Sunday, June 01, 2008

John Quincy Adams, Slavery and the Civil War

John Quincy Adams' diary entry for February 24, 1820 is a a wonder to behold.

At the time, Adams was President Monroe's Secretary of State, and John C. Calhoun was the Secretary of War. On the afternoon of that day, Adams visited Calhoun's office at the President's request to discuss another matter. The discussion then turned to the Missouri crisis, which was then reaching a boiling point in Congress. As I have done before, I have added paragraph breaks to enhance readability:
I called at Calhoun’s office . . .. [After discussing other matters,] I also had some conversation with Calhoun on the slave question pending in Congress. He said he did not think it would produce a dissolution of the Union, but if it should the South would be from necessity compelled to form an alliance offensive and defensive with Great Britain. I said that would be returning to the colonial state; he said yes, pretty much; but it would be forced upon them.

I asked him whether he thought, if by the effect of this alliance offensive and defensive, the population of the north should be cut off from its natural outlet upon the ocean, it would fall back upon its rocks bound hand and foot to starve, or whether it would not retain its powers of locomotion, to move southward by land. Then he said they would find it necessary to make their communities all military.

I pressed the conversation no further, but if the dissolution of the Union should result from the slave question, it is as obvious as any thing that can be foreseen of futurity, that it must shortly afterwards be followed by the universal emancipation of the slaves. A more remote but perhaps not less certain consequence would be the extirpation of the African race on this continent, by the gradually bleaching process of intermixture; where the white portion is already so predominant, and by the destructive progress of emancipation, which like all great religious and political reformations is terrible in its means though happy and glorious in its end.

Slavery is the great and foul stain upon the North American Union; and it is a contemplation worthy of the most exalted soul, whether its total abolition is or is not practicable. If practicable, by what means it may be effected, and if a choice of means be within the scope of the object, what means would accomplish it, at the smallest cost of human sufferance. A dissolution at least temporary of the Union as now constituted would be certainly necessary, and the dissolution must be upon a point involving the question of slavery and no other. The union might then be reorganized, on the fundamental principle of emancipation. This object is vast in its compass, awful in its prospects, sublime and beautiful in its issue. A life devoted to it would be nobly spent or sacrificed.

This conversation with Calhoun led me into a momentous train of reflection. It also engaged me so much that I detained him at his office, insensibly to myself till near five O’clock, an hour at least, later than his dining time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails