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tv   Book Discussion on John Quincy Adams  CSPAN  April 24, 2016 7:30pm-8:16pm EDT

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>> battle happens next on c-span2's booktv. first up, james traub with a look at john quincy adams. >> james traub is a contributing writer for the "new york times" magazine where he has worked since 1998, and is a regular columnist for foreign his books include the best intentions, kofi annan, and the u.n. in the era of american world power. the devil's playground, a century of pleasure and profit in times square. city on a hill, and the freedom agenda. in his review of "john quincy
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adams: militant spirit," sean, the author of the rise of american democracy, wrote -- sorry. james traub's new blog of the of john quincy adams is especially strong. adams was a complicated he wrote, a patrician, visionary but also a militant spirit. one of the most important diplomats in all of american history here can finally slavery's greatest enemy in american politics. he does justice to both the man and his time, but the historian complexity and the right i forgot in detail. after his talk and question and answer, if we have time, mr. traub will be signing copies of his book one level up outside
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the national archives store. please welcome james traub to the national archives. [applause] >> thank you very much for that introduction. so when i was coming here this morning and i was taking a taxi to penn station in new york, every bus i passed had a giant sign on the side that said hamilton. and so naturally i thought, well, what if lynn manual, the producer and writer of the star of the show came to me and said, jim, i've done hamilton hip-hop thing, what do you got for me with john quincy adams? so i thought i need to have a story to tell.
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this is the first book event i've done from the books i'm going to tell you the story that i would tell them if he ever came to me to ask. so on saturday january 21, 1842, john quincy adams was in 74 years old from the former president of the united states, the former secretary of state, a former senator and diplomat, and now a member of the u.s. house of representatives of massachusetts decided to provoke a confrontation with the slaveholders who dominate the congress. the previous seven years adams waged a solitary struggle to protect the right of citizens to petition congress for an end to slavery or to the slave trade. that righ wright was guaranteedy the constitution but slaveholders resolutely unwilling to allow the peculiar institution to become a matter of public debate past was not as
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a gag order to prevent such petitions from being presented. every year, adams and a few others have presented such petitions. and every year the slaveholders and allies among the three states passed a new gag order. and once again in december 1841, the beginning of the term of congress the gag had been passed. once again adams had insisted on testing it by bringing one of addition after another to the floor of the house under the pretext they did not technically fall within the compass of the gag order. he presented a particularly exacerbating such petition, and the slaveholders finally lost all patience. the abolitionist theodore dwight weld wrote to his wife to describe that scene that moment, which i will now read a little excerpt from. the rights, why of virginia,
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north carolina, deputy johnson of maryland and scores more of slaveholders striving constantly to stop him by starting questions of order and every now and then screaming at the top of their voices, that is false, i demand, mr. speaker, that you putting down. what are we to center and to enter such insults? i demand you shut them out. that teach a sense of the temper of congress in those days. a perfect uproar like babel worst forth every two or three minutes as mr. a was as bold surgery would smite his cleaver into the very bones. at least half of the slaveholding members of the house left their seats and gathered in a quarter of the hall where \mr.{-|}\mister a stood. whenever any of them broke, mr. a would say i see where the shoe pinches, mr. speaker. nipple pinch more yet.
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they will fight hard to digest. if i get through every slaveholder, slave trader and slave breeder on this floor, will not get mentors for bitter reflection it shall be no fault of mine. on monday the 23rd, adams picked up where he left off, i've been reading one anti-slavery petition after another. this time the speaker ordered him to his chair adams refused, kept on his feet hours on end. his fear allies, putting the anti-slavery champion joshua giddings of ohio gather protectively by his side. the leaders of the slave factions got up from their seats to hover nearby less they miss the work of the old man's increasingly collaborate voice and also throw insults at him as
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weld have described. now that installed another page from a sheaf of papers that he held close to his chest. and he turned to the speaker and he said the following. he said, i hold in my hand the memorial, which uses a petition, of benjamin emerson and 45 other citizens in the state of massachusetts, prayed in congress to adopt immediate measures for the peaceful dissolution of the union of these states. the petitioners no longer wished to see the resources of the free states drained, as they put it, for the benefit of the slave states. well, the slave hocrisy which is a word adams used to describe those people, have been waiting
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for and sufficient provocation to move against adams. adams has now provided it. henry wise of virginia now rose to propose a resolution to censure the former president. every great punishment. adams replied good, and you should think about that word. he said could, he wasn't thinking about the trial trial s convicted wasn't thinking about the problems of being century. it was a war he thought and he had gained and he looked forward to it. in his uproar the house then adjourned. let me back up a little bit and explain how adams had come to this point it is quite extraordinary career. so like virtually all new englanders, adams was profoundly opposed to slavery and
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considered it a gross violation both of american republic principles and of christian principles as well. let he also considered slavery to be in effect a settled issue. the constitution had been silent on it. states were free to do as they wish. it was essentially nothing that the federal government could do, or from adam's point of view, should do about slavery. his views only began to change in 1820. 1820 was the era of what we now call the missouri compromise. what happened then was there within 22 states, 11 free and 11 slaves, and missouri petitioned to gain entry into the union as a free state. ms. rivas far enough north that there was a strong case to be made that it should entered as a freaky because all the other free states were at that latitude north. at a tremendous debate broke out in the congress, and adams was
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second at the state. he had no place in that debate, but he watched that debate. he thought the debate was being dominated by southerners get many highly regarded, eloquent speakers, and he was deeply frustrating to me. he wished that he could speak but he couldn't. instead he raised the issue in cabinet. the cabinet of that time consisted almost of slaveholders. adams was slapped down. afterwards he took a walk down pennsylvania avenue, probably only a few blocks from where are today come with john calhoun who was secretary for. john dalrymple going to become the great intellectual justifier of slavery, but adams had a lot of regard to compensate veterans at the time considered housing to be per person of tremendous integrity to adams continue to talk as was his want and calhoun
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listen and said we know those are very noble principles but from where i come from we think those pencils only apply to what people. not to black people. and adams went home that night the adams had a diary to he kept a diary every day of his life. quite excellent very. a great resource for some in my position. he would write and sometimes almost verbatim conversations that happened that day if he thought they were important so he went back home. at some point began to write. and he was thinking about the fact that a man as gifted as calhoun who he admires so much good since you hold views that adams found repellent at least to them self-evidently false. there was a larger truth in thisconvoy that had to present itself to adams until now. transcribing his train of
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thought as he came to him, adams wrote that the practice of slavery taint the very sources of moral principle, perverts human reason and reduces men endowed with logical powers to maintain that slavery is sanctioned by the christian religion. the impression produced upon my mind by the progress of this discussion is that a bargain between freedom and slavery contained in the constitution of the united states is morally and politically vicious. this was an astonishing conclusion for a man who had been raised on the earliest moment of consciousness to regard -- as the supreme productive of his career as a diplomat and as a politician to defending the integrity of the united states against foreign and domestic threats. adams was a broken conservative who feared at a board revolution of people, yet give reasoned himself into a position that was
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too honest to reasoned himself out of. later that year when negotiations over missouri continued, the state legislature passed a law that banned free people of color from the state. literally said even if you are a free person you cannot come into the state if you are a person of color. and this enraged adams. and i think maybe a kind of burst the last states that were holding in his feelings. he saw this as a provocation to the free states of course but also to the very cause of human freedom. and a friend of his, a colleague, came to talk to about it. adams in his diary records what he said to this man. and i will read you just little piece of this, quite astonishing. so thinking about the slaves and, indeed, thinking about not
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just in sleep but racism the way that i think is surprising for a man from his place who didn't know any black people. the only one scene they were service and get it was an act of sympathy he understood. this is what he wrote. weak and defenseless as they are, so much the more sacred is the obligation of the legislatures of the states to which they belong to defend their lawful rights. i would defend them should the dissolution of the union be the consequence. for it would not be the defense, it will be the violation of the rights to which all the consequences would be impeachable. and if the dissolution of the union must, let it come from the other pause than this. if slavery be the destiny sword in hand of the destroying angel, which is to sever the ties of the union, that same sword will cut him asunder the bonds of slavery itself.
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a dissolution of the union for the cause of slavery would be followed by a servile war in the slaveholding states, combined with a war between the two separate portions of the union. it seems to me that it's result must be the slavery from this whole continent, and calamitous and desolating as this course of events and its progress must be, so glorious be its final issue that as god shall judge me, i dare not say that it can be denied. so that was adams in 1820 riding to himself, not speaking to anybody else. and, indeed, for the remainder of his tenure as secretary of state, as president, he said nothing about slavery neither in his direct or two others. it remained a not issue. it was kind of a buried issue everything inside them but it was not the focus of his career.
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so after he was beaten for reelection by andy jackson in 1828 and returned home, he then went back to congress in 1831. he was the first president to return to congress and key remains to this day the only president who has served in the house of representatives after the presidency. by now an anti-slavery movement had begun in the united states. but 1835, activists have begun preparing and sent to the very few sympathetic congressman petitions going for in the slave trade, or the abolition of slavery in trade in the district of columbia. that's when the southerners began to call for order. adams was too harsh a realist to believe that in an open public debate southerners would acknowledge the evil of slavery
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and agree to its abolition. he did not think that was possible. he had set himself that he still believed only civil war would bring an end to slavery. and now when it was reality a good essay about what it said to himself. he could not say that i get civil war was acceptable, something that only the most extreme radical abolitionists would adopt. so he was in a quandary. he didn't have doubts about the merits of the question. he did know how to get there. he did know what he as a congressman could do -- didn't know. i think he thought that the petition issue was a way to force into public debate the question of slavery and, therefore, at least expose the full horror of the practice. i don't think he thought that would insulate. i think he thought it was the best he could do. but beyond that adams was what you would now call a first amendment absolutist.
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and that question for him took the form of petitions. it was not easy for us to understand what now why petition would matter so much but remember at the time there were no lobbies, no special interest groups, no write-in campaigns, obviously no internet. there was no way that citizens could have the voices are accepting the act of voting. occasions with the way they could do that. in athens own mind the would petition had an additional resonance. even the most humble servant can petition the king, even the most beautiful government. how could you deny a citizen of a democracy the right to petition? sulfur atoms these two issues, the issue of petition and of free speech, and the issue of slavery converged to make the thing so powerful that it would cease in really for the rest of his time in congress and, therefore, for the rest of his life. and so from that time forward
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this became an obsession for adams. and he was prepared to stand up when nobody else was. indeed, it's worth saying that many of the men who shared adams views felt it was foolish, reckless, pointless to wage battle over this issue of congress because you would never succeed. that congress was dominated by self holders -- slaveholders thanks in part to 350 optimize in the constitution. talking about slavery would achieve nothing. it would just come up works of congress the others wouldn't do it. adams said i don't care, i will do it by myself. and so in every new session adams would present petitions. this others would vote the gag order, adams would try to get around it. a fight would ensue, and two in 1837 adams presented a petition that purported to come from slaves themselves which was an unspeakable violation from the
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point of view of the slave owners. as he knew the idea that slaves might have the opportunity, the right to petition congress. if they had that right what other rights might they have? the fact is the petition was a fraud to adams that was in front. they said in a because someone knew he would present it. and not only that, the petition didn't call for the into slavery. it was the opposite. the petition from these alleged slaves called for the preservation of slavery because slaves like slavery. that's what the petition said. but adams didn't reveal that when he presented the petition to this was due back in 1837 to all the other cards we knew was who's presenting a petition from slaves but only demanding an end to slavery. adams defended this thing. he said of course he would present the issue from a selectric he said i would present a petition from a horse or a dog if it had the power of speech or writing. this was the first confrontation. this provoked the first attempt
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to censure adams, which i won't describe but it went on for several weeks. athens, did the debate. he decimated the opposition and by the time he was done, only 22 of the two would 38 members in the house voted for century. now we can forward five years when the memory of that humiliation perhaps had faded. and so by this time there is a sizable abolitionist movement, and there are other abolitionists or anti-slavery legislators in congress. so this group, the activists, the congressman, but all room together, it was called abolition house. theodore wells, great anti-slavery orator and essayist to the desk an in the library of congress answered as of the groups head of research. others thought that the print industry vision of anti-slavery tracks, but adams was the leader of the group. nobody questioned about.
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he said to wells that he would present petitions that would set a slaveholders in a blaze. and that is what he did on january 21, 1842. of course the southerners have also learned from their mistakes five years ago. so this time they said that's the point the chief prosecutor. and so they chose thomas marshall. thomas marsh was the nephew of john marshall, a great supreme court chief justice. he was also a highly regarded lawyer, and order, a member of the week party. and so the perfect person to represent their point of view so it didn't seem to seem like slavery against anti-slavery. so several days later i think was probably january 25, marshall began to speak.
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it was an astonishing spectacle, this was. crowds filled the galleries of the house long before the noon opening of the session. foreign ministers, attaches and others persons filled the lobby and out of space in the hall and outside the speaker called on marshall who read a resolution to censure adams. in his version had raised the stakes considerably, where as, he asserted, a dissolution of the union necessarily implied the destruction of the constitution. the overthrow of the republic and the violation of the legislators on both. the petition adams had presented compelled the members to purchase themselves and evolve the crime of high treason the adams deserve expulsion, center, said marsh was an act of grace and mercy. this would prove to be a catastrophic move on marshall sport. marshall delivered an
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indictment. he prefaced by law expressions of regard for adams himself and for his family and for the playstation he therefore professed himself astounded when such a revered figure presented to the house so monstrous a document. and not on presented that document but sought to have referred to committee. does leading to the conclusion that the dissolution of the union was a fair subject to be considered by the house. marshals or fashion of neutrality and his rhetorical demand had cheered his colleagues and let adams supporters depressed to a corresponding degree. both sides waited with excruciating anticipation for the old man's response. with all eyes on him, adams rose slowly, looking about him at friends and foe, and the last, to the speaker. it is no part of my intention to
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reply to the gentleman from kentucky at this time. that was a startling reply but what was his intention? i call for the reading of the first paragraph of the declaration of independence. the clerk began to read. when in the course of human events. when he slowed, uncertain where to stop adams guide to proceed, proceed. the clerk continued whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the rights of the people to alter or abolish it. and then adams ordered came to a stop, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such things the john quincy adams' father had played a central role in writing the declaration of independence. john quincy wasn't suffered much like his adversary, thomas marshall, was a young pup of 40. adams was reminding his audience would you come to see them as
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the fanatic and a monomaniac of his own connection to the nation's founding documents and principles. and more than that of just what those troubles were. was a high treason he now went on, to advocate the dissolution of government. nevermind the declaration had been written to justify the dissolution of colonial domini dominion. the real danger to the republic, adams continued, came not from petitioners but from slaveholders. there was a concerted system and purpose to destroy all the principles of civil liberty in the free states. the right of habeas corpus and the right of trial by jury were at risk so of course was the right of petition. weld admittedly the most biased the spectators wrote that it demonstrated a calm majesty that furnished the highest illustration of the moral sublime that i've ever witnessed in a popular secular assembly.
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now, henry wise rose to deliver a rebuttal. he was an intemperate man. he didn't have marshall's degree of restraint and he delivered a fiery, blister, ugly attack on adams personally come on at his father. very violent. adams kept his cool for two days. so went adams finally rose to speak, he made a very ingenious argument about virginia where henry wise was from, which is also designed again to remind everybody who john quincy adams was. it grieved him from the very soul to see these propositions come from virginia. if there was a state imaging for which even now he felt an
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attachment, greater than to any other except his native state, it was to virginia. in his earlier years it was from virginia that is introduced into the service of this nation, first by george washington who appointed him as a diplomat, whose voice had been repeated here to operate against them come and which boys had been to him from the time it was delivered down to this moment next to the holy scriptures on his heart and mind. then adams turned back to john marshall. i'm sorry, to thomas marshall. and now he exchanged his dignified tone to brutal mockery. the constitution of the united states, he observed, says what high treason is and it is not for him or his puny mind to
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define what high treason is and to confound it with what i have done. adams suggested that marshall attend some law school in order to learn a little of the rights of the citizens of those states and the members of this house. did he not understand that treason and the subordination of perjury were crimes rather than simply sensible offenses? ..
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adams began reciting his plan of speech for the following day. accompanied with with all the gestures and facial expressions to be using. the abolitionists tried to warn adams against wasting his energy but he was unstoppable. he went on for an hour or nearly that. in a voice loud enough to be heard by large audience. wonderful man. this point they began to retreat. marshall then took the floor to say he had actually never meant to charge adams with treason. wise took the floor to say that he had never actually supported it. marshall then turned on wise. before attacking adams once again. at this point more than a weekend gone by, the house had accomplished no business whatsoever and of february 2, adam rose to say that actually he had not yet begun the
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defense. it would be weeks more together documents and testimony. at this point another southern congressman offered to drop the resolution of adams would withdraw the original petition. adams indignantly refused. he continued to hold floor. on february second, after 22 weeks marshall ran up the white flag. he put the resolution to about knowing that it would lose, and it did 106293. adams response, he immediately introduced 200 anti- slavery petitions. adams had shattered the over winning conference of the south. it was overheard i would rather die thousand deaths and begin to encounter that old man. nor did he have to, for marshall marshall retired after that session of congress.
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wise leader called atoms of the cutest, the stewardess, the largest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed. it was not a course of individual defeat, they called the central vote the first victory of the slaveholders ever yet achieved since the foundation of the government. this is not pure hyperbole. the south had fought a battle over petitions and loss. two more years years would have to pass before the house defeated but as of that moment southern resistance was spent. the mistake of the abolitionist however was to believe that slavery could not survive defeat in court of public opinion. weld predicted that from this time slavery downfall takes its state. adams knew better. he knew that slave owners would never voluntarily surrender their most precious property and
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their foundation of their way of life. so, what we learn about adams from this episode. first, he was fearless in a fight. he would fight dirty if he needed to. he would be unfair if he needed to. he could speak in the loftiest register and he could engage in savage personal attacks. he was an extraordinarily clearheaded man but with the immense that brought him to the point of on bridled ferocity. that is the subtitle of my book. so these gifts were the ones that were both his great source of achievement and great source of failure. his brilliant insight into affairs had made him america's leading diplomat at a very young age. his principal and energies had
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made him a great secretary of state. that same stubbornness, that self-righteousness that contends to compromise made him a terrible president. he was a man who had a very bold agenda and achieve nothing. the presidency was the least successful part of his career. he was beaten after one term by andrew jackson who is far more popular and far more skilled as a politician. of course at that time it seemed that his career was over yet he had this last extraordinary final stage where he served in congress the last 16 years of his life. by the time the gate order was overturned in 1845 he was revered as a hero, this man who had been thought of - like he was really revered as the last link to the founders and their great virtues. at his death in 1848, there was
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a tremendous outpouring of eulogies. the most interesting one to me wasn't even technically a eulogy. it wasn't delivered in a church it was delivered in a theater by theodore parker. the door parker was a radical theologian, a friend of a friend of emerson's, a brilliant man, strange, difficult. he allowed himself to be very critical of his subject because it wasn't technical eulogy. shall we tell lies about him because he is death he asked his audience. parker noted that a secretary of state and president adam had remained mute on slavery. he was what is called a good hater, parker rightly noted and he used his wit. he was a poor poet, his greatest greatest intellectual faculties memory and he shall but little foresight.
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in white then did his greatness why? in this, parker said that throughout all of his words and acts he ran a golden thread, an intense, and intense love of freedom for all men. then parker summoned up that moment in 1842 when adam stood in the well of the house on the issue of slavery. this is what he said. he said i know a few things in modern times so grand as that old man standing there in the house of representatives, a man who was born himself proudly early during service and high place for honor may be one, a man would build the highest office in any nations give, the the presence on, himself a president, standing there a
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champion of the oppressed. and that was john quincy adams. thank you. [applause]. if anyone has questions their microphones set up on either side. please go to the microphone. i've be happy to talk about anything with adams whether it's what i was talking was talking about or some other thing altogether. >> i know that lincoln was one term in the house, was he in the house at this time? >> yes. so there is a kind of tantalizing overlap. they must have known each other. they saw each other. lincoln's first term was adam's last term. adam's last term. lincoln was there when adam
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side. when adam's casket was taken from washington northwards on the train to be buried in quincy, massachusetts, an honor guard of two representatives from each state was included. abraham lincoln was included in one of those men. for those of us who like to see a fair amount of adams and lincoln, both in some of the arguments used against slavery but also the activist government that adams talked about. that is the one symbolic part. >> hard to the media treat all of this? >> you mean the media of the day? that is a great question. the word media then in that case meant there were a fair number of court reporters. by the 1840s there are tens of thousands of newspaper, no newspaper, no country had ever
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had so many newspapers. a number, not a lot maybe a couple couple of dozen had reporters in washington. this was big news in all of the papers. for the abolitionist press, by then there some number of thousands of explicitly abolitionist newspapers. this was huge. we should remember, remember, i do not talk about the famous case for adams before the supreme court defended a group of applicants who are then taken slavery and won the case seven-one, that are ready made adams a hero. this really cemented his reputation. it was it was a very big deal for that part. >> were they favorable? i guess editorially for the media and in particular some cases on particular interested about the media of the south. >> first of all i should say that i own a small i've only read a small number of
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newspapers, of those you could predict their editorial positions they are either anti- pro- or anti- slavery. so newspapers in the south despised this man. he had received numerous death threats from people who thought he was a great danger opposed to slavery. adams was hated. so so the southern press would have vilified him, the more timid northern press i can't really say. >> going back to mr. lincoln, would you expand on john quincy adams role and i think he was about the first person to develop the idea that of the military necessity, justification for the abolition of slavery because i believe during the 1830s they started to talk about and he warned about if they came to war the north
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would be able to have a military justification to come in and abolish slavery. >> because once the south had threatened the union than the north, if it saw the military value of freeing the slaves would have every right to do so. the north north in effect would have the right to override the restraints on federal contacts that were written in the constitution. so adam said that quite explicitly in the late 1830s or early 1840s. this certainly thought that lincoln had adopted that recently when he announced the emancipation proclamation. that is the kind of one lincoln the logical chain on the slavery issue that connects others. >> if there are no other questions then i'm very happy to
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sign books for those of you who would like to buy one upstairs. thank you so much. [applause]. >> every week and on c-span to book tb offers programming on nonfiction authors and books. keep keep watching for more, here in c-span2. >> president obama recently nominated to become the 14th librarian of congress. she is currently ceo of the free library in baltimore. if confirmed, doctor hayden would succeed and become the first african-american woman to serve in the position.
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during hayden's congressional confirmation hearing this past week, she laid out her vision for the future of the library of congress. >> as i am vision the future of this wonderful institution, i see it growing in stature not only in librarianship but how people view libraries in general. as more of its resources are readily available for more people online, users will not have to be in washington dc, everyone will have a sense sense of ownership and pride in this national treasure. a child on a reservation in new mexico will have the same access as any other student. a fifth grader in bowling green kentucky would be able to view abraham lincoln's papers from his home computer. and a shy 10th-grader from meridian mississippi, with dreams of performing would be able to view the libraries bernstein collection. a student from a community college in kansas could look at, and even and even download revolutionary
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war maps for class assignments. this would help libraries across the country, small library in arkansas with a modest budget will be able to help patrons assess primary studies of george washington's paper. in a row library in alabama will be able to connect through life the the national book festival and see and hear their favorite authors. i envision a library of congress that can balance its various roles and important roles in a digital age, at a time when libraries throughout the world face many of the same challenges, when their very existence is being questioned. the library of congress should continue to be the leader. i would be honored to be part of the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position. to be part of a continuing movement to open the treasure chest that is a library of congress. this can be done without threatening the library's core responsibilities to support and
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advice congress, to assist researchers for benefit from its exhaustive collection. if confirmed, it would be my privilege to join the dedicated staff and supporters of the library. to ensure that its treasures are secured and shared for many years to come. >> the senate has yet to set a date to vote on her confirmation. >> when i tune in on the weekends usually it's authors sharing their new releases. >> watching the nonfiction authors on book tb is the best television for serious readers. >> on c-span they can have a longer conversation and delve into their subjects. book tv weekends, they bring you author after author, after author. they spotlight the work of fascinating people. >> i love book tb and i am a c-span fan.


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