup, and especially its leadership. His book should be required reading for anyone interested in the slavery issue, as well as the history of the U.S. Congress, since it examines both with exceptional clarity.
W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Technical Univ., Ruston
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 577 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394569229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394569222
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,209,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By I. Gimlet on September 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Arguing About Slavery has a very difficult subject to make live, what William Lee Miller calls the "tedium and sublimity" of republican debate. The historian's duty to be evenhanded even when faced with the moral pit of slavery doesn't make the job any easier. Yet, Miller handles these problems with aplomb and, more, handily succeeds.
At about 500 pages, Arguing About Slavery is concerned with the parliamentary debate and tactics used by pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in the Congress in the 1830's and 40's. It shows how, nearly single handedly, John Quincy Adams insistence on the right to petition exposed the South's determination to controvert the Constitution in its quest to shelter the practice of slavery from congressional criticism. By the time the Congress puts the "gag rule" to rest, Adam's exposé had made abolitionism a powerful and accepted political force in the North.
Miller storytelling skills has the reader discovering the extent of sophistry the pro-slavery forces were willing to go to as they were forced to resort to deeper and deeper hypocrisy. He does this, however, without denigrating the men of the South. Indeed, much of the enjoyment you'll derive from reading Arguing About Slavery will come from the rhetorical skills the Southern Congressmen liberally display throughout.
Although Miller's protagonist is clearly J.Q. Adams, he spends considerable effort on a broad cast of characters, from the original abolitionists and their puritan backgrounds -- the Grimké sisters, Theodore Weld, Elizur Wright, Elijah Lovejoy -- to Adam's allies in the House -- Joshua Giddings, William Slade -- to the pro-slavery giants -- John C.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Thomas P. Cole on February 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book, one that surpassed any expectation I might have had for it. And my expectations were high, because the critics spoke so highly of it when it was released. Still, I doubted whether a decade-long legislative battle could carry my interest for 300+ pages. I was wrong. Every page and character was interesting, and the consistent imagery of John Quincy Adams, in the sunset of his political career, battling the southern foes in Congress on a daily basis is an enduring one. Books like this one should be substituted for the dry history curriculum that I had in high school.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rick Davis on April 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Miller, as all know,is a national treasure. No one I know could have made this subject breathe nearly two centuries later. I wonder if anyone else could have guessed the importance of the subject.

Miller gets in the mind(s) of his (historical) characters better than anyone else. He is always a good read; deep, colorful, poignant. He is a national treasure.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By on December 16, 1997
Format: Hardcover
William Lee Miller, the wonderfully readable historian and author of a number of political history books, here turns his attentian to the United States Congress. His protaganist is John Quincy Adams, (of recent AMISTED fame) fighting the Southern block of congressmen who want to keep petitions for the abolition of slavery off the floor of the House of Representatives. The question of wether Adams will eventually defeat the "Gag Rule" builds from begining to end.
Miller's real strength, however, is his ability to write. He turns what could have been a dry history of congressional politics into a battle for the very soul of the nation. When Adams finnaly wins the battle, in the end, while nearly dying on the floor of congress, you want to stand up and cheer.
This episode of American history has rarely been given more than a line or two from the average college textbook. But by reading this book, you become half convinced this was one of the most momentous occasions in the history of the American nation, and perhaps that is the finist compliment I can give William Lee Miller.
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