Reading a book for the third time seems to have a magical effect on me. This year (for our homeschooling), I have read three or four books which I am reading for the third time. I have gotten so much more out of two of those books than I did before that it has given me pause to consider just why that might be. The two books that have struck me this way are the Iliad by Homer and Arguing About Slavery by William Lee Miller. Both of these books are very detailed-- so detailed the the first reading requires mental effort to be expended just keeping characters and action straight. The second time through, those things were familiar, so I caught on quicker (and it may be that I'm just slower than others). BUT the third time, I have been able to appreciate the subtler aspects of those works. In the Iliad, I was able to notice and pay (more) attention to the vividness created through the metaphors and similes. Now I think I understand why people who know appreciate the Iliad more than the Odyssey. The Odyssey is a rolicking story capturing the attention through the action. Full-bodied language is more evident in the Iliad and creates memorable images.
Arguing About Slavery is different. It takes careful reading to keep people and events straight. Because the mental processes are so occupied, some of the subtler nuances can easily be missed. John Quincy Adams is the hero of this book. What a man. I admire his father and I admire the son. (Read John Adams by David McCullough--his name makes me wonder if he is related to the McCulloughs that were in Franklin County, Pennsylvania in the last half of the 18th century). JQA was a very clever man or "crafty" like Odysseus which was perceived as a good thing--modern connotations not withstanding.
What I had missed in previous readings was the humor of the book and the cleverness and patience of JQA. This book would make a fabulous movie. It could be a movie at least as good as the Amistad and Wilberforce. Just as we saw the adherance to principle by the principal parties (yes, I did that on purpose) in those movies, we see it in Arguing About Slavery. We see conflict as the southerners do all they can to "gag" any petititons made to Congress. We see eloquent use of language by JQA. Not the least we see the many raging parties of opposition, not only for and against slavery, but also between those who saw different ways of ending slavery. Even though I got the gist of what was going on before, I felt as if I were there in this reading. I wanted to cheer as the intelligent JQA outwitted the southerners who would otherwise silence him.
The book begins with the 24th Congress which met for the first time in December 1836. During that time, petitions to the House requesting an end to slavery in Washington, D.C. escalated. All, northerners and southerners alike, understood that constitutionally slavery could not be ended in the existing states. However, now, the southerners were so fearful of losing their majority in the legislature (which they had because of the overbalancing effect of the 3/5 clause counting slaves as part human/part property), that they began each Congress with a "gag rule" to prohibit any introduction of petitions requesting an end to slavery. JQA, the former president of the United States who did not believe it to be demeaning to step "down" to the lowly role of a congressman if he could serve his country, led the fight sagaciously and cleverly against those who would diminish civil rights by prohibiting petitioning government.
Get the book.