tv John Quincy Adams and Slavery CSPAN June 26, 2017 12:00am-1:16am EDT
evolving views on slavery, of adams -- from adams on ratings. -- from his own writings. this is about one hour. >> a remarkable central historical figure. based on the 69 your diary that john quincy adams kept -- tonight's speakers are here to talk about their book, "john quincy adams and slavery, the selections from the diary." this book was recently hailed as a great read, and -- and informative reality check on issues that exist even now. matthew mason is an associate
professor at brigham young university. he held a phd in history from the university of maryland. his publications include, slavery and politics in the early american republic, a possible -- a possible union, a political biography. he is also co-edited several volumes, including, contesting slavery, the politics of bondage and freedom, and the new american nation. and, massachusetts in the civil war. with conrad rice. david is a distinguished professor of history. he is a historian is the early 19th-century america, and his interest span political and cultural history, slavery, and anti-slavery.
his books include, slavery's constitution, from revolution to ratification, runaway america, benjamin franklin slavery in the american resolution -- revolution, and in the midst of -- the making of american nationalism. he has also edited a number of volumes in is the recipient of a number of distinguished awards. i am pleased to welcome them tonight and look forward to their insights on one of my favorite, john quincy adams. thank you. [applause] >> thank you, sarah, thank you all for being here. we are really excited to think about john quincy adams here at the mhs. did a lot of research that i can -- i remember fondly over the years in this room. it's fun to be here to talk about john quincy adams. this volume we've put together
is heavy on the diary come as the subtitle suggests. presentation will be heavy with subjects from that diary. with explanatory footnote that said the context for those entries. i will introduced where we are headed, and david will read -- sometimes extended collections from the diary and comment on those. it will be a tag-team tonight, that was david's idea. we are about to find out whether it will be fun. [laughter] john quincy adams is probably best known to americans today is an anti-slavery hero. best ex-presidents in american history, probably known to some degree as president as well. one of the reasons we set out to study john quincy adams, we are both interested in the way people think about and practice slavery in the context of american politics.
that is a complicated scenario, for people to act. we are both interested in the way this works from the american revolution to the civil war. one advantage, he gives us a large percentage of that. he gives us a large chunk of that period, and we are both attracted to biography as a way to explore how people interact with slavery over a long period of time. it is true that john quincy adams was anti-slavery in his principles, but it could never be that simple for him or anyone else. david -- a great american historian, 41 years ago, important book, laid out the idea that most people, pretty much everyone interacted with slavery and context of other priorities and commitments they had in their lives. slavery could never be presented pure and simple as an issue. they acted and responded to
slavery in different ways across -- time, based on the way it's interacted with those principles and priorities. sometimes advanced anti-slavery action on the part of northerners, sometimes limited anti-slavery practice and expression on the part of anti-slavery northerners. adams is anti-slavery, but he also carries core commitments the complicated his relationship with slavery. they overlap with each other. i want to lay out a few of these competing priorities by framing what we will look at tonight. thing one, alongside anti-slavery, his commitment to advancing his personal political career.
for john quincy adams, that was never simply personal political ambition, given that he wasn't adams -- grew up sonosite president, distinguished statesman, who made no effort to be subtle about the political pressures he put on his son. john is quotable. fun letter fred commitment to life with advantages, which will explain to you -- if your success is mediocre. and if you do not rise to the head of your country, it will be oh wing to your own laziness. [laughter] and obstinacy. it was president -- for someone like john quincy adams -- presidency or not. that had to play a role in everything he contemplated until he became resident. overlapping with his personal prospects -- political principles that had to do on
their face with slavery. he was especially -- in the postwar between 12 years, deeply committed to an ethics of a great history and come at any walker -- call the ethic of improvement, with a i, and are meant in terms of these -- united states infrastructure, moral reform, building railroads, universities -- the whole ethic of improved. that was simply sewn john quincy adams's priority. it embodied in the national republican party and in the whig party which he acted for his later political career after the war of 1812. he had to remain committed to those in suppose as a way of advancing his own career. sometimes those helped him express anti-slavery principles, sometimes they suppressed public expressions. he was also deeply committed to
the union. to preserving the united states as a federated union of different states, very diverse , north versus south for one. a stress that runs throughout the union, also east versus west. this is also overlapping with his commitment to building railroads. he was one of the leading proponents of the idea that we need to tie the union together by means of railroads, canals, as well as reform that will only strengthen the union. that seems to him a pressing priority that as we're going to explore -- did not usually encourage an expression of an open anti-slavery position given how deeply divisive that was to american politics. and then, for a high percentage of his career as we will examine
over the next few minutes, he was involved with united states president, prospects, and profile out of the larger world, and as secretary of state. for him, american sovereignty always seemed under threat, especially for the british, and always needed to be protect. that's another core principle that come as we're going to see, really, kids the way he interacted with slavery. with those they priorities -- personal political prospects, that of his party, the union, the united states and the larger world stage, that should -- i hope that the context for the selection diaries that we are going to explore the next few minutes. john quincy adams is early political career, what struck us as we read through his diaries, visit studied silence on the issue of slavery. for instance, when the united states constitution was being
proposed and debated and ratified, the slavery clauses in the constitution were extraordinarily controversial here in massachusetts. he understood that. one thing that strikes you from his diary entries throughout thatp erio his reactions -- period --didn't say anything about the slave trade clause, any clauses involving slavery. didn't seem to be on his radar, as registered in his diary. then he was serving in the senate, when we get to our first entry. in 1807 united dates senate was debating a bill to ban the slave trade to the united states.
it is in that context that the slave trade bill comes to his attention. i give to david wall stretcher to read from the diary. >> this is a short excerpt. i will read longer ones. it is a representative of one in the sense, but in the diary, certainly by this time, john quincy adams is using this as a record of -- this is what happened today, this is what i want to remember, but it also often reflecting upon it quite directly. so you do get a window into his thoughts. he's quite intentional about that. these are things that i might
written down but i might not be i'mng to everyone interacting with, people whose conversations i'm recording. a slave though, which originated with the committee of the hall, echelon debate. mr. k come made a speech upon one of these -- he is quite the young man. i intend to take no part in the debates on this subject. we would think of henry clay as more likely to be avoiding the issue of slavery, even perhaps in the 1790's. it's actually john quincy adams. he does not give us more on why that is, but it is quite representative. at this time in 1807, he doesn't think it's the highest priority. present resolutions that criticized slave power, as they were beginning to call it,
domination of that institution command of congress more generally. he had spoken about this, and also written a speech that he probably didn't deliver, there are nearly are collected writings. his context for avoiding the subject is that he doesn't want to be typecast as a new england federalists who is starting to a checked to marginalization and national politics due to the dominance of the jeffersonians. rather, this is actually come at the moment when he is starting to identify with the administration, and he is going to be alone along that to support the embargo. he is going to switch parties,
though he might not have put it that way because he didn't like parties. at that time or later. it's really incumbent upon him to take -- notes on that subject because he thinks there are more important things going on. this is going to cost him his senate seat. this just might -- wasn't maybe the principled stand we would expect. >> i'm on. he leaves the senate, then he has a golden parachute -- he's an important diplomatic position. he is our first minister to russia. he helped negotiate the end of the war of 1812. as part of a delegation that
included mr. clay among others, then he served as minister to great britain. that ships are focused to john quincy adams and slavery out in the larger world. always with respect to the british -- the british are constantly hanging over. in november of 1812, he was serving in russia and -- they feel like encapsulate in his career, and you would get his future path -- surrounding slavery. at this time, even in this early
career. it would guide his future path in various negotiations with the british surrounding slavery. had abolish the slave trade in 1807, led by people like wilberforce and thomas clarkson. the negotiations usually when something like this. the british minister would aproach the ambassador from foreign country and say, you know what would be cool? if you joined with us to help abolish the slave trade. and if it was the following form -- you at the royal navy get on a ship flying your flag to search for slaves, wouldn't that be awesome? [laughter] they're talking to the portuguese, spanish, anyone who will listen including the united states of america. it is in that context, and also
leading up to the war of 1812, when we get our next diary entry. whether it will be -- eventually abolished, is in fact get a problem. the slave trade is beyond question and abomination, disgraceful to the human character, but there are so many interests concurring to support it. i say the motive that the abolitionist's are in a great degree -- fashion and faction for the impressment of seamen, is to all intents and purposes, unjust and immoral, oppressive and to radical is the slave trade. every particle -- of arguments i can bear against the slave trade ears with equal force against the president. so not only was john quincy adams towing his party line here, he was being an effect to
and good diplomats. he's really does she has these jobs, getting these jobs, diplomat negotiating treaties , eventually secretary of state, and he becomes really the new nation's leading diplomats. he's really good at answering the british. when he's doing this, this isn't an aberration. he is effective. he comes up with the right arguments. he knows the president, he studied the protocols, he studied the history. the british take him seriously. there's always been a hit of a disconnect between his reputation as diplomat secretary said he is in many ways
the foundation of american foreign-policy, and then his seemingly failed the presidency, and his later congressional career. one of the things you find looking all the way through the see the connections between those three parts of his career. what we're seeing here and is fighting back against the british saying the president is terrible is, he thinks he still fighting the american resolution -- he's fighting for national independence and sovereignty. he's doing so in a way that it does matter what section he comes from trade but my favorite diary entries from this period for he meets george for the first time in london and canning starts to query him about differences. how dare he consider me -- but how dare he suggest on not on the same page as the virginians. by the time he saying mr. cannon -- he is expecting them to try to use slavery to divide and conquer. he's not going to go there.
>> the one thing i should have said, the context, one of the leading causes of the war of 1812 was the british habit and policy of ordering american ships to search for british sailors operating as american sailors. americans -- as immigrants. he said no, those are americans. you come here, you become an american in the 19th century. [laughter] the british said, no, you have a perpetual loyalty to britain trade were born in britain, you will always be in britain. we have every right, especially in the context of new napoleonic worse to impress you and our service. that's what he's referring to in terms of that. that led to the war of 1812, but that very issue in many ways encapsulated his fears for american sovereignty. helped set the context for his
reaction to british proposals. then he comes back to the united states after that longperiod of service in britain, and become secretary of state under the munro administrations. while there, he was confronted with two domestic manifestations of the politics of slavery that constantly seems to be grabbing his attention whether he liked it or not. the first one began in 1860 with the american causation society -- the project was to send free african-americans to liberia in western africa. they would get a lot of government support for this, they would have a lot of momentum. the way to solve the problem of slavery, also the problem of free black people. that is the way to people talked about both of those things.
that was the way of solving those twin problems. he is constantly being -- controlled to respond, and is reluctant to do so. it will let him lay out in his entries to follow. then in 1819, the explosion of the missouri crisis that lasted until 1821, missouri applies to become the state, and james from new york says, that is great, as long as we have slavery there. can that kicks off a two-year conflict over slavery's future in the territories. this is a territory that wants to become a state that is carved out of the louisiana purchase. they seem to have states involving that entire purchase, and the future of slavery in the united states. it's a brutal your conflict that raises -- not only conflict -- out of the newspapers, public
meetings. for my first book i researched -- i will speak on this issue with brevity coming to goes for three hours? [laughter] you are in the middle of a donnybrook. he does so within the framework of all of these other priorities. really an extended period in his diary that he reflects on the missouri crisis. >> i said the colonization society -- pushing their object so much -- they very much wish their memorial might be taken up by congress under the color of colonizing black people, i was afraid that they would smuggle upon us a system of establishing colonies. of the consequences of which the
people of this country were little aware. they were introducing nardi had a consensus -- a new principle of the nation's more formidable to human liberty them that slave trade itself. commander from brussels -- in time of peace. there are so many considerations of delicacy lingering with this subject, that i would gladly keep a look from it all together. i apprehend the society, which is intolerant. it will push and intrigue and worry -- until i shall be obliged -- two. publicly among their components. the project of extricating united states from free people of color at the public expense
colonizing them in africa is so far -- upon part with john -- there's actually a meme on the internet, the john quincy adams supported the project to get to the polls by traveling through the center of the earth. [laughter] he recorded this conversation, he listened to them and didn't disapprove -- people had taken that out of context. i love the passage. you have him thinking out loud. one of the things so fascinating about taking away the political actor throughout his career is, he sees how issues are connected. sometimes, he cannot resist talking about them, even though it is politically problematic. nobody wants to hear it. something contemporary scholars -- are talking about it now as, that's what they called it.
we don't see colonization as a national -- natural thing. he said wait a minute. i've been going around saying that britain is the colonizing power that wants to enslave us. the monroe doctrine -- he is talking about america as different, not a colonizing power, but rather an exemplar of self-determination and liberty. this would have a real costs if we become, i stretch we will get ourselves involved in the same traditions as the empire -- and is continuing to do. so this is quite stash this passage is a good example of these connections right on the eve of the missouri crisis, or he tried very hard to say, ok, what income -- what's
constitutional and what is not? let's not complicate this by the ideological question about whether slavery is good or bad. so. as at the beginning -- i will read it several passages of from this extended debate, which other in some ways, the best known from the diary. often you see them in your textbooks and biographies. this is july 15 19. the beginning of the missouri crisis.
he is secretary of state, going -- some of the debates in congress, reading about the transcripts in the newspapers. to register restriction -- slaveholding states. it has been communicated that states themselves -- this territory of missouri. slave drivers as usual, whenever this topic is right up, talk of white slaves in the eastern states and union and oceans of blood. the northern men as usual talk about -- sit down quiet and submit to the slaves gorging -- crawford, secretary of treasury from georgia, originally from virginia -- virginia very much his rival, trying to cut his budget. there are running for president in the cabinet. they are looking ahead to 1824. he would ultimately go -- relies on the support of this, and determined to show them that he is on their side, even though actually he's a member of the american colonization society so he is playing both sides of this -- and gave his toast -- as a celebration for july 4 -- to exhibit himself as their champion. on this particular question i did not approve of the attempted
restricting slavery in missouri. i believe it not compatible, either with the constitution of the united states or with the louisiana treaty, as it was supported the louisiana treaty where some of the new englanders have said, this is going to have said, this is going to increase the representation of southern states. he had supported it, and he defended populist patrons for the support -- when he was in the senate. he knows the louisiana treaty like the back of his hand. he thinks surprisingly -- takes a strict states rights stand on this. restrictions not compatible with the constitution, with that's what they're saying. even though he's not comfortable with all the things that they are saying along with that to justify slavery -- and this oceans of blood and bullying. so we skip ahead six months. it is a bit different. the missouri question has taken such a hold of my feelings. there views of this subject that are -- have not yet been taken by any of the speakers are writers by whom it has been discussed.
that's a lot of speakers and writers by this time. the time has not yet arrived, but in all probability it will be necessary to present hereafter. i take it for granted that the president's question is a mere preamble, title page to a great tragic volume. i reserve -- my opinions upon it as it has been obviously proper for me to do. the time may and i think will come -- will be my time to give my opinion. and this is -- it's proper for me to get in preparation for the emergency. this can be went away by compromise -- but so do not die. much of a mistaken if it is not destined to survive his political individual life and mind. so it is becoming a larger issue, bigger than the question of restriction in missouri. a month later, we attended a party of mr. calhoun's, chauncey calhoun. had heard of nothing but the
missouri question and mr. king's speeches -- representative from new york and anti-slavery tribune. the slaveholder cannot hear of them -- they call this seditious and inflammatory when their greatest effect is there committee t. never since human sentiment and conducts were influenced by human speech was very fema for eloquent like the three sides of this question now before the congress. by what fatality does it have that all the most eloquent orders of the body -- or in its slavish side?
men nine days later -- meanwhile he is saying nothing publicly and his wife louisa is attending the debate. she records in her diary that people are looking at her to try to read which way the adams wind is lowing. march 3. the impression produced upon my mind by the proverb of this discussion is, the bargain between freedom and slavery contained within the constitution of the united states is morally and politically vicious. inconsistent with the principles upon which alone are revolution can be justified, cruel and oppressive by riveting -- by pledging the face of freedom to maintain and perpetuate the tyranny of the master comment grossly unequal -- by admitting that slaves are enemies to be kept in subjection, property to
be secured a restored to their owners, and persons not to be represented themselves, but for whom their masters or privileged with nearly a double share representation. the consequence has been that the slave representation has governed the union. would be no difficult matter -- reviewing the union the honor -- and welfare of the nation. despite of them enforce upon them, that everything on the -- dishonorable, including the blunders and follies of their -- adversaries. i've favor this very compromise, believing it to be all that could be affected under the president's -- constitution. he supported the restrictions and compromise. from extreme unwillingness to put the union -- but perhaps it would have been wiser as well as older -- to have persisted in the restriction upon missouri -- till it should have terminated
to revise and amend the constitution. they would if -- this would've produced a new union of 13 or 14 states included with slavery, or great object effect -- the other states by the universal emancipation of their slaves. slavery is precisely the question upon which it up to breaks -- for the present however, this contest is laid asleep. the second one happens when missouri came back with its constitution, and it had a part of it that said that african-americans would not be -- free african-americans would not be allowed to go to missouri come and made it pretty clear
that they would not be citizens. john quincy adams takes what seems an inconsistence of position. he thinks this goes against the constitution. this missouri compromise is now unconstitutional. it would be no difficult matter approved by reviewing this -- i'm sorry, wrong -- ok. this article was in itself a dissolution of the union. it acquiesced -- would change the terms of the federal context, by rubbing down to the citizens of their rights. then he goes on to say how outrageous this is that they are discriminated against enough. this must come, let it come from no other than this. it is -- slavery be the death and sword in hand of the destroying angel which severs the ties of this union. this sort will cut the bonds of
slavery itself. a dissolution of the union for the cause of slavery would be followed by a 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 extirpation of slavery from the whole continent command desolating -- in the course of events -- so glorious that if god shall judge may, i dare not say that it is not to be desired. john quincy adams predicting the civil war 40 years beforehand on a matter of constitutionality. this is often quoted to show how to slavery is believed. it's quite contingent on the way the missouri crisis went. on this break, in the constitutionality, this overreaching of the -- missouri and planters, that he felt -- that it wasn't just something that might happen that could be prevented, but that may be he could pour stash four c not even -- may more important historically, that it would take
a war, and dissolution of the union by what side or another. and that this is what would lead to the end of slavery. his ability to see that under the war powers, this is something that happened during the war -- slaves get liberated constitutions get rewritten, he really does foresee -- what we can call the course of events. but wait, there's more. [laughter] even in the midst of all this, this eloquent john quincy adams -- diary -- wrestling with human rights versus the u.s. constitution and the union, as if that's not enough to juggle, he's also secretary of state. having to have a conversation every week. it's like, every time he sees a british minister to washington
stratford canning, he has to have this conversation. hey, wouldn't it be cool if the united states signed a treaty to allow us to board their ships and search for slaves, that same of conversation they had been having since 1807, he's having the entire time he's in london and is secretary of state in washington. finally it reaches a boiling point that i think is one of the more revealing, rather disturbing entries in the diary. one of the wonderful things about the diary is that it gives -- likely just saw with the missouri crisis, but it also gives us it's a record of conversations as he remembers.
the worst thing for historians is when people are apart, they start -- stop writing letters to each other. here in his diary, we get content of conversation. in that latest conversation -- he re-raises this old issue. john quincy adams gives a revealing explosion. he said the main purpose for which they wish to obtain her principles -- but it might be urged as an example to france. i said that he'd rather adhere to our principles rather than give them up. he asked if i could conceive of a greater or more capricious evil than this slave trade. i said yes. admitting the right of search by foreign officers of our vessels upon the time of peace, that would be making -- slaves of
ourselves. 10 years later, he stash she has ramped it up. we went over this ground again as we have often done before, competing in both sides of the argument. he particularly repeated to many persons in this country -- conceding this right of search and alleged that two successive reports of the committees of house of representatives, i merely said there were other views upon which those reports could be accounted for. don't miss around in our politics. i finally desired -- with his parliamentary paper, which i would take to the president, to whom i promise to make a full report of this. he goes on later. i told him they had no right to carry away private property are emancipated slaves. he said bantering late -- but this is still about the war of 1812, and getting payment for slaves that the british had -- supposedly carried away during the war. canning said bantering late, if he were to emancipate every slave he could find, i would never make peace with you.
but who are you talk but emancipating slaves? he said they had none. and what are your islands -- what would you say if we were to land in but we do not mean to lend you in jamaica. [laughter] not if you can help it. so the caribbean, this is the year of the monro doctrine. get your hands off of cuba. this all continues to be part of the story. then also in the mix, the looming presidential election of 1824. in which monro -- the president would sail off in the sunset and the entire cabinet was running for president for eight years. there were marching their forces
-- having conversations of -- lining people up for support for president. in that context, in may of 1824, he had another conversation that revealed a statement of his priorities -- should he become president. they are not an anti-slavery direction. the senator from new hampshire was here. he showed me a letter from the general from tennessee, not signed, concerning conversations at the boarding house. concerning my opinion among the restriction of slavery in missouri -- and submits to have said -- in favor of restriction.
the object what to get -- the southern countries. he had written to judge archer would also been present, inquire of his recollections. he asked -- of what my opinions had been. i told him the only conversation i recollected to have had with him on the first western, that of the restriction, was on the 23rd of february. i read in my time of the diary of that day. he particularly recollected that distinction that i had drawn upon illinois and missouri, and wished me to give him a copy from my diary, which i -- -- this is a fascinating example of adams with his record on the missouri restriction. as david -- adams showed, he
went back and forth. as to whether he was fired a restriction of slavery missouri. the advantage of the diary -- nice to say, i've got this one that says i was against it. this i think keeping with what he said in another conversation where he told the person he was in conversation with, if i were to be president i should be not of the section, affection, but of the holy union. he's not posing as an anti-slavery resident. we did the work on the diary -- the chapter that we devote to his time as president is one of our shortest. he had almost nothing to say about the issue of slavery while hesitant because you want to say almost nothing. he wanted to be president of the
whole union treat best case scenario -- avoid the topic altogether. then he goes down in flames into his reelection campaign, loses to his rival andrew jackson, and that put him in a position of contemplating what was next for him. there was this transition in which he does not immediately become. house of representatives -- doesn't even immediately go into the house of representatives great he is left in this position to wonder, like every other ex-president, what do i do next? he's not young and he still feels a lot of energy, and he wants to contemplate how he will leave his mark.
there was not a straightforward process is some of the entries -- as it would show us. >> for adams, this was not just his personal loss, it was also a loss of the national republican coalition, his alliance with the virginia gentleman, and what he thought -- public and statesman. that it was in the family tradition to work with. we often are struck by evans versus jefferson in the election of 1800, and we are struck by their differences. we forget in the 1770's, john adams did not bring the issue of slavery up in the constitutional convention. he did not -- and if his
constitutional rising -- john adams is pretty good at working with southerners. you could call it diplomacy, statesmanship, nationalism, it was all those things to them, that's the tradition that he's working in. to be defeated by jackson, to have his alliance with henry clay, called corrupt, then overthrown, left him -- where the republic is going. he never saw the light of day. when with pamphlet war and book length reply to the massachusetts federalist. he felt a disloyal root between 1805-1807. some of that was in massachusetts newspapers. 1977 it think it was -- he wrote
about 60 pages of something he called parties in the united states. it's only been published once in a small addition in the 40's. it's fascinating. you see him trying to figure out what went wrong. he lays out all the things, the important characteristics of american national politics and why parties developed the way they did. of those six factors, five are connected to slavery. you can see him grappling with this way in which the politics have developed. we have a few diary entries in which he, you see him starting to talk about what has happened. a received several visitors come oliver wolcott, my former governor of connecticut. he holds the south carolina turbulence -- this is notification and the rebellion against the tariff. rather too much and contempt -- the domineering -- institution
of slavery. when it's in south carolina, slaves are more numerous -- the domineering -- is not up. the free portion of the population -- electrical to their insulin's. of course, andrew jackson gets them back down, so we are usually struck by a lack of a united front, but that's not the way it looks in 1830. five days later, the presidential veto has -- exercise with great reserve three not more than x of congress have been arrested by six president in four years. he has rejected for in three days. the overseer ascendancy is complete. jackson has the slave power -- not just south carolina.
and now, eight days -- eight days -- later in the month, june 25 actually, 1830. i cherish the principle of internal improvements among convictions among the station -- increasing comfort and well-being. to honor -- the condition of mankind. small goals. slaveholders of the south have since discovered that it will operate against their interest. jackson, who to promote his election and obtain western votes, they decided to stand against its trade my devotion to it has sharpened all the fangs of and the and mouse against me
trade multitudes oppose it only because it's success would contribute to my reputation. the calls will no doubt survive me, and you, no doubt it will triumph. >> i think in the answer -- interest of time, i will state my final bridging remarks, then let david decide which entries to emphasize because we want to leave time for question and answer. we are headed towards the best known part of adams's career, fighting the gag rule, this idea that in the house of representatives, no antislavery petitions will be received. they will not even talk about them. they will just immediately reject them, not even send them to committee. adams was outraged by that on multiple fronts, including the affront to the right of petition. the culture -- but one of the things that's fascinating to us about this part of its career --
he never identified himself as an evolutionist. identify themselves as pure and simple antislavery people. cast aside your other objections, loyalties, priorities, for yourself and to the immediate abolition of slavery. he could never bring himself to that position. even until -- the last entry in our collection, is him expressing ongoing tension, given all these other things he's wrestling with coming even as member of the house of representatives. an inability to thoroughly identify himself as an abolitionist. in many ways, this iconic anti-slavery period in his career encapsulates this story -- ongoing story of competing priorities.
>> ok, i'm just going to give a taste, skipping ahead of this wonderful 1831-32 period, where he gets elected to congress, and starting to think bigger and bigger about slavery, one of the great issues of the time. he's thinking about what's going on in england, and how maybe the conflict in england seems to be about democracy and not about slavery, but actually they are connect. this democracy in america -- he says to a congressman --
congressman hoffman, that in december of 232, the real issue is whether the nation can be half slave and half free. to go a step further back, the question and issue was slavery. ok, so he is, he's presenting abolitionist -- about the district of columbia. and then, even later on, two years later, after he has thrown down the gauntlet, and become identified with the cause, he writes, upon this subject of antislavery, my principles make it more -- for my conduct and belong to my nature. i have therefore already committed indiscretions of which
all political parties avail themselves and describe me in the public opinion. the most insignificant of conduct would be my irredeemable ruin in this world. he is 70 years old. both the ruling political parties are watching me with intense anxiety. it's also to be considered the most dangerous of subjects, the slavery question. exposure for which i have test -- congress is greater than i could've imagined caught -- possible trade having escaped in the fiery furnace, it behooves me well to -- being cast into it again. the politician. on the other hand, may god preserve me from the spirit shrinking from danger, and in the discharge of my duty. between these two errors, but pursue -- public trust in god. so it doesn't get -- and never gets simple, even when he is the old man eloquent -- there still complicated politics.
much of the capital spending in the antislavery clause -- he feels touch very careful for winter conserve it. in some ways this a great transformation that happens, but one of the reasons why we spent such time figuring out how he gets to that point is because we feel it more realistic and true appreciation of his political skill and career, and dedication to the union. for better or worse -- it requires us to see that consistency and political calculation. there's no way of getting around to that it was -- his belief in natural rights, as well as anti-slavery fervor that made such a crucial difference. he wasn't just another anti-slavery activist. he was the son of the founding father.
as i semi-public record, taking down cabinet minutes, records of conversations. he knows that he is an important person. it was quite deliberately saved. one nice thing about being able to see it in the found volume, you see the care, not just of the handwriting, which may be difficult for us to read but his bike contemporary standards, careful -- you see how carefully they were preserved, and now he's not scribbling, crossing out, he's spending hours -- i think he drafted, then they're already rewrites. he talked about sometimes being -- and his diary -- he had to catch up on his notes for couple of weeks. this is a literary work in many ways. >> is there anything in the record to reflect the extent to which his change of position might have changed his attitude when he was resident, secretary of state, ambassador?
you represented the whole union, where as when he was post-president and a representative of massachusetts, he is free from inhibitions that might have resulted from representing the slave-holding states, able to speak his piece. did he ever address that? >> great question. there is a certain freedom that comes. us of the things that struck , kind of wading through the diary in a truly chronological way, how long it took them, even once you represented massachusetts, to embrace that as his cause. if he had his way, he would probably still be talking about ands all the time railroads, and a national university. he made sure he got on those committees and dealt with that kind of thing.
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