- Purchase/rental options available:
On November 20, 1841, John Quincy Adams delivered an address that shocked the nation. The former President, Congressman, and advocate of the Amistad slaves, urged his fellow citizens to support Britain's cause in the Opium War, which, as he put it, was a war for "human freedom." Why would so zealous a champion against slavery endorse a war to sell an addictive substance? This article offers a critical reinterpretation of Adams's lecture on China. By focusing on an excised portion of his original manuscript, it argues that Adams's remarks can only be understood because of—and not in spite of—his antislavery convictions. At a time when Britain was curtailing the interests of Southern slaveholders through meddling in the coastwise slave trade, Adams attempted to shield Britain's moral capital through an ambitious, if problematic, exposition of political theory. This article therefore makes the case that Adams's remarks on China deserve a more prominent place in his oeuvre. By recasting the Opium War as a landmark in the age of emancipation, Adams calls attention to a factor that many scholars of slavery and abolition may have missed: how the problem of racial slavery in the nineteenth century became inseparable from the problem of opium addiction.