- The Conflict with Slavery (John Qunicy Adams.) by John Greenleaf Whittier
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The Conflict with Slavery
John Qunicy Adams.

by John Greenleaf Whittier

     In 1837 Isaac Knapp printed Letters from John Quincy Adams to his
     Constituents of the Twelfth Congressional District in Massachusetts,
     to which is added his Speech in Congress, delivered February 9,
     1837, and the following stood as an introduction to the pamphlet.

The following letters have been published, within a few weeks, in the Quincy (Mass.) 'Patriot'. Notwithstanding the great importance of the subjects which they discuss, the intense interest which they are calculated to awaken throughout this commonwealth and the whole country, and the exalted reputation of their author as a profound statesman and powerful writer, they are as yet hardly known beyond the limits of the constituency to whom they are particularly addressed. The reason of this is sufficiently obvious. John Quincy Adams belongs to neither of the prominent political parties, fights no partisan battles, and cannot be prevailed upon to sacrifice truth and principle upon the altar of party expediency and interest. Hence neither party is interested in defending his course, or in giving him an opportunity to defend himself. But however systematic may be the efforts of mere partisan presses to suppress and hold back from the public eye the powerful and triumphant vindication of the Right of Petition, the graphic delineation of the slavery spirit in Congress, and the humbling disclosure of Northern cowardice and treachery, contained in these letters, they are destined to exert a powerful influence upon the public mind. They will constitute one of the most striking pages in the history of our times. They will be read with avidity in the North and in the South, and throughout Europe. Apart from the interest excited by the subjects under discussion, and viewed only as literary productions, they may be ranked among the highest intellectual efforts of their author. Their sarcasm is Junius-like,-- cold, keen, unsparing. In boldness, directness, and eloquent appeal, they will bear comparison with O'Connell's celebrated 'Letters to the Reformers of Great Britain'. They are the offspring of an intellect unshorn of its primal strength, and combining the ardor of youth with the experience of age.

The disclosure made in these letters of the slavery influence exerted in Congress over the representatives of the free states, of the manner in which the rights of freemen have been bartered for Southern votes, or basely yielded to the threats of men educated in despotism, and stamped by the free indulgence of unrestrained tyranny with the "odious peculiarities" of slavery, is painful and humiliating in the extreme. It will be seen that, in the great struggle for and against the Right of Petition, an account of which is given in the following pages, their author stood, in a great measure, alone and unsupported by his Northern colleagues. On his "gray, discrowned head" the entire fury of slave- holding arrogance and wrath was expended. He stood alone, beating back, with his aged and single arm, the tide which would have borne down and overwhelmed a less sturdy and determined spirit.

We need not solicit for these letters, and the speech which accompanies them, a thorough perusal. They deserve, and we trust will receive, a circulation throughout the entire country. They will meet a cordial welcome from every lover of human liberty, from every friend of justice and the rights of man, irrespective of color or condition. The principles which they defend, the sentiments which they express, are those of Massachusetts, as recently asserted, almost unanimously, by her legislature. In both branches of that body, during the discussion of the subject of slavery and the right of petition, the course of the ex- President was warmly and eloquently commended. Massachusetts will sustain her tried and faithful representative; and the time is not far distant when the best and worthiest citizens of the entire North will proffer him their thanks for his noble defence of their rights as freemen, and of the rights of the slave as a man.

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