The Legacy of Slavery: John Tyler

John Tyler was nicknamed "the Accidental President" because he was the first Vice-President to become President following the death of an incumbent President. Tyler was another in a string of Presidents from Virginia. He came from a slaveholding family, was a slaveholder himself, and was a staunch defender of the institution of slavery.

Tyler was raised with his two brothers and five sisters on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre estate with a six-room mansion. The crops including wheat, corn, and tobacco were tended to by the Tylers' forty slaves. Tyler served three terms in Congress from 1816 to 1821. The dominant issue of the Sixteenth Congress (1819–21) was the admission of Missouri to the Union, and whether slavery would be permitted in the new state. Tyler was a leader in opposition to the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which for the first time established national boundaries for the institution of slavery.) Tyler argued that the compromise served only to diminish and divide the states. He argued that if slavery was allowed in Missouri, it would attract existing slaveowners from Southern states, and in turn dilute the population of slaves, reducing each state's reliance on the practice. (By this time the importation of further slaves was illegal.) In his view, emancipation would occur at the state level through attrition, without federal intervention. Tyler voted against the Missouri Compromise (which passed) and all other bills to would restrict slavery in new territories.

From October 1829 to January 1830, Tyler served as a member of the Virginia state constitutional convention. The original Virginia Constitution gave outsize influence to the state's more conservative eastern counties, as it allocated an equal number of legislators to each county (regardless of population) and only gave the vote to property owners. The new convention gave the more populous and liberal counties of western Virginia an opportunity to expand their influence. As a slaveowner from eastern Virginia, Tyler supported the existing system and was opposed to any changes. But he was not an active participant during the debate, because he did not wish to alienate any of the state's political factions.

Tyler, an advocate of Western expansionism, made the annexation of the Republic of Texas part of his platform soon after becoming President. He intended annexation to be the focal point of his administration. Secretary Webster, opposed, convinced Tyler to focus on Pacific initiatives until later in his term. Tyler appointed Abel P. Upshur as his new Secretary of State, and Tyler and Upshur began quiet negotiations with the Texas government, promising military protection from Mexico in exchange for a commitment to annexation. Upshur planted rumors of possible British designs on Texas to drum up support among Northern voters, who were wary of admitting a new pro-slavery state. Tyler appointed former Vice President John C. Calhoun in early March 1844 as his Secretary of State, following the death of Upshur. Calhoun was a leading advocate of slavery, and his attempts to get an annexation treaty passed were resisted by abolitionists. Martin Van Buren also worked, behind the scenes of American politics, to ensure the annexation treaty was not approved. Even with the support of Andrew Jackson for the treaty, the United States Senate rejected it, 16–35. Tyler wanted the issue of the annexation of Texas to be the foundation of his re-election campaign. After the annexation treaty had been rejected, Tyler called for Congress to annex Texas by joint resolution rather than by treaty. When fellow expansionist James K. Polk had won the election, Tyler announced in his annual message to Congress that "a controlling majority of the people and a large majority of the states have declared in favor of immediate annexation." In late February 1845, the House by a substantial margin and the Senate by a bare 27–25 majority approved a joint resolution offering terms of annexation to Texas. On March 1, three days before the end of his term, Tyler signed the bill into law.

Tyler retired to a Virginia plantation, originally named "Walnut Grove" (or "the Grove"), located on the James River in Charles City County, Virginia. He renamed it "Sherwood Forest" to signify that he had been "outlawed" by the Whig Party. His neighbors, largely Whigs, appointed him "overseer" of his road in 1847 in an effort to mock him. To their displeasure he treated the title seriously, frequently summoning his neighbors' slaves to attend to road work, and continued to bear the title even after his neighbors asked him to stop.


Tyler was a slaveholder for his entire life. John Dunjee claimed to be the illegitimate son of John Tyler, a child of Tyler and one of his female slaves. Early in his presidency, Tyler was attacked by a newspaper alleging he had fathered (and sold) several sons with his slaves, prompting a strong denial from the Tyler administration linked newspaper the Madisonian. The allegation has never been proven to be true, but it likely grew legs because of Tyler's propensity to procreate. He holds the record for most children by a President: fifteen.

Tyler retired from electoral politics and returned to his Virginia estate, known as "Sherwood Forest". When southern states began to secede in 1860, Tyler tried unsuccessfully to broker a peace conference. When the Civil War began in 1861, he sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives. But he did not live long enough to arrive for the first sitting of the house. Just after midnight, on the morning of January 18, 1862, Tyler, who had been ill for the past few weeks, took a last sip of brandy, and told his doctor, "I am going. Perhaps it is best." He then passed away. It is believed that he had suffered a stroke.

John Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. His death was not officially mourned because he was considered a traitor to the Union. He was buried with his coffin draped with a Confederate flag.

Happy Birthday Ike

Today is the 131st birthday of President Dwight David Eisenhower. He was born on October 14, 1890. He is one of my favorite Presidents, and the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene, Kansas, is also one of my favorite Presidential Libraries and Museums. I've been there three times (so far).


Although Dwight D. Eisenhower is usually associated with Kansas (where his family lived for most of his life), he was actually born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons. His mother originally named him David Dwight but she reversed the two names after his birth in order to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the family. (Ike's father was named David). In 1892, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, the town that Eisenhower considered to be his home town. From his modest midwestern roots, Eisenhower accomplished much. Besides being the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961, he had previously been a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. In that role he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and later the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO.

Eisenhower's parents had a strong religious background that included pacifist beliefs. In spite of this, Eisenhower attended and graduated from West Point Military Academy, where he was more of an athlete than a scholar. He played football for West Point, but a knee injury ended what might have been a promising athletic career. He married the former Mamie Doud, who by marriage acquired the turbulent and transient life of a military spouse. The couple had two sons. After World War II, Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff under President Harry S. Truman, and then assumed the post of President at Columbia University.

Eisenhower entered the 1952 presidential race as a very popular candidate. Both parties wanted him and Harry Truman offered to step aside if Ike ran for the Democrats. Eisenhower chose the Republican party instead and he won by a landslide, defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson and ending two decades of the New Deal Coalition. Almost immediately he kept a campaign promise in which he told voters "I shall go to Korea", and that he did. When he was there he ate the same rations as the enlisted men instead of presidential cuisine. In the first year of his presidency, Eisenhower deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and used the threat of nuclear aggression to end the Korean War in a stalemate as the United States squared off with China for the latter nation's first time as a major world power. Ike's policy of nuclear deterrence gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for conventional military forces. His goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union while reducing federal deficits.

In 1954, Eisenhower set out his "domino theory" in assessing the threat presented by the spread of communism. When the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, he believed that the United States had to play catch-up in the space race. He forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 spy plane incident in which he was caught in a lie about the US spying on the Russians. He gave a very famous 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which Eisenhower expressed his concerns about future dangers of massive military spending, especially deficit spending, and warned Americans to be on guard against what he called the "military–industrial complex".

On the domestic front, he opposed Senator Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt against communists at home, though many believe that he didn't do so strongly enough. More important to his legacy, he launched the Interstate Highway System, and under the guise of improving national defense, he created a vastly improved set of roads for national domestic travel and commerce. He sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He didn't intend things to work out this way, but by appointing former California Republican Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he brought about great advances in the field of civil liberties, albeit much too fast for the conservative Eisenhower, who preferred his social change at a more gradual pace. He was also the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd Amendment. He suffered a heart attack prior to the end of his first term, but still managed to win a second term.

Eisenhower's two terms were peaceful ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59. Eisenhower is often ranked highly among the U.S. presidents. Eisenhower spent his final years as an elder statesman.

On March 28, 1969, Dwight Eisenhower died in Washington, D.C. of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital at the age of 78. He is interred in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, alongside his son Doud, who died at age 3 in 1921. His wife Mamie was buried next to him after her death a decade later in 1979. The marble walls surrounding the couple's resting place contain some of Eisenhower's greatest oratory.


When Dwight Eisenhower died, his former Vice-President was now in the Oval Office. Richard Nixon said of his former boss:

"Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations. For eight years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation; and yet he remained through his final days the world's most admired and respected man, truly the first citizen of the world."

The Legacy of Slavery: William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia in 1773 into a slave-holding family. His father, Benjamin Harrison V, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. While a teenager, Harrison briefly attended an academy in Southampton County where he became involved with the antislavery Quakers and Methodists at the school. This angered, his pro-slavery father, who had his youngest child transfer to Philadelphia to study medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush. Harrison did not enjoy the subject and did not complete his medical training because shortly after he arrived in Philadelphia in 1791, his father died, leaving him without funds for further schooling.

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Following his father's death, the 18 year old Harrison was commissioned as an ensign in the US Army. Two years later in 1793 his mother died and Harrison inherited a portion of the family's estate, including about 3,000 acres of land and several slaves.

In 1801, Harrison moved to the Indiana Territory where he was appointed as Governor. In 1803 Harrison lobbied Congress to repeal Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance, in order to permit slavery in the territory. He argued that it was necessary to make the region more appealing to settlers and would make the territory economically viable. He was able to convince Congress to suspended the article for 10 years, during which time the territories covered by the ordinance were granted the right to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery. Harrison tried to have slavery legalized outright, in both 1805 and 1807. This caused a significant stir in the territory. When in 1809 the legislature was popularly elected for the first time, Harrison found himself at odds with them as the abolitionist party came to power. They immediately blocked his plans for slavery and repealed the indenturing laws he had passed in 1803. President Thomas Jefferson, although a slaveholder, did not want slavery to expand into the Northwest Territory. Anti-slavery churches in Indiana organized citizens to sign a petition and organizing politically to defeat Harrison's efforts to legalize slavery.

Harrison was the Northern Whig candidate for president in 1836, the only time in American history when a major political party intentionally ran more than one presidential candidate. Harrison ran in all the free states except Massachusetts, and the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. The plan was to prevent Martin Van Buren from winning a majority in the electoral college, but it failed. Harrison ran as the Whig candidate in 1840 and again faced Van Buren, now the incumbent president. Harrison based his campaign on his heroic military record and on the weak U.S. economy, caused by the Panic of 1837. Although Harrison had come from a slaveholding Virginia family, in this campaign he was promoted as a humble frontiersman in the style of the popular Andrew Jackson.

Harrison won election to the Presidency, but served only 31 days in office (the shortest presidency) before his death. In his brief tenure as president, he was unable to effect any policies respecting slavery or civil rights. Based on Harrison's record as Governor of Indiana, slave-holding states probably felt as if they had lost a kindred spirit and a supporter of their cause.

The Legacy of Slavery: Martin Van Buren and More Civil Wrongs

Martin Van Buren was a curious contradiction when it came to civil rights and slavery. On the one hand, he was an ardent supporter and follower of Andrew Jackson and carried out many of Jackson's policies. On the other hand, he was an abolitionist who believed that slavery was an evil. On the other hand, he tolerated and enabled it to continue. Most disturbing was that he completed Jackson's Indian Removal policies and on his watch the Trail of Tears became a reality.

As a Senator from New York, Van Buren had voted against the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Following his term as President he was nominated as the presidential candidate of the Free Soil Party, an anti-slavery political party, in 1848. But unfortunately his actions in the field of slavery before and after his presidency didn't match his actions as President. Van Buren considered slavery morally wrong but sanctioned by the Constitution. When the issue of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia arose during his term, Van Buren made it clear that he was against its abolition. He said as much in his Inaugural Address in 1836. He believed slavery would end by attrition saying:

"I must go into the Presidential chair the inflexible and uncompromising opponent of every attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding States, and also with a determination equally decided to resist the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists."

Slavery continued in the District of Columbia until April 18, 1862 when Abraham Lincoln abolished it.

Van Buren was President at the time when a case called the Amistad occurred. The Amistad was a Spanish ship carrying Africans captured for slavery, who revolted in an effort to secure their freedom. In the litigation over what to do with the enslaved persons on board, Van Buren sided with the Spanish Government to return the kidnapped slaves. The advocacy of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court of the United States led to a different outcome.

Van Buren continued Jackson's policies which resulting in the "Trail of Tears", the expulsion of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole nations from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina to the Oklahoma territory. To help secure Florida, Van Buren also pursued the Second Seminole War, which had begun while Jackson was in office. The war, which would prove the costliest of the Indian Wars, was highly unpopular in the free states, where it was seen as an attempt to expand slave territory. Fighting was not resolved until 1842, after Van Buren had left office.

With this record of civil rights, it's unclear why, in 1848 the Free Soil Party, an anti-slavery party, nominated Van Buren as its Presidential Candidate. Van Buren, received 291,616 votes against Zachary Taylor of the Whigs and Lewis Cass of the Democrats, but received no electoral votes. The Party's "spoiler" effect in 1848 may have put Zachary Taylor into office in a narrowly-contested election.

Potus Geeks Book Review: Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

Bob Woodward will forever be remembered as one of two Washington Post reports to break the Watergate scandal, and since then he has written twenty books about presidents and national politics. Robert Costa is also a Washington Post reporter with a background in television news journalism as well. Together they have written a superb chronicle of the last days of the Trump Presidency, the 2020 US Presidential Election and the first months of the Biden Presidency simply entitled Peril.


Starting with Joe Biden's decision to enter the race for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination, the book explores Biden's consideration of his decision, the factors which led the former Vice-President to ultimately enter the race, how his campaign themes and strategies came about, and how Biden remained firm in his course even after early defeats in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The book also follows President Donald Trump along a parallel path, starting with the early controversies of his Presidency (especially his response to the "Unite the Right" rally), continuing to the Covid-19 pandemic and how the unexpected development upended the President's plans to seek re-election on the strength of a healthy economy. The book follows both men as each are forced to campaign in the new pandemic paradigm, one from his home, the other at "super-spreader events", and how each addressed the controversial results that followed from this past election's unprecedented large numbers of mail-in voting and the Trump campaign's accusation of massive voter fraud.

The book next looks at one of the most unusual and fascinating transition periods in presidential history: the Trump campaign's unsuccessful and sometimes farcical attempts to challenge the election results through litigation, Biden's attempt at a presidential transition without his predecessor's admission of defeat, ultimately leading up to the January 6th Capitol Riots and each candidate's role leading up to them and in their aftermath.

The last portion of the book deals with the first months of the Biden Presidency and takes the reader behind the scenes of the major events, including the Biden stimulus package and its rocky road through Congress, Biden's testy dealings with Vladimir Putin, and his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, looking at both justification for the decision as well as its consequences. The authors also look at the maneuverings of the Republican Party and of Donald Trump in preparation for the 2022 mid-term elections and for a potential bid for a second term as President for Donald Trump.

The book is fascinating for its portrayal of many of the supporting characters, many of whom were no doubt sources for the detailed conversations that the authors attest to be "deep background" (sourced by those present when these conversations took place.) These include General Mark Milley - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who saw his duty as maintaining the peaceful transfer of power after the election, avoiding a potential coup d'etat; Ron Klain, Biden's Chief of Staff, who the authors imply to be a major power broker in the Biden administration, more so than one might expect; Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney-General William Barr, who resist great pressure from the President, who wants them to refuse to certify electoral college votes; Senator Lindsay Graham, the moderate Republican who tries to act as Trump's Jiminy Cricket by unsuccessfully convincing him to let go of the resentment of the "stolen" election; and Senator Joe Manchin, the right of center Democrat from West Virginia whose principled opposition to portions of Biden's relief bill nearly upset the apple cart in a Democratic Party precariously divided between centrists and progressives. These are only some of the fascinating characters in the Trump and Biden orbit whose trials and tribulations are explored, generally in a sympathetic manner. After all, these are complex issues on which principled people can disagree. There are generally no easy answers to what these people must confront.

The book is fascinating in the details it reveals. It is incredible how much the authors are told by their sources, and in some cases this is troubling. For example, for General Milley to reveal a transcript of his conversation of a conversation with his Chinese counterpart makes one wonder. If reporters can ferret out top secret military information from the highest reaches of the Pentagon, how easy can it be for the nation's enemies to do so, especially given their ability to present more lucrative incentives?

For the most part, the authors write in a non-judgemental fashion as they tell their story, though a number of undertones soon become clear. These include:

1) Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham face a dilemma. The are close to winning back control of both Houses of Congress in the next election, but need Trump's support to ensure this happens. They also realize that Trump's narcissism and volatility makes him a liability and these two factors are difficult to reconcile. They feel they can't win without him, but winning with him has more that its share of problems.

2) While Biden brings a wealth of experience in government, his staff can be controlling and undermining at times, especially his Chief of Staff, who the authors suggest badly hampered Biden's efforts to negotiate with moderate Republicans and injured Biden's ability to be taken at his word when negotiating with his former colleagues. The authors also suggest that Biden's staff eavesdrop on his private phone calls without his prior approval.

3) The authors fear a coming "Trump revolution", which is the "peril" that they allude to in the book's title. They even go so far as to compare the January 6th Capitol Riots to the unsuccessful 1905 revolution in Russia, which Lenin referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the successful 1917 Russian Revolution. The authors write: "Could Trump work his will again? Are there any limits to what he and his supporters might do to put him back in power? Peril remains."


The book is an excellent chronicle of recent history, one which seems to accurately set out the mood of the times. Time will tell whether the peril it portends is melodrama or prescience.

The Legacy of Slavery: Andrew Jackson and Civil Wrongs

The legacy of Andrew Jackson is now seen by most historians as mixed as best. Jackson is praised as a protector of popular democracy, as someone who took government out of the hands of the aristocracy and gave it to the ordinary citizen. But today, in these more enlightened times, Jackson is criticized for his support for slavery and for his part in Indian removal.

Jackson became a successful lawyer and local politician. He also prospered as a slave owner, planter, and merchant. He built a home and the first general store in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1803, and in 1804 he acquired the Hermitage, a 640 acre plantation in Davidson County, near Nashville, Tennessee. The Hermitage eventually grew to 1,050 acres. Its primary crop was cotton, grown by slave labor. He began with nine slaves, increased that number to 44 by 1820, and later had up to 150 enslaved persons. Throughout his lifetime Jackson may have owned as many as 300 slaves.

In December of 1817, Jackson was ordered by President James Monroe to lead a campaign in Georgia against the Seminole and Creek Indians. Jackson was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Jackson was ordered to "terminate the conflict." He believed the best way to do this was to seize Florida. Jackson wrote to Monroe, "Let it be signified to me through any channel that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished." Monroe purposely gave Jackson ambiguous orders so as to maintain what would later be called "plausible deniability".

As President Jackson never had to deal with the issue of slavery directly. One wonders what Jackson would have done had been in the position of Abraham Lincoln because, although he was a slaveholder and a supported of the institution of slavery, he was also a strong union man, who threatened to hang any southern leader who tried to lead a secession movement. Even in retirement, he declined to support any talk of secession.

The most controversial aspect of Jackson's presidency was his treatment of Native Americans, which some have labelled as "ethnic cleansing." Jackson was a leading advocate of their removal. In his December 8, 1829, First Annual Message to Congress, Jackson said:

"This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions which they have improved by their industry."

Following his election, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. The Act authorized the President to negotiate treaties to buy tribal lands in the east in exchange for lands further west, outside of existing U.S. state borders. The removal plan was opposed by some northern politicians, but was popular in the South, where population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land made the policy a popular one. The Cherokees sought a remedy in the courts by suing the in the 1832 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Worcester v. Georgia. In that case, the court held that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. Referring to the Chief Justice of that court, Jackson is often quoted as having said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!" Whether he said that or not is disputed, but it certainly is a sentiment he endorsed. He refused to allot any Federal resources to enforce the court's decision.

Jackson used the Georgia crisis to pressure Cherokee leaders to sign a removal treaty. A small faction of Cherokees led by John Ridge negotiated the Treaty of New Echota with Jackson's representatives, even though Ridge was not a recognized leader of the Cherokee Nation. The treaty was rejected by most Cherokees as illegitimate. Over 15,000 Cherokees signed a petition in protest of the proposed removal; the list was ignored by the government.

The treaty was enforced by Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren, who ordered 7,000 armed troops to remove the Cherokees. This abrupt and forced removal resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 Cherokees on the "Trail of Tears".

More than 45,000 Native Americans were relocated to the West during Jackson's administration. Jackson's administration bought about 100 million acres of land from their leadership for about $68 million and 32 million acres of western land. Jackson was criticized at the time for his role in these events, and the criticism has grown over the years. Noted Historian Robert Remini called the Indian Removal era as "one of the unhappiest chapters in American history."

The Legacy of Slavery: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was born into a family that never owned slaves, and was against the institution of slavery. His mother, Abigail Adams, held strong anti-slavery views. His father, President John Adams was also opposed to slavery, but chose to hold his opinions in check, in order to keep a fragile nation united. Prior to his election to the presidency in 1824, John Quincy Adams was focused mainly on foreign policy.

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During his tenure as Secretary of State in the cabinet of James Monroe, the debate on the Missouri Compromise occurred in 1820. During that debate, Adams strongly disagreed with his friend John C. Calhoun, who became the most outspoken national leader in favor of slavery. Their relationship changed from a friendship to becoming bitter enemies. Calhoun believed that the right to own slaves had to be protected from interference from the federal government in order to keep the nation alive, while Adams saw slavery as contrary to the principles of republicanism and as a moral wrong. Adams predicted that if the South formed a new nation, it would be torn apart by a violent slave insurrection. If the two nations went to war, Adams predicted the president of the United States would use its war powers to abolish slavery.

During his term as President, the issue of slavery did not come to the forefront and the status quo remained temporarily settled as a result of the Missouri Compromise. When Adams lost his bid for re-election, the possibility of southern succession arose when Calhoun threatened that southern states would leave the union over the so-called Tariff of Abomination. President Andrew Jackson threatened to lead an army if the south threatened to secede and for the time being it appeared that both slavery and the union would remain intact.

In 1841, during the Presidency of Martin Van Buren, Adams represented the defendants in the landmark case of United States v. The Amistad Africans before the Supreme Court of the United States. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship, La Amistad, on which they were being transported illegally as slaves, should not be extradited or deported to Cuba, but should be considered free. The government had argued that the Africans should be deported for having mutinied and killed officers on the ship. Adams won their freedom, and his clients were given the choice to either stay in the United States or return to Africa. He never billed for his services in the case. His argument before the justices of the court included an attack on the evils of slavery.

Adams had been elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 1830 elections as a National Republican. He was elected to eight terms, serving as a Representative for 17 years, from 1831 until his death in 1848. He became the leading antislavery voice in the Congress. His attack on the institution was so relentless that in 1836, southern congressmen voted in a rule, called the "gag rule," that called for the immediate tabling of any petitions about slavery. Congress had been flooded with petitions signed by citizens protesting slavery, with most originating from the Anti-Slavery Society based in New York.

The Gag rule prevented discussion of slavery from 1836 to 1844, but Adams frequently managed to evade it by his knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He refused to honor the House’s gag rule banning discussion or debate of the slavery issue and he evaded and ignored the gag rule until his persistence irritated his colleagues to the point that he was threatened with censure. The strategy backfired as Adams used this as an opportunity to speak at length against slavery in the course of the debate. The House never voted to censure Adams, and the discussion ignited by his actions and the attempts of others to quiet him raised questions of the right to petition, the right to legislative debate, and the morality of slavery. During the debate, Adams said that he was pleased that southerners would forever remember him as "the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that every existed".

Adams presented anti-slavery petitions in the House from the time he was first elected to the Congress. He considered it an issue of freedom of speech. He said that he personally disagreed with the demands for immediate abolition contained in the petitions, but he defended the right for the petitioners to be heard. The numbers of petitions approached the tens of thousands in the first months of 1836. When the "gag rule" was adopted and the presentation of any associated petitions were banned, all such petitions were tabled. Adams turned the issue from one of slavery to a debate on the propriety of the house censoring discussion of an important national issue. Adams demanded that the petitions be reviewed to determine if they violated the gag rule. He argued that the gag rule could not apply to petitions tabled before the rule came into effect. This argument was rejected and the gag rule applied retroactively. He tried a number of other tricks, but the gag rule prevailed.

On one occasion Adams asked for clarification as to whether it was within the rules of the House to present a petition signed by twenty-two enslaved persons. His question created pandemonium in the House. Congressman Dixon Hall Lewis of Alabama offered a motion that Congressman Adams be punished. Congressman Waddy Thompson brought a motion to censure the former president. The motion read:

Resolved, that J.Q. Adams, a member from the State of Massachusetts, by his attempt to introduce into this House a petition of slaves for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, committed an outrage on the rights and feelings of a large portion of the people of the Union, a flagrant contempt on the dignity of this House; and by extending to slaves a privilege only belonging to freemen, directly incites the slave population to insurrection; and that the said member be forthwith called to the bar of the House, and censured by the Speaker.

Adams’ responded first with as an intentionally understated attempt at correcting the misinformation in the censure proposal. Adams said: "The resolution charged him with attempting to present a petition from slaves asking for the abolition of slavery in the District of Colombia. In the first place, he would remind the House that he had not attempted to present the petition; he had simply asked for a ruling by the Speaker about the status of such a petition under the Hawes resolution". He also took issue with the claim that the petition was for the abolition of slavery. He said that the petition was actually not asking for the members to consider abolishing slavery, but in fact was supplicating in favor of the opposite view. Some members of the House believed that Adams was acting in contempt of the rules and decorum of the body. Many of the members of the House rose to publicly condemn Adams, but not all felt that he should be censured. Even two representatives of slaveholding states suggested that a censure of Adams could be conceived as an attack on the liberty of speech. The only two congressmen to vocally defend Adams during the debate over censuring him were his Massachusetts colleagues: Caleb Cushing and Levi Lincoln.

Adams took advantage of his right to defend himself in front of the members to speak for days against slavery and in favor of abolition. He spoke against the slave trade and the ownership of slaves. Adams went so far as to suggest the dissolution of the Union. As others continued to attack him and call for his censure, Adams continued to debate the issues of slavery and the evils of slaveholding. Adams had in effect lifted the gag rule by debating slavery on the House floor as part of his defense against censure.

On February 8, 1837, the United States House of Representatives voted to table the motion to censure Representative Adams. No further motion personal to Adams concerning his issue was accepted by the House.

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In 1846, the 78-year-old former president suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He made a full recovery and resumed his duties in Congress. On February 21, 1848, the House of Representatives was discussing the matter of honoring U.S. Army officers who served in the Mexican–American War. Adams had been a strong critic of the war, and as Congressmen rose up to say, "Aye!" in favor of the measure, he instead yelled, "No!" He rose to answer a question put forth by the Speaker of the House. He then collapsed, having suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, on February 23, he died with his wife and youngest son at his side in the Speaker's Room inside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. His last words were "This is the last of earth. I am content." He died at 7:20 p.m. An little-known rookie congressman named Abraham Lincoln was assigned to the committee making the funeral arrangements.

The Legacy of Slavery: James Monroe

James Monroe was one of the most popular presidents in history. The collapse of the Federalists left him with no organized opposition at the end of his first term, and he ran for reelection unopposed, the only president other than George Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire cast a vote for John Quincy Adams, preventing a unanimous vote in the electoral college. Debate remains about whether or not the elector did so, more as a tribute to Washington than as an insult to Monroe. Monroe's popularity seemed to withstand a number of difficult issues. The most two most difficult issues he faced during his presidency were the recession or "Panic" of 1819, and how the institution of slavery was dividing the nation.

Earlier, as Governor of Virgina, a state which allowed slaveholding, Monroe had to address the issue when, on October 15, 1799, some slave traders attempted to transport a group of slaves from Southampton, Virginia to Georgia. The enslaved men revolted and killed the slave traders. In response, the authorities killed ten of the men involved in the revolt on the spot without the benefit of trial. Five others were tried without the benefit of a jury. Four were convicted and the fifth entered a plea. His punishment was to be flogged and branded. As Governor, Monroe postponed their executions, ostensibly to check their identities. In the end he granted a pardon to one. Two of these men were later hung, while the other died in jail. Some historians credit Monroe with at least restoring the requirement of civil protection for enslaved persons accused of crimes for which they could be sentenced to death for capital crimes.

When Monroe was Governor of Virginia in 1800, a plot was discovered in which hundreds of enslaved persons from Virginia intended to kidnap Monroe, capture Richmond, and negotiate for their freedom. Due to a storm on August 30, they were unable to attack. This event is known as Gabriel's slave conspiracy. Monroe called out the militia, and so-called "slave patrols" captured some of the enslaved persons allegedly involved in the plot. They were given trials (though those trials as lacking the same procedural fairness given to accused persons who were white.) Monroe used his authority to pardon and sell some of these enslaved persons instead of hanging them. Despite this, between 26 and 35 of those accused were executed.

Monroe himself was a slave owner and owned dozens of enslaved persons. He took some of them to serve him when he resided at the White House from 1817 to 1825, a custom of other slaveholding presidents. There was no domestic staff provided for the presidents at that time.

The end of opposition parties led to the end of party discipline and the rise of internal factional animosities, which were often sectionally based. Rather than producing the political harmony that Monroe had hoped for, rivalries among Jeffersonian Republicans would eventually lead to the election of Monroe's successor being selected by the House of Representatives, and four years after that it led to the rise of Jacksonian Democracy.

The land added to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase would result in an issue that divided those in Monroe's party as well as the nation as a whole. Prior to its purchase in 1803, the governments of Spain and France had permitted slavery in the region. In 1812, the state of Louisiana became the first state to come out of the Louisiana Purchase. It had entered the Union as a slave state. In the years following the War of 1812, the region then known as the Missouri Territory, experienced rapid settlement, in large part by led by slaveholding planters. Most of these southern planters brought their enslaved persons into the territory and by 1820 about 15% of the a total population 67,000 were made up of those enslaved. As the population of Missouri territory reached the threshold that would qualify it for statehood, legislation was put before Congress empowering territorial residents to select convention delegates and draft a state constitution and apply for statehood, presumably as a slave state.

When the Missouri statehood bill was opened for debate in the House of Representative on February 13, 1819, it appeared at first that the matter would proceed routinely. In the course of these proceedings, however, Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York injected controversy by proposing the following amendments:

"Provided, that the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born within the said State will be executed after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years."

Tallmadge was an opponent of slavery and had played a leading role in accelerating the emancipation of all remaining enslaved persons in his state in 1817. His fellow New York Republican, Congressman John W. Taylor had previously proposed similar slave restrictions on Arkansas territory in the House, but his motion had failed 89-87. The amendment exposed the divisions among Jeffersonian Republicans over the question of slavery. Northern Jeffersonian Republicans allied with the few remaining Federalists while Southern Jeffersonians united in support of the expansion of slavery. Southerners united as a section, taking the position that the free states were not allowed to meddle in the affairs of the slaveholders. They accused the northern abolitionists as wanting to incite rebellion among the slave populations, something they saw as a grave threat to their security. Northern Jeffersonian Republicans referred to the Declaration of Independence, citing its promise that "all men are created equal."

Southerners were also afraid of a potential loss of power. Article One, Section Two of the US Constitution provided for legislative representation in those states where residents owned slaves in what was known as the three-fifths clause or the "federal ratio", under which three-fifths (60%) of the slave population was numerically added to the free population in determining the number of Congressional districts per state and the number of delegates to the Electoral College. Tallmadge and his supporters disliked the three-fifths clause because it had translated into an imbalance of power for the South.

On February 16, 1819, the House Committee of the Whole voted to link Tallmadge's provisions with the Missouri statehood bill, approving the move 79-67. Following this vote, debate resumed on Tallmadge's provisions. The enabling bill passed in the House by a margin of 87 to 76, with 22 abstentions. It then was put before the Senate, where both failed to pass.

Southerners in Congress viewed this as a threat to their sovereignty and to their "peculiar institution" of slavery. During the following session (1819–1820), the House passed a similar bill for the admission of Missouri as a slave state. Complicating matters was the fact that in December of 1819, Alabama had been admitted as a slave state, making the number of slave and free states equal. At the same time, there was a bill passed in the House on January 3, 1820, admitting Maine as a free state.

In a move that would contribute to his reputation as "the Great Compromiser", Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed that Maine be admitted to the Union, with an amendment enabling the people of Missouri to form a state constitution. Before the bill was returned to the House, a second amendment was adopted on the motion of Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois, excluding slavery from the Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30′ north (the southern boundary of Missouri), except within the limits of the proposed state of Missouri.

The vote in the Senate was 24 for the compromise, to 20 against. The amendment and the bill passed in the Senate on February 17 and February 18, 1820. The House then approved the Senate compromise amendment, on a vote of 90 to 87. The House then approved the whole bill, 134 to 42 on March 5, 1820. The bills were signed into law by President Monroe on March 6. The question of the final admission of Missouri came up during the session of 1820–1821. Through the influence Henry Clay, an act for the admission of Missouri as a slave state was finally passed.

Like other Presidents, Monroe expressed the opinion that slavery was morally wrong, but did so after his term in office. As president of Virginia's constitutional convention in the fall of 1829, Monroe reiterated his belief that slavery was a blight. He said in a speech "What was the origin of our slave population? The evil commenced when we were in our Colonial state, but acts were passed by our Colonial Legislature, prohibiting the importation, of more slaves, into the Colony. These were rejected by the Crown." At the convention, Monroe made his final public statement on slavery, proposing that Virginia emancipate and deport its bondsmen with "the aid of the Union."

Monroe was part of the African Colonization Society formed in 1816, which included members like Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. These men were not abolitionists, but they did find common ground with some abolitionists who supported the notion of colonization, i.e. relocating former slaves to other countries. This group helped send several thousand freed slaves to Africa between 1820 and 1840. The concern slaveholders like Monroe and Jackson had was to prevent free blacks from influencing slaves to rebel in southern states. With about $100,000 in Federal grant money, the organization also bought land for those people in what is today Liberia. The capital of Liberia was named Monrovia after James Monroe. It is the only foreign capital to be named after an American President.

Remembering Franklin Pierce

152 years ago today, on October 8, 1869, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, died at his home in Concord, New Hampshire, at the age of 64. He died from cirrhosis of the liver, the result of what was almost certainly Pierce's alcoholism. Pierce is quoted, truthfully or otherwise, as saying, when he lost his party's bid for renomination, "there's nothing left, but to get drunk." Whether or not the quote is accurate, the sentiment is one which is unfortunately present in much of Pierce's later life.

Pierce was the only President to come from New Hampshire. He was a Democrat and was pejoratively called a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies). He served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and he also fought in the Mexican-American War where he became a brigadier general. He was also very successful in his private law practice in his home state, to the extent that he turned down a number of important positions that he was offered, including Attorney-General in the cabinet of James K. Polk. He was nominated as the Democratic party's candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. In the presidential election, Pierce and his running mate William Rufus King won soundly defeated the Whig Party ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham by a margin of 50 percent to 44 percent in the popular vote and 254 to 42 in the electoral vote. Pierce's party won the day using the slogan "We Polked You in 1844 and We Shall Pierce You in 1852!" (Spin doctors of that day left a lot to be desired.)

Nicknamed "Handsome Frank" for his good looks, Pierce was considered to be a likable and affable man, but he suffered tragedy in his personal life. All of his three sons died young. When his last son, eleven year old Benny, was killed in a horrible train accident while traveling with his parents for his father's inauguration in early 1853, Pierce's wife Jane viewed it as a punishment from God for her husband's vanity. She lapsed into a very severe depression.

As president, Pierce made many divisive decisions which seemed to make him unpopular with everyone. Pierce's popularity in the northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, legislation that replaced the Missouri Compromise and renewed debate over the expansion of slavery in the American West. The Kansas-Nebraska Act caused considerable political animosity and polarization and Pierce's backing of the pro-slavery side in the dispute hurt him politically. Rather that unifying the country, Pierce provided motivation and inspiration for the abolition movement and as a result created a climate for the rise of the Republican Party. This in turn made the south feel more persecuted. After losing the Democratic nomination for reelection in 1856, Pierce retired and traveled with his wife overseas. Although he had curtailed his drinking while in office, he made up for lost time after leaving the presidency.

Pierce and his wife Jane returned home from their travels in Europe in 1859 just as the growing sectional crisis between the South and the North was coming to a boil. Pierce was a critic of northern abolitionists, who he blamed for encouraging ugly feelings between the two sections. In 1860 many Democrats believed that Pierce would be a solid compromise choice for the presidential nomination, uniting both Northern and Southern wings of the party, but Pierce declined to run.

During the Civil War, Pierce criticized President Abraham Lincoln for his order suspending habeas corpus. Pierce argued that even in a time of war, the country should not abandon its protection of civil liberties. His stand won him admirers with the emerging Northern Peace Democrats, but enraged members of the Lincoln administration. Secretary of State William Seward accused Pierce of being a member of the seditious Knights of the Golden Circle. Outraged, Pierce responded and demanded that Seward put his response in the official files of the State Department. Seward refused to do that, so a Pierce supporter in the US Senate, Milton Latham of California, had the entire Seward-Pierce correspondence read into the Congressional Globe, which had the effect of making Seward look like someone who had falsely maligned the reputation of a former President.

On December 2, 1863, Pierce's wife Jane died of tuberculosis. It is believed that their marriage was not a happy one ever since Bennie's tragic death. After the death of the last of her three sons, Jane Pierce was overcome with depression and distanced herself during her husband's presidency. She never recovered from the tragedy. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing maudlin letters to her dead son.

In 1864, friends once again put the name of Franklin Pierce in play for the Democratic nomination, but again Pierce refused to run. Pierce's reputation was greatly damaged in the North during the aftermath of the Siege of Vicksburg when Union soldiers captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis' Fleetwood Plantation, correspondence was found between the two men, who had been close friends for a long time. (Davis served in Pierce's cabinet and the two men's wives were very close friends. Mrs. Varina Davis often filled in for Jane Pierce in her duties as first lady.) Pierce had written to Davis about "the madness of northern abolitionism" and he had also said that he would "never justify, sustain, or in any way or to any extent uphold this cruel, heartless, aimless unnecessary war," adding that "the true purpose of the war was to wipe out the states and destroy property."

On April 16, 1865, when news had spread of the murder of President Lincoln, an angry mob of young teenagers gathered outside Pierce's home in Concord. Earlier that day a different mob had thrown black paint on the front porch of former President Millard Fillmore, who, like Pierce, was also regarded as a Lincoln detractor. The crowd in Concord wanted to know why Pierce's house was not dressed with black bunting and American flags, a respectful display of grief being used that day by millions of people across the country. Pierce came outside to confront the crowd and said he, too, was saddened by Lincoln's passing. When a voice in the crowd yelled out "Where is your flag?" Pierce became angry and recalled his family's long devotion to the country, including both his and his father's service in the military. He said he needed to display no flag to prove that he was a loyal American. The crowd soon quieted down and even cheered and applauded the former president as he went back into his home.


Franklin Pierce died in Concord, New Hampshire, at 4:49 am on October 8, 1869, at 64 years or age from cirrhosis of the liver. President Ulysses S. Grant, who later defended Pierce's service in the Mexican War in his autobiography, declared a day of national mourning. Franklin Pierce was interred next to his wife and two of his sons, all of whom had predeceased him, in Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

The Legacy of Slavery: James Madison

Thomas Jefferson is not the only glaring example of a contradiction between words and actions on the subject of slavery. James Madison, considered by many to be the father of the Bill of Rights, wrote and spoke a great deal about the concept of living free and about freedom. Like many of the founding fathers, Madison viewed the issue of slavery as a contentious one, one that called for compromise so as not to destroy the fragile union. Madison even went so far as to considered the question of slavery when he was involved in the drafting of the Constitution, but he viewed the issue as so controversial that it would have derailed any hope of a unified nation. But unlike John Adams, Madison himself was a slaveholder, like the other Presidents who had preceded him.

It is said that Madison acknowledged slavery to be a great evil, but he continued to own slaves himself and regard his enslaved laborers as his "property". After leaving the Presidency, he wrote to Francis Wright in 1825 using the word "evil" to describe slavery, despite his participating in the institution. He wrote:

The magnitude of this evil among us is so deeply felt, and so universally acknowledged, that no merit could be greater than that of devising a satisfactory remedy for it.

But Madison would not be the one to find that remedy.

Slaveholding was a tradition in Madison's family. His grandfather Ambrose Madison had owned a plantation called "Mount Pleasant." The house that Madison lived in, which came to be known as Montpelier, was built in the 1760s by slave labor. Ambrose died in 1732 from poisoning. Three slaves were accused of conspiring to murder him. They were tried and convicted of murder. James Madison, Sr., inherited the estate. According to his inventory, James Madison, Sr., owned 108 slaves in Orange County at the time of his death in 1801.

During the revolutionary war, Madison was asked to consider a proposal to permit enslaved men to serve as soldiers in the army. He suggested enlisting these persons and allowing them to trade their military service for their freedom. He wrote: "Would it not be as well to liberate and make soldiers at once of the blacks themselves as to make them instruments for enlisting white Soldiers? It would certainly be more consonant to the principles of liberty which ought never to be loss sight of in a contest for liberty." He continued to make statements acknowledging the contradiction between the institution of slavery and the cause of freedom At the Philadelphia Convention, Madison wrote "Where slavery exists the republican Theory becomes still more fallacious." While not in favor of ending the practice of slavery, he did call for an end to the importation of enslaved persons, though his final document barred Congress from interfering with the international slave trade until 1808. The domestic trade in slaves was expressly permitted by the constitution. Even then, Madison was opposed to the 20-year ban on ending the international slave trade. He wrote:

"Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution."

Madison ultimately accepted this as a necessary compromise to get the South to ratify the constitution. It was Madison who also proposed that apportionment in the United States House of Representatives be allocated by the sum of each state's free population and slave population, and this eventually led to the adoption of the Three-Fifths Compromise. (where 60% of a state's population of enslaved persons would be counted in calculating the number of seats that state was allowed in the House of Representatives.)

In 1808 when Madison was elected President, the world-wide demand for cotton had not yet peaked, and slavery was not yet as divisive an issue as it would come to be. Madison had considered the issue of slavery when he was one of the drafters of the Constitution. He approached the issue pragmatically and recognized its potential to derail his effort to reach consensus. Madison continued to acknowledge that slavery was a great evil, but he still continued to regard his slaves as his property. Whether his expressed opposition to slavery was his true sentiment or a means of appearing sympathetic to the views of those in the north opposed to slavery as a political tactic is unclear.

Madison owned slaves at his residence of Montpelier and his mother, Nelly Madison, and grandmother, Frances Madison, also owned slaves there. The 1820 Census notes the Madison household as having 15 free white persons, 106 enslaved African Americans (54 of which were men and 52 of which were women), and 0 free African Americans. The number of slaves he owned fluctuated. Madison's personal property tax records show that the least number of slaves for whom Madison was taxed was nine, and the most was 66.

After his Presidency, Madison supported the extension of slavery into the West during the Missouri crisis of 1819–1821. He also said that he believed that former slaves were unlikely to successfully integrate into Southern society. As early as the late 1780s, he became interested in the idea of African-Americans establishing colonies in Africa and he later became president of the American Colonization Society, which founded the settlement of Liberia for former slaves. His successor James Monroe was also involved in the Society and Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, is named for Monroe.

Some of the slaves held by Madison were sold for financial reasons prior to his death in 1836. His wife Dolley also sold some after his death, and some were included in the sale of Montpelier to Henry Moncure in 1844. Dolley also willed some of the slaves to her relatives. Despite all of his rhetoric about freedom, none of his enslaved persons were given their freedom in his will. While Madison wrote that he had considered such an action, he never did so. Madison wrote that he believed that enslaved persons could not be freed unless "they are permanently removed beyond the region occupied by, or allotted to a white population." He continued to support the American Colonization Society's efforts to return freed former slaves to Africa, after indemnifying the slave owners. In his will he left $2,000 in trust to the Society, along with the proceeds from the sale of his grist mill.

Enslaved persons cared for Madison while he was sick. One of them who had been a longtime faithful servant, Paul Jennings, was at his side when he died. Despite this and despite all of his expressed reservations about slavery, and his presenting himself as a champion of freedom, Madison did not free any of his slaves in his will as George Washington had done.