A fresh look at John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, abolitionism, and other related American history.
The great 19th-century champion of black equality was not Lincoln, writes Kaplan (Emeritus, English/Queens Coll.; John Quincy Adams: American Visionary, 2014, etc.), who has authored biographies of both of his principal figures. In this insightful, often disturbing dual biography, he makes a convincing case that Adams, working decades before Lincoln, was the real hero. The ex-president returned to Washington as a member of the House of Representatives in 1830. He never liked slavery, but it was not a priority during his presidency. In 1836, enraged by anti-slavery petitions, Southern representatives passed the legendary “gag rule” that forbade their discussion. Galvanized to action, Adams fought, eventually successfully, to overturn it, thereby becoming abolition’s leading spokesman until his death. Kaplan emphasizes that, unlike all other great men who disapproved of slavery (from Jefferson to Lincoln), Adams never qualified his opposition with racist rhetoric. A consummate politician, Lincoln could not offend Illinois voters who overwhelmingly considered blacks subhuman and loathed abolitionists. Lincoln publicly agreed, but his private writings give little comfort. He opposed slavery on humanitarian grounds, but, unlike Adams, “Lincoln would not go the next step…from antislavery moralism to antislavery activism.” As the Civil War raged, Lincoln fended off abolitionists, aware that most Northerners continued to despise them. The Emancipation Proclamation, a feeble step, was, as he feared, widely unpopular, but it was also the beginning of the end of the practice of slavery. This is accepted history, but readers accustomed to the worshipful History Channel view will squirm to learn that Lincoln never believed that blacks could live among whites as equals. Adams believed, and Kaplan drives this home in a fine portrait of a great man far ahead of his time.
An eye-opening biography from a trusted source on the topic.