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Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress Paperback – January 12, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0679768449 ISBN-10: 0679768440

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679768440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679768449
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

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

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.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The Institution of Slavery in the U.S. 2. The Abolitionists 3.
J. Lockie
Here's a few more fascinating and important historical tidbits from the book.
S. J. Snyder
This should be required reading for the student of this period.
chefdevergue

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on October 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book deals with events from 1835 to 1845 and is principally concerned with John Quincy Adams' fight over the House rule which forbad the reception of petitions about slavery. This may seem like a narrow issue to be the subject of a 556 page book, but this book is flawlessly written, and has great humor--exposing the idiocy of the slavery upholders--and at times brought tears to my eyes. A dropback to the stirring events of 1775 and 1776, found on pages 155 to 157, is as good a writing as I have ever seen evoking the sheer drama of those days. This is a nigh flawless book for one as interested as I am in congressional history and the years before the Civil War.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
Miller presents a detailed history of a remarkable period in U.S. Congressional history leading up to the Civil War. Miller describes the battle waged in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by John Quincy Adams, to preserve the right of citizens to petition their government, and his efforts to keep the issue of slavery before the House. I finally saw one of the important effects of the infamous 3/5's rule, which was to create a power imbalance in Congress in which slave holding states dominated the House due to the additional Congressional Reps. they gained by virtue of their large slave populations. It was this imbalance that hindered Congress from a full debate regarding the abolition of slavery. Extremely informative, very well researched and documented, and Miller weaves a witty commentary throughout that is most enjoyable. This is a book that should be read in every high school American History class. It is at times dry (big surprise as Miller details Congressional proceedings) but nonetheless fascinating. I have a new appreciation of the contribution of Adams to the battle against slavery.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David M. Smith on July 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Try discussing the relative role of slavery in the American Civil War, and the discussion will likely turn on its ear quickly, with little generated other than heated words. So often, it seems, we cannot discuss this subject except with anesthetic prose, or highly spirited points of view. Not so with William Lee Miller's Arguing About Slavery. The author, Thomas C. Sorensen Professor Political and Social Thought at the University of Virginia, has crafted a wonderfully expressed story of the battle over slavery in the 1830s and 1840s on the floor of Congress.
To those of us in the late twentieth century, the idea of petitioning to consider a prayer for action, the Constitutional sanctity of the act, and the relative abuse of the privilege by Congressmen both North and South seems the actions of an almost foreign government. The nearly maniacal desire of Congress to avoid any discussion of slavery in toto also seems incredible in light of government today. Using Congressional records to retell the story in the words of the participants, Miller weaves a fascinating tale as forces in the North try to ensure the rights of their petitioners, as well as deal with continued efforts to stop them dead in their tracks.
There are three major areas to the book: the opening of the slavery issues in Congress, with the presentation and fights by Southern radicals to keep any admittance of them from even appearing in Congress, the development and passage of the "gag rule," in which any attempt to place a petition in front of Congress regarding slavery was "gagged," and finally, the story of former President John Quincy Adams in these fights, and his efforts to support the rights of American constituents in these battles.
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Format: Paperback
Long before Sen. Charles Sumner spoke about Bleeding Kansas and was soon thereafter caned on the floor of the Senate by Congressman Preston Brooks, the Congressional waters had ben moving to an ever-higher boil on the slavery issue.

One of the leaders in the battle against slavery was Massachusetts Congressman and former President John Quincy Adams. Earning the sobriquet "Old Man Eloquent" on this issue, in this ever-heating contest, Adams finally got a House gag rule overturned that had prohibited antislavery petitions from the general public from even being discussed.

Adams had been a free-soiler, opposed to the expansion of slavery for many years. But his well-known legal defense of the Amistad defendants moved him beyond free-soiler to abolitionist.

Miller makes Adams fire on the floor Congress come alive, and puts into context.

Much of that context carries through to the 1860s and beyond.

For example, Miller points out that two decades before Lincoln thought of it, Adams opined that Presidentail war powers might be used to abolish slavery during a civil war.

At the same time, Miller reaches further back into history, to point out the early history of slavery in the North. (In the middle 1700s, New York's population may have been as high as 14 percent slave.) That's important to show how Southern arguments and fears that they A. could not do without slavery and B. would not know how to let such a large population go free, were groundless.

Here's a few more fascinating and important historical tidbits from the book.
Read more ›
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Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress
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