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

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9780394569222: 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.

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About the Author:

William Lee Miller has taught at Yale University, Smith College, Indiana University, and the University of Virginia, where he is currently Miller Center of Public Affairs Scholar in Ethics and Institutions. He has been an editor and writer on a political magazine, a speechwriter, and a three-term alderman. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Arguing About Slavery, which won the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress.
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According to Miller, he was working on a project "on America's moral and intellectual underpinnings" when he came upon the subject of this book, and it grabbed him by his collar, threw him to the floor, sat on his chest, and insisted that it be told. A bit melodramatic, perhaps, but his subject is an extraordinary episode in U.S. history. It was a long argument that took place mostly on the floor of the House of Representatives, in the 1830s and early 1840s, over the right of the people, particularly nonvoting women, to petition, when those petitions begged for the ending of the slave trade in the capital, when those petitions came from slaves ("they are property, not persons; they have no political rights" ), and, in the end, when those petitions even mentioned slavery. So then, this little-known controversy was an argument to end American slavery without destroying the Union, before there was an inkling of the Civil War. The hero is John Quincy Adams, an ex-president, who presented more of those petitions than any other representative, particularly after Representative Waddy Thompson attempted to censure him for it. Thompson didn't realize "he mistook his man." After a nine-year struggle, during which gag rules were passed and two attempts were made to censure him, Adams defeated the gag rule on petition. Miller's book is of the utmost importance, for it shows how close we were to moral destruction in those days of state's rights and suggests how close we are again. Bonnie Smothers

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