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Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress

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A blow-by-blow re-creation of the battle royal that raged in Congress in the 1830s, when a small band of representatives, led by President John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, employed intricate stratagems to outwit the Southern (and Southern-sympathizing) sponsors of the successive "gag" rules that had long blocked debate on the subject of slavery. A blow-by-blow re-creation of the battle royal that raged in Congress in the 1830s, when a small band of representatives, led by President John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, employed intricate stratagems to outwit the Southern (and Southern-sympathizing) sponsors of the successive "gag" rules that had long blocked debate on the subject of slavery.


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A blow-by-blow re-creation of the battle royal that raged in Congress in the 1830s, when a small band of representatives, led by President John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, employed intricate stratagems to outwit the Southern (and Southern-sympathizing) sponsors of the successive "gag" rules that had long blocked debate on the subject of slavery. A blow-by-blow re-creation of the battle royal that raged in Congress in the 1830s, when a small band of representatives, led by President John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, employed intricate stratagems to outwit the Southern (and Southern-sympathizing) sponsors of the successive "gag" rules that had long blocked debate on the subject of slavery.

30 review for Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manray9

    Every student in America should be required to read this book, along with C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Miller has provided a lesson in the true meaning of democratic values. Every student in America should be required to read this book, along with C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Miller has provided a lesson in the true meaning of democratic values.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    The best measure of my opinion about this book is that I own two copies: one that I've marked up with my comments in the margins and one that I use for lending purposes. It is what all history books should be. It covers a little known aspect of U.S. history -- the self-imposed gag order that Congress put on itself in the 1840s and the heroic efforts of John Quincy Adams in bringing the gag order down. The author, William Lee Miller, is a history professor at the University of Virginia, who is a The best measure of my opinion about this book is that I own two copies: one that I've marked up with my comments in the margins and one that I use for lending purposes. It is what all history books should be. It covers a little known aspect of U.S. history -- the self-imposed gag order that Congress put on itself in the 1840s and the heroic efforts of John Quincy Adams in bringing the gag order down. The author, William Lee Miller, is a history professor at the University of Virginia, who is a phenomenal writer. His writing makes this book a joy to read. Somehow, he takes the Congressional Globe and creates a revelatory history of the time period. I appreciate most his moral sense. He captures the moral dilemma of the time period and makes it alive to modern-day readers. William Lee Miller has made John Quincy Adams a hero to me. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

  3. 5 out of 5

    MET

    Most well-written history EVER

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joann

    This is a favorite. I recommended it to the Adams County Library and they bought two! Mr. Miller almost makes the steam rising above Congress also rise from the pages of this book. I've read it several times. This is a favorite. I recommended it to the Adams County Library and they bought two! Mr. Miller almost makes the steam rising above Congress also rise from the pages of this book. I've read it several times.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mariah Dawn

    Well. This book was dense, but perhaps the best history book I’ve read. I had no previous knowledge of the gag order and the work John Quincy Adams did to bring the issue of slavery to light. It’s a must read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    In order to establish a union, the nation’s founders had to craft documents acceptable to both northern and southern states. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution both allowed for the practice of slavery and provided the means of abolishing it. The words slave and slavery are never mentioned in the document, and the founders edited out specific references to white men. The United States were founded upon principles of equality and civil liberties and as a representative government, which afforded ope In order to establish a union, the nation’s founders had to craft documents acceptable to both northern and southern states. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution both allowed for the practice of slavery and provided the means of abolishing it. The words slave and slavery are never mentioned in the document, and the founders edited out specific references to white men. The United States were founded upon principles of equality and civil liberties and as a representative government, which afforded openings to correct the massive injustice of slavery. The First Amendment provides five rights or freedoms: speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. Although little thought of today, the right of petition meant a great deal in antebellum America. Constituents could petition their representatives to correct grievances. Many northerners requested the introduction of measures to abolish slavery. Southerners, finding the reading of such petitions unacceptable, invoked a gag rule against them. Anti-slavery petitions were not permitted to be read on the House floor. John Quincy Adams served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years after he was president (just imagine a modern president doing that). He was a tireless and savvy opponent of the gag rule, believing that it was unconstitutional, and was a major spokesman against the interests of slaveholding states. This book details Adams’ battle to have the gag rule lifted. It is a struggle that one hears little about today, eclipsed as is was by the drama of the Civil War, but its importance cannot be overstated. Miller describes the fight over the gag rule as “the first explicit and extended struggle between American slavery and what would be called, in a later century, the American Creed.” It sounds dry, but it isn’t. I have bought two copies of this book and read it cover-to-cover twice. Miller makes history—the kind you don’t learn about in history courses—come alive. I came away from this book with great admiration for John Quincy Adams and for the resiliency of our Constitution. We are still one country and slavery was abolished via constitutional amendment. Thank you, John Quincy Adams.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Don

    From a 21st century perspective the issues are so clear, the attitudes of the Congressional players so clearly "good guys" vs. "bad guys." I found it fascinating to watch John Quincy Adams, perhaps America's finest diplomat and one of our least successful Presidents (the failure of strong principles and the presumption that being right makes might!), as he staked his claim on the right of all Americans to petition the Congress to state our grievances and to have those petitions acknowledged. The From a 21st century perspective the issues are so clear, the attitudes of the Congressional players so clearly "good guys" vs. "bad guys." I found it fascinating to watch John Quincy Adams, perhaps America's finest diplomat and one of our least successful Presidents (the failure of strong principles and the presumption that being right makes might!), as he staked his claim on the right of all Americans to petition the Congress to state our grievances and to have those petitions acknowledged. The fact that the most challenged petitions focused on the abolition of slavery and led to continuing battles in Congress over gag rules to prevent any discussion of that peculiar institution provides the core to this fine read. An interesting window into the pre-Civil War history of the discussion of slavery, an insightful presentation of the intriguing "JQA." This book has pulled me back into continuing reading on the extended interim between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ann

    This book was a life changing experience for me. I had no idea John Quincey Adams was in the House of Representatives after he was President, or that he played such a crucile role in keeping debate in the House an issue and a value. Also, the Author's research was meticulous and I felt confident in every detail of the debates he presented. Made me proud of our New England ancestors and founding fathers........ This book was a life changing experience for me. I had no idea John Quincey Adams was in the House of Representatives after he was President, or that he played such a crucile role in keeping debate in the House an issue and a value. Also, the Author's research was meticulous and I felt confident in every detail of the debates he presented. Made me proud of our New England ancestors and founding fathers........

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    A fascinating story told with supreme skill by William Lee Miller. John C. Calhoun will enrage you with his Orwellian justifications for slavery. John Quincy Adams' audacious exploits will leave you in awe of his chutzpah. The quaint idiosyncracies of old-time Congress will have you chuckling. And you'll come away learning a whole lot. This book is awesome! A fascinating story told with supreme skill by William Lee Miller. John C. Calhoun will enrage you with his Orwellian justifications for slavery. John Quincy Adams' audacious exploits will leave you in awe of his chutzpah. The quaint idiosyncracies of old-time Congress will have you chuckling. And you'll come away learning a whole lot. This book is awesome!

  10. 4 out of 5

    MrHooker

    I generally don't read many history books and even less that are this in depth about the goings on in congress. But I've heard this book recommended by several people. Frequently I've heard and wondered myself why it took the civil war to end slavery. Why didn't the people just vote to end it? Was the whole nation racist? Why did it cost over 600,000 lives to pay for the sin of slavery? I think everyone should read this book to understand the political climate of the nation at the time as well a I generally don't read many history books and even less that are this in depth about the goings on in congress. But I've heard this book recommended by several people. Frequently I've heard and wondered myself why it took the civil war to end slavery. Why didn't the people just vote to end it? Was the whole nation racist? Why did it cost over 600,000 lives to pay for the sin of slavery? I think everyone should read this book to understand the political climate of the nation at the time as well as the motivations on both sides. I was surprised at how it was virtually impossible for anyone to even bring up the subject of slavery in congress. If you did all the democrats from the slave states would give red faced speeches flowing with righteous indignation claiming you were treasonous and traitor who wishes to dissolve the union by daring to question slavery. You were the lowest of the low to them. But it wasn't just angry words in congress as we found out. Even if you lived in the north and were outspoken about abolition your house could be ransacked and all your furniture thrown in the street at burned, you could be beaten and stoned. Governors in the north sympathetic to slavery could have you run out of town. Elijah Lovejoy was killed by a mob while defending his printing press in Illinois. In the south it was much worse abolitionists were threatened with death if they brought any abolitionist material south. Even the postal service in the south was burning any such material and the issue was later brought up on congress. The author paints a vivid picture of the U.S. in the early 1800's starting with the forming of the abolition society who was primarily comprised of Quakers and who's flyers were mostly handed out by women. They were also instrumental in organizing the signing of petitions to abolish slavery. These petitions were brought forth in congress dutifully by a few of their representatives as the author pointed out even if they didn't agree with the petitions. They felt it their duty and honor to defend the right to petition as granted in the first amendment. The travesty was that as soon as someone tried to read one in congress they'd get shouted down and a vote would be called to "table" the petition which basically meant they would lay the petition on the table and never look into it. So, the people’s right to petition was being ignored. About 230 pages in or so it starts getting good. J.Q. Adams (former president now congressman) relentlessly raises the slavery issue over and over by presenting petition after petition. The dude had some balls and it was great watching the southern congressmen squirm then get outraged and hurl insults, and in many cases walk out. Despite his boldness the pro abolition members did not have the numbers to affect any real change. Any time he tried to propose something or have something sent to committee they were voted down. So much so that they eventually passed a gag rule saying anything having to do with slavery was automatically tabled and was not to be talked about. He agitates them so much they vote to censure him. The best part is he votes for himself to be censured too! Because if he is censured he has the right to defend himself which means they can't stop him from talking about whatever he wants. 'Let's have it out Let's see if you can censure me. Have you considered what that means?' I won't tell you how that works out but it's probably the best part. This book is primarily about the struggle by J.Q. Adams and a few other like minded congressmen trying to get the gag rule overturned. It's brought up how many abolitionists are famous for changing the public sentiment on slavery but a number of politicians like J.Q. got very little credit when they were the ones in congress actually trying to affect change of the laws. All this said at times some of this can be a bit dry to the average reader who does not have a big interest in history and it is a bit of a read at well over 500 pages. That said it's a important and meaningful read and will give you a better understanding of beginning of the abolition movement before the big names like Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Lincoln were around.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This book was written back in 1995. In 1995, the country was emeshed in an effort to rid itself of tobacco. At the time tobacco was big business and ever present. People smoked in schools, at work, in libraries, everywhere. Tobacco lobbyist were some of the biggest and most powerful groups in the country (think 4-6 organizations like the NRA today, but stronger and more unified.) Miller uses that image to discuss how big, powerful, and everpresent slavery was in the early 19th century---only slav This book was written back in 1995. In 1995, the country was emeshed in an effort to rid itself of tobacco. At the time tobacco was big business and ever present. People smoked in schools, at work, in libraries, everywhere. Tobacco lobbyist were some of the biggest and most powerful groups in the country (think 4-6 organizations like the NRA today, but stronger and more unified.) Miller uses that image to discuss how big, powerful, and everpresent slavery was in the early 19th century---only slavery interests were bigger and stronger than the tobacco empire ever was! Today we don't have a lobby group as strong as tobacco in the 90s, and tobacco in the 90s was not as strong as slavery in the 19th century. Miller has a way of explaining ideas and concepts in a way that has you thinking, "I knew that, but I never really thought of what that meant." This was a book that on just about every page there was an idea or concept that I wanted to remember. The book is largely about John Quincey Adams and his efforts to oppose the gag rule in Congress. A rule that said you can't talk about slavery. He was a genius. The stories are hilarious. The Nine Women From Richmond and the 22 Slaves from Virginia are well worth the read. Rules be damned. Go ahead and censure me... I welcome it was his motto. This book is not a book to read fast, it rarely takes me a week or two read a book of this size. But it took me about 5 weeks to digest this one. There is just so much in this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael Dickson

    Explores the arguments on the floor of Congress in the 1830s and 1840s on the road to the Civil War. The few anti-slavery reps insistently and bravely creating space to speak while reps from the south violently fight to silence literally all debate or *mention* of slavery in the halls of Congress. Shockingly moving for a 500 page book about Congressional debate. I've never been so excited about parliamentary procedure. 😅 It's a powerful answer to questions about how we pass moral judgment on peopl Explores the arguments on the floor of Congress in the 1830s and 1840s on the road to the Civil War. The few anti-slavery reps insistently and bravely creating space to speak while reps from the south violently fight to silence literally all debate or *mention* of slavery in the halls of Congress. Shockingly moving for a 500 page book about Congressional debate. I've never been so excited about parliamentary procedure. 😅 It's a powerful answer to questions about how we pass moral judgment on people from the past. Even in the most immoral society there are moral people who rise up. Although for wealthy white northern politicians, it must've taken astounding moral clarity to expect, accept and *affirm* the violence that would have to come before justice could arrive with emancipation. "We know that the day of your redemption must come. The time and the manner of its coming we know not: It may come in peace, or it may come in blood; but whether in peace or or in blood, LET IT COME... ...Though it cost the blood of MILLIONS OF WHITE MEN, LET IT COME. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall." --- John Quincy Adams, IN EIGHTEEN FORTY FOUR (first half was from a speech to a free black community, then quoted against Adams in Congress -- THE SECOND PART WAS LITERALLY ON THE US CONGRESS FLOOR)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Geoff Sebesta

    It took me five months to slog through this book, but I made it and I don't regret it. The tone of the book begins as annoyingly superior, but the author reins it in and focuses on one of the most important and difficult to describe events of the run-up to the Civil War; John Quincy Adams's multi-year fight to remove the gag rule on abolitionist petitions from the House of Representatives. I know, I know, it's as interesting as it sounds. And the author does not manage to make it fascinating. But It took me five months to slog through this book, but I made it and I don't regret it. The tone of the book begins as annoyingly superior, but the author reins it in and focuses on one of the most important and difficult to describe events of the run-up to the Civil War; John Quincy Adams's multi-year fight to remove the gag rule on abolitionist petitions from the House of Representatives. I know, I know, it's as interesting as it sounds. And the author does not manage to make it fascinating. But he does manage to convey the sequence of events, which no other book I've ever read has ever done. Even if it wasn't riveting, even when it was happening, it was extremely important. Miller demonstrates that it was Adams who created the framework of abolition, defining the battleground, the terms, and the moral authority. It takes a boring book to reveal that, and it took five months to read that boring book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    A delve into the politics and government of the 19th century, and the nine year debate in the U.S. Congress of eradicating the peculiar institution of slavery from the fabric of America. "Shame on a nation that fosters and sustains an institution which dares assail and would destroy the sacred right of petition." A delve into the politics and government of the 19th century, and the nine year debate in the U.S. Congress of eradicating the peculiar institution of slavery from the fabric of America. "Shame on a nation that fosters and sustains an institution which dares assail and would destroy the sacred right of petition."

  15. 4 out of 5

    John

    Brilliant! I read this in 1998 when it came out in paperback. I found it even more impressive now as patterns discussed in the book have, unfortunately, returned to American politics, even in the Congress & in the White House

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    This book is beautiful. It's gripping and fascinating. There's a reason people say something is as interesting as parliamentary procedure: they haven't read this book yet. This book is beautiful. It's gripping and fascinating. There's a reason people say something is as interesting as parliamentary procedure: they haven't read this book yet.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    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 prohibit 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. Page 17 - Jefferson, while a member of the Confederation Congress in 1784, authored a provision to exclude slavery not just from the Old Northwest, but ALL Western territory on the far side of the Appalachians. It failed by one state's vote, which he claimed in turn was lost due to the illness of one delegate. Page 349 - Showing a fine-tuned sense of satire, even sarcasm, during gag rule debate in the 25th Congress, Adams proposed Congress form a "Committee of Color," specifically designed to investigate Congressional bloodlines, with the "impure" to be summarily expelled. Page 478 - A fine illustration of the morals of the white knights of the patrician South: Henry Hammond, southern ultra already at this time, in the House, and as Senator, deliverer of the "Cotton is King" speech, was a rou? first class. He took an 18-year-old slave with 1-year-old child as a mistress, then when the child turned 12 took her as mistress too. He also had some degree of attachment to the four teenage daughters of Wade Hampton II, father of the Civil War general. Read this book, and find out just how entrenched Southern recalcitrance was 20, 30, 40 years before the shots at Fort Sumter.

  18. 4 out of 5

    rmn

    John Quincy Adams was one bad mofo (and by bad I mean good, and by mofo, I mean mofo). This is a phenomenal book about JQ Adams spending ~10 years arguing in front of congress to defend the right of citizen's to petition (even though the right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution). What makes this story fascinating is that JQ Adams' fight revolved around congress refusing to have petitions presented to them that sought to abolish slavery in Washington, DC. So JQ A John Quincy Adams was one bad mofo (and by bad I mean good, and by mofo, I mean mofo). This is a phenomenal book about JQ Adams spending ~10 years arguing in front of congress to defend the right of citizen's to petition (even though the right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution). What makes this story fascinating is that JQ Adams' fight revolved around congress refusing to have petitions presented to them that sought to abolish slavery in Washington, DC. So JQ Adams wasn't just fighting to defend the freedom of citizens and their inalienable rights, but he was also standing up to congress about slavery, which makes him among the first elected officials, if not the first, to do so. It is really an amazing part of US History that is little known and JQ Adams' fight for the rights of all citizens, often by himself without real support, makes him one of the most underrated American heros. The short of it is people in the North started getting more outspoken about slavery and sent petitions to congress to outlaw the practice in the nation's capitol (something unseemly about congressmen of a supposed free country having to walk by shackled slaves up for sale on their way to work, go figure). Unfortunately, about half the House was made up of slaveholders and most of the other half didn't want to get in to a political battle (since the Constitution gave them no right to ban slavery in the Capitol), so the petitions were simply laid on the table and summarily dismissed. This was a practice followed for a number of years but in the 1830s, the Southern congressmen didn't even want the petitions to be laid on the table, they wanted them to be dismissed before even reaching congress. This led to the 10+ year battle fought by JQ Adams, a fight that led to the gag rule and even an attempt to censure him on the floor of congress. Even though it sounds dry, it's quite a compelling story as Adams used all kinds of ingenious legislative tricks to keep the issue from dying and to get around the gag rule. For example, as part of his defense at his censure trial, he simply asked the Speaker of the House to read the Declaration of Independence out loud (you know, the document his dad wrote). Through it all, Adams stood mostly alone and in the most clever ways made sure the issue of slavery and freedom never left the minds of congressman. The book is extremely well written (seriously, to make 10+ years of congressional legislative sessions a page turner is no easy trick, much harder than staying awake while reading a Jane Austen novel) and if you have any interest in American history, it is a must read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Sometimes you need to take small steps to solve large issues. The gag rule in the U.S. House of Representatives, which forbade even the DISCUSSION of the slavery issue, is the subject of William Lee Miller's excellent book. As the title indicates, former President John Quincy Adams was at the forefront of the battle to rescind the gag resolution, laying the groundwork for a build-up of anti-slavery sentiment in the 1840s and 1850s. That Adams served in Congress after having been a United States p Sometimes you need to take small steps to solve large issues. The gag rule in the U.S. House of Representatives, which forbade even the DISCUSSION of the slavery issue, is the subject of William Lee Miller's excellent book. As the title indicates, former President John Quincy Adams was at the forefront of the battle to rescind the gag resolution, laying the groundwork for a build-up of anti-slavery sentiment in the 1840s and 1850s. That Adams served in Congress after having been a United States president should tell you something about his commitment; because of that and, obviously, his anti-slavery work, Adams, in my mind, is one of the most underrated great Americans to serve as a public official. "Arguing About Slavery" could have been tedious, as it describes in detail machinations of the pro-slavery faction and those like Adams trying mightily just to get the issue talked about. Instead, the book is fascinating start to finish. Included are illuminating excerpts of Congressional minutes and backgrounds of the issue and the participants. That Adams and others refused to let silence shroud the issue makes you want to stand up and cheer. Miller's book is important in shedding light on their painstaking, dogged work. A nice book to go along with this one would be "All on Fire," Henry Mayer's biography of William Lloyd Garrison, another slavery foe and underappreciated great American.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Very dense, and convoluted writing style. However, well researched and fascinating depiction of John Quincy Adams' long-suffering dedication and contributions to the fight to end slavery. Outrageous tactics, behaviors and speeches given by House of Representatives members.I learned a lot. Very dense, and convoluted writing style. However, well researched and fascinating depiction of John Quincy Adams' long-suffering dedication and contributions to the fight to end slavery. Outrageous tactics, behaviors and speeches given by House of Representatives members.I learned a lot.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Slim Khezri

    On this day in 1865, The U.S. Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery. And here's an excellent book about John Quincy Adams's fight against the "gag rule", not only (importantly) as an important battle for freedom of speech (to exercise it in CONGRESS, no less!), as well as in the efforts to outlaw slavery (the substance of the petitions Adams was presenting whose very existence Southern Congressmen didn't even wish to have acknowledge). An absolutely brill On this day in 1865, The U.S. Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery. And here's an excellent book about John Quincy Adams's fight against the "gag rule", not only (importantly) as an important battle for freedom of speech (to exercise it in CONGRESS, no less!), as well as in the efforts to outlaw slavery (the substance of the petitions Adams was presenting whose very existence Southern Congressmen didn't even wish to have acknowledge). An absolutely brilliant book. Incredibly moving: the only book I've ever read that literally brought me to tears while reading it. But at the same time, wonderfully informative and evocative of the amazing historical events of the day. If you liked the movie "Amistad," you will love this second look at John Quincy Adams' incredibly brave stand during what William Freehling has called the "Pearl Harbor of the Civil War." I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Actually, Today (December 18th) is the day the amendment was ratified. It was passed by Congress in January of 1865, when the Civil War was still in progress (as Spielberg's movie "Lincoln" showed so memorably.)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    This book offers an account of the fight in the US House of Representatives from 1835 - 1844 over efforts by Southern legislators to block reception of petitions asking for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The central figure is John Quincy Adams, who had served as President for one term in the 1820s but was back in the House by the 1830s. The fight set the stage for the political battles of the 1840s and 1850s that in turn led up to the Civil War. Beyond the drama of the sto This book offers an account of the fight in the US House of Representatives from 1835 - 1844 over efforts by Southern legislators to block reception of petitions asking for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The central figure is John Quincy Adams, who had served as President for one term in the 1820s but was back in the House by the 1830s. The fight set the stage for the political battles of the 1840s and 1850s that in turn led up to the Civil War. Beyond the drama of the story, and the colorful leaders Miller depicts, the book offers wonderful insights into the strategies and tactics of the abolitionist movement. This has to be one of the first efforts in American history involving substantial numbers of third party, grassroots advocates -- that is, ordinary citizens organized in support of a goal that would not benefit them directly. The lessons learned in the petition fight have been transmitted through successive generations of advocates working on different causes, and are still useful lessons for those of us working to shape public policies today.

  23. 4 out of 5

    The Angry Lawn Gnome

    A very in depth survey of a a little known but nonetheless very important period of American history. I am giving this work four stars based upon the impressive amount of research Miller did in writing this book, but he also has an unfortunate tendency to editorialize and it is beyond question that in his view the North had the white hats and the South the black. He also tends to focus on politicians on the Northern side of the aisle, describing their lives in between congressional sessions with A very in depth survey of a a little known but nonetheless very important period of American history. I am giving this work four stars based upon the impressive amount of research Miller did in writing this book, but he also has an unfortunate tendency to editorialize and it is beyond question that in his view the North had the white hats and the South the black. He also tends to focus on politicians on the Northern side of the aisle, describing their lives in between congressional sessions with some frequency. There is very little of this done for any of the Southern politicians, Calhoun, Hammond, Pinkney and so forth. Which is unfortunate in the extreme. After all, since the primary focus of the book is John Quincy Adams and the clearly unconstitutional "gag rule," it would have been interesting to learn how the slave-owning gentlemen claiming slavery was so beneficial actually behaved toward their slaves. Still and all, JQ Adams' "trial" was positively riveting and the irony of what the motion of censure brought against him was simply amazing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    A fascinating history of some of the early congressional debates about slavery. For the most part these were debates about whether it would even be permissible to discuss the "peculiar institution" of the South in the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller makes excellent use of the original records of these debates and does a good job portraying the debates in terms of the concerns of the participants, people who had no foreknowledge that this issue would ultimately lead to the American Civil Wa A fascinating history of some of the early congressional debates about slavery. For the most part these were debates about whether it would even be permissible to discuss the "peculiar institution" of the South in the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller makes excellent use of the original records of these debates and does a good job portraying the debates in terms of the concerns of the participants, people who had no foreknowledge that this issue would ultimately lead to the American Civil War. The book also provides a larger-than-life look at the last stage of the career of John Quincy Adams, the only former U.S. President to serve in the House of Representatives.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Congressional debates from the 1830s? Not that exciting, right? That's what I thought when I was assigned this book in high school; I was very, very wrong. Miller's research is some of the most detailed I've seen, and his writing style conveys the real drama and personalities involved in early American politics. His book reveals how explosive and contentious the topic of slavery was in the decades leading up to the Civil War, of the infamous "gag rule" (where one of the formal rules of the House Congressional debates from the 1830s? Not that exciting, right? That's what I thought when I was assigned this book in high school; I was very, very wrong. Miller's research is some of the most detailed I've seen, and his writing style conveys the real drama and personalities involved in early American politics. His book reveals how explosive and contentious the topic of slavery was in the decades leading up to the Civil War, of the infamous "gag rule" (where one of the formal rules of the House of Representatives forbade the mention of slavery, even in petitions), and of the strong personalities that populated the halls of congress. A definite Good Read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Francis Gallo

    If you are at all interested in the history of this country or are looking for a deeper understanding of how our history has made us who we are today, Arguing About Slavery is a good place to start. It begins with the first session of the twenty fourth Congress back in the early 1830's, long before the Civil War and emancipation. Miller details the deconstruction of our constitutional right to petition in the glaring light of the abolitionist movement and the restoration of that right by J Q Ada If you are at all interested in the history of this country or are looking for a deeper understanding of how our history has made us who we are today, Arguing About Slavery is a good place to start. It begins with the first session of the twenty fourth Congress back in the early 1830's, long before the Civil War and emancipation. Miller details the deconstruction of our constitutional right to petition in the glaring light of the abolitionist movement and the restoration of that right by J Q Adams. Beyond the politics of the time Miller offers a unique insight into the nature of the personalities involved in defending our individual freedoms.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A long-winded, overly verbose treatment of the fight over the gag rule in the US Congress in the 1830s & 1840s (yes, the irony of this sentence is intentional). Still, with all of Miller's many digressions, this book is more than *just* a history of the gag rule; it provides a near-exhaustive look at the rise of political anti-slavery in the US during the Jacksonian Era, before sectionalism became a defining aspect of national politics. That alone makes this worth a read, even if it's 25% longer A long-winded, overly verbose treatment of the fight over the gag rule in the US Congress in the 1830s & 1840s (yes, the irony of this sentence is intentional). Still, with all of Miller's many digressions, this book is more than *just* a history of the gag rule; it provides a near-exhaustive look at the rise of political anti-slavery in the US during the Jacksonian Era, before sectionalism became a defining aspect of national politics. That alone makes this worth a read, even if it's 25% longer than it needs to be.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ann

    My book club read this book several years ago. The author's research was impressive and I learned more about pre civil war US than I'd ever known. John Quincy Adams was a bull dog! He was not officially associated with the abolitionists, but did us all a great service by keeping open discussion from withering away in the US congress. My book club read this book several years ago. The author's research was impressive and I learned more about pre civil war US than I'd ever known. John Quincy Adams was a bull dog! He was not officially associated with the abolitionists, but did us all a great service by keeping open discussion from withering away in the US congress.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul Von hippel

    Richly detailed, beautifully written narrative about a little known episode in the long run-up to Civil War. Former President John Quincy Adams becomes a Member of Congress and champions the right to present abolitionist petitions on the floor of the House of Representatives, runs into a buzzsaw of opposition from the South Carolina delegation.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brianna

    I love history, and even I thought a book on the 9-year-long gag order against discussing slavery in Congress couldn't possibly be that compelling. I was wrong. I don't know how Miller does it, but this is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. Be warned: it will also make you want to become president of your local John Quincy Adams fan club. I love history, and even I thought a book on the 9-year-long gag order against discussing slavery in Congress couldn't possibly be that compelling. I was wrong. I don't know how Miller does it, but this is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. Be warned: it will also make you want to become president of your local John Quincy Adams fan club.

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