Rediscovered Adams letter exhorts abolition defense

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 8/01/13, 12:30 pm

A New Jersey library made an unexpected rediscovery earlier this year—a letter from former United States President John Quincy Adams. 

The Plainfield Public Library has an extensive historical archive, according to a report by My Central Archivist Jeff Wassen said he knew the letter was there, but forgot about it until it was recently rediscovered. In the full-page letter, written in the neat script typical of the era, Adams politely declined an invitation to attend a late 1830’s abolitionist event hosted by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society nearly a decade after he left the nation’s highest office. 

“It’s in very good condition,” the library’s head archivist, Sarah Hull, told My Central Jersey. “It looks brand new.”

The letter is addressed to Edmund Quincy, an attorney in Boston. Hull speculated that former Plainfield Public library head librarian Emma L. Adams was the “Miss Adams” referenced on the envelope, dated 1899. The envelope is stamped with “The Philanthropist,” a former New York City-based quarterly magazine where Emma Adams volunteered. 

No one is sure how the letter ended up in the archives, though some say it was probably bequeathed to the library. 

“We don’t know, and I don’t want to say for sure,” Hull told My Central Jersey. “It’s so frustrating.”

After declining the invitation to the event, a commemoration of the day slavery was abolished across the British Empire four years earlier, Adams wrote: “I rejoice that the defense of the cause of human freedom is falling into younger and more vigorous hands. … You have a glorious though arduous career before you, and it is among the consolations of my last days, that I am able to cheer you in the pursuit and exhort you to be steadfast and immoveable in it.”

Adams was, perhaps, one of the leading opponents of slavery leading up to the Civil War. Three years after this letter, he was involved with the famous case of the Amistad, a slave ship taken over by the Africans aboard and later captured near Long Island. Adams argued in favor of the slaves being returned to Africa. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society records that political rival Henry Wise called Adams “the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of Southern slavery that ever existed.”

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is a World Journalism Institute graduate. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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