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February 20, 2015

Historical Abolitionist of the Month: John Quincy Adams

By Emily Balan

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we will profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our historical abolitionist of the month is John Quincy Adams.

The right of every person to be free is both fundamental and universal. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams understood this. He knew slavery was immoral and fought throughout his career to advance universal freedom. His advocacy helped lay the groundwork for the abolition movement.

Though he was president from 1825-1829, John Quincy Adams became known for his passionate anti-slavery advocacy in Congress. It was his 18-year effort that did away with the “gag rule,” which automatically nullified anti-slavery legislation. Amid his campaigns to end slavery, he also petitioned Congress to provide land for displaced Native Americans.

In the 1841 Supreme Court case United States v. The Amistad, John Quincy Adams represented the Africans charged for their rebellion on the Spanish ship, La Amistad. Around 50 Africans had been kidnapped and transported from Africa to Cuba, where two Spaniards took over and intended to sell them into slavery in America. During the journey, they broke free and killed several crew members, took over the ship, and demanded to sail back to Africa. Instead, the crew took them to New England, where they were jailed.

John Quincy Adams argued before the Supreme Court that that their rebellion was justified; the kidnapped men had the right to fight for their freedom, just as Americans fought for theirs, because every person has the right to be free. The Supreme Court agreed and Adams won the case, providing a landmark legal precedent in the advancement of universal rights.

The United States should uphold John Quincy Adams’s legacy by ensuring that slavery is eradicated in in this country and abroad. Adams said he must “bring about a day prophesized when slavery and war shall be banished from the face of the earth.” Disrupting the business of human trafficking through U.S. influence and resources, promoting proper business practices, and increasing prosecutions may help make that dream a reality.

“Roll, years of promise, rapidly roll round, till not a slave shall on this earth be found.” – John Quincy Adams