The War Power
For pro-slavery lawmakers, Adamsí argument struck at the heart of the
constitutional defense of slavery. Slaveholders and their political allies had
long maintained that the federal government had no right to interfere with the
institution. This dogma staked out vital common ground for politicians, allowing
a critical mass to work together within their parties and across sectional
lines. From at least the Compromise of 1820 to the eve of the Civil War, the
dogma of constitutional non-interference helped hold sectionalism at bay. But as
early as 1836, Adams showed that the idea was based on false premises, since in
times of war, the government undoubtedly retained the right to interfere with
slavery. The army could impress slaves, as Andrew Jackson himself had done
during the War of 1812, and it could liberate rebellious slaves or slaves of
enemy combatants, all under the broad auspices of the war power.
Sources: Register of Debates, House of Representatives, 24th Cong. 1st Sess.
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