In the final years of his political career, President John Quincy Adams was well known for his objections to slavery, with rival Henry Wise going so far as to label him "the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed." As a young statesman, however, he supported slavery. How did the man who in 1795 told a British cabinet officer not to speak to him of "the Virginians, the Southern people, the democrats," whom he considered "in no other light than as Americans," come to foretell "a grand struggle between slavery and freedom"? How could a committed expansionist, who would rather abandon his party and lose his U.S. Senate seat than attack Jeffersonian slave power, later come to declare the Mexican War the "apoplexy of the Constitution," a hijacking of the republic by slaveholders? What changed? Entries from Adams's personal diary, more extensive than that of any American statesman, reveal a highly dynamic and accomplished politician in engagement with one of his generation's most challenging national dilemmas.
Expertly edited by David Waldstreicher and Matthew Mason, John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery offers an unusual perspective on the dramatic and shifting politics of slavery in the early republic, as it moved from the margins to the center of public life and from the shadows to the substance of Adams's politics. The editors provide a lucid introduction to the collection as a whole and frame the individual documents with brief and engaging insights, rendering both Adams's life and the controversies over slavery into a mutually illuminating narrative. By juxtaposing Adams's personal reflections on slavery with what he said-and did not say-publicly on the issue, the editors offer a nuanced portrait of how he interacted with prevailing ideologies during his consequential career and life. John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the complicated politics of slavery that set the groundwork for the Civil War.