Judge Michael Hawkins addresses a number of important issues in his essay on John Quincy Adams' evolving understanding and relationship with slavery and the variegated role that law played in the politics of slavery and the slavery of politics. The essay demonstrates the importance of human personality in influencing and being influenced by political and legal processes. At its heart, the Article is a legal and historical study of the moral dimension and inherent contradictions facing Adams, in particular, and the American Republic, in general, regarding the existence and persistence of the institution of slavery in a nation built upon principles of universal freedom and equality.
In my reading of Judge Hawkins analysis, I found interesting parallels and divergences between the experience of Africans and African Americans with those of the indigenous nations of the Americas. One parallel already mentioned is that of the inherent contradiction in the United States Constitution that, on the one hand, banned the slave trade after 1808 yet respected the legality of slavery for many more years. Similarly, tribes, through their treaty-based relationship with the United States and preexisting status as distinctive polities, have been dealt with as sovereign bodies, yet Congress and the courts have also asserted plenary (read: absolute) power to terminate or restrain that sovereignty at any time.
Copyright © 2000 Oklahoma City University. This article first appeared in Oklahoma City University Law Review 25:1- 2 (March 2000), 87-113.
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Wilkins, David E. "A Constitutional Conundrum: The Resilience of Tribal Sovereignty during American Nationalism and Expansion, 1810-1871." Oklahoma City University Law Review 25, no. 1-2 (2000): 87.