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JQA, Louisa Catherine Adams, and Slavery

The next day, Henry Wise, alluding to Adams’s remarks, reasserted that Congress had no right to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia and “quoted the provision that private property shall not be taken for public uses without compensation.” Adams was then undermined by Pennsylvanian Joseph Ingersoll who proposed a resolution “declaring in the broadest terms that the Constitution of the United States recognizes the right of the People of the Southern States to hold Slaves.” Adams noted in his diary that it was a “strange concession.”

Adams’s actions in Congress created anxiety for his wife, Louisa Catherine, for a different reason. Her two brothers-in-law, William Steuben Smith and Nathaniel Frye, were slaveholders, and this was sure to stir up some suppressed emotions. In her diary, she noted with desperation that “every friend is turned into an enemy; and now the prospect terminates with the fear of losing the love, the friendship and the society of my own and dearest connections.” Louisa wanted nothing but for her husband to “bring his mind to the calm of retirement from all these requited troubles” and to end the “bitter strife” and “endless turmoil” that characterized his never-ending battle on the floor of the House. With her sympathy for the South fairly evident, Louisa took aim at the attitude of Northerners. “Wealthy, powerful, educated and religious,” she began her entry, “they feel and disdain the manacled population of the South, and the good and respectable part of the community, suffer the religious feeling of misguided sympathy, to hurry them on to measures, without observing the terrible results to which they really expose their haughty, but really afflicted brethren.” Her tension on the subject was palpable as the subject was “of so fearfully exciting a nature it keeps me in a state of perpetual alarm.” John Quincy never mentioned Louisa’s feelings in his diary, but it must have made for some interesting conversation that never made it into the written record. It surely must have been a source of tension during this tumultuous time of sectional conflict.


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