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John Quincy Adams Proclaims an Unbroken Union Free of Slavery to be the Legacy of the Declaration of Independence
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The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction, than by the author of the Declaration himself.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1837. Newburyport: Newburyport Herald Office by Morss and Brewster, 1837. Printed pamphlet, 68 pp., 12° (5.5 x 9.25 in.) First Edition, very fine, presentation copy, bound in later quarter leather but with the original blue wrappers, inscribed by the author to William Ellery Channing on the front wrapper: “Revd William E. Channing D.D from John Quincy Adams.”

Inventory #24283       Price: $5,000

Historical Background

Adams discusses the purposes of the Declaration of Independence, especially the establishment of a single new nation, rather than loosely confederated states. He traces the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and the relative strength of the Constitution.  He attacks nullification and states’ rights, slavery and war, and he supports the principle of freedom of speech.

In May 1828, during Adams’ presidency, Congress had passed a tariff designed to protect American industry. It benefited the north, but the effect on the southern economy was devastating, and southerners labeled it the “Tariff of Abominations.” In July 1832, President Andrew Jackson, who supported the tariff, signed a new tariff, which reduced some rates.  However, South Carolina leaders, including Vice-President John C. Calhoun, argued that both tariffs were unconstitutional and vowed to nullify them. That November, a South Carolina convention declared the tariff to be null and void within South Carolina, and the state prepared to resist federal enforcement militarily.  In March 1833, Congress passed both the Force Bill, authorizing the President to use military forces against South Carolina, and a new Compromise Tariff of 1833, which satisfied South Carolina. Although the crisis had passed, the doctrine of nullification remained controversial, as evidenced by this oration four years later.


            “We have consulted the records of the past, and I have appealed to your consciousness of the present; and what is the sound, which they send forth to all the echoes of futurity, but Union;—Union as one People,—Union so as to be divided by no act whatever.”

 “The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction, than by the author of the Declaration himself. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery.

I would repeat the question with which this discourse was introduced:—‘Why are you assembled in this place’?—and one of you would answer me for all,—Because the Declaration of Independence, with the voice of an angel from heaven, ‘put to his mouth the sounding alchemy,’ and proclaimed universal emancipation upon earth!

            “But of all the events tending to the blessed accomplishment of the prophesy so often repeated in the book of Isaiah, and re-proclaimed by the multitude of the heavenly host at the birth of the Saviour, there is not one that can claim, since the propagation of the Christian faith, a tenth, nay a hundredth part of the influence of the resolution, adopted on the second day of July, 1776, and promulgated to the world, in the Declaration of Independence, on the fourth of that month, of which this is the sixty-first anniversary.”

say with me . . . that specific future improvement in the condition of man, which consists in the extirpation of slavery and war from the face of the earth.”

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth president of the United States (1825-1829), and the son of John Adams. He studied at Harvard and was admitted to the bar in 1790. Having been educated partly in Europe while his father held various diplomatic posts in the 1780s, John Quincy Adams served successively as minister to The Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Britain. He began his career a moderate Federalist but switched to the Jeffersonian Republican Party around the year 1807. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, and was a brilliant Secretary of State (1817-1825), taking the lead role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine. He won the election of 1824, which was decided in the House of Representatives because no candidate won a majority in the Electoral College. Adams’s “deal” with House Speaker Henry Clay, whom he named Secretary of State, helped spark the formation of an opposition party around Andrew Jackson. John Quincy Adams served one largely frustrating term as president, and lost in the election of 1828 to Andrew Jackson. Surprising most observers, Adams stood for election to the House of Representatives in 1831 and served seventeen memorable years, becoming a bulwark for civil liberties and a voice in the emerging anti-slavery movement. He defended the Amistad slaves before the Supreme Court in 1841, and died of a stroke on the floor of the House in 1848.

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) was born in Rhode Island and graduated first in his class from Harvard College in 1798. In 1803, he became the pastor of Boston’s Federal Street Church. A sermon he delivered in Baltimore in 1819 led to the organization in 1825 of the first Unitarian denomination in America. He opposed slavery but held common perceptions of African Americans as inferior and in need of supervision. John and Abigail Adams were members of the First Parish Church of Quincy, part of the liberal wing of New England Congregationalism that became Unitarian.  John Quincy’s Harvard roommate, Henry Ware, had negotiated the Unitarian schism, giving him an insider’s view and Alexis de Tocqueville, knowing of the younger Adams’ insights in the area, asked him “do you not see in the Unitarianism of this country the last link the separates Christianity from natural religion?” This line of thinking naturally led de Tocqueville to Channing, the leading Unitarian in the country. De Tocqueville described Channing as “the most celebrated preacher and most remarkable author of the present time in America.” More conservative than Channing, Adams nonetheless admired the preacher’s earnestness and became strong allies on the issue of slavery.


In 20th-century blue half morocco, but with original printed wrappers bound in. Slight wear to spine, in quarter morocco folding case. Soft vertical fold throughout.

When presenting books, Adams almost always signed his name on a presentation slip that would then be pasted into the book. This is a scarce speech, all the more so because it is inscribed and signed directly on the original wrapper.

Sabin 294.

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