What did Charles Francis Adams Sr. mean when he wrote, "We the children of the third and fourth generations are doomed to pay the penalty of the compromises of the first"?
What compromises was Charles Francis Adams Sr. talking about when he wrote this of slavery?
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Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of the second president of the United States, John Adams, wrote these words on the eve of the American Civil War, which would commence with the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April of 1861. Adams was referring to the compromises made by the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when the issue of slavery came up, specifically, how would slaves in southern states be counted for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives? In the interest of uniting the tottering new nation that was on the verge of falling apart scarcely a decade after the American Revolution, a three-fifths compromise was developed. Slaves would basically be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of determining representation. As the nation expanded territorially, the slavery issue would come up again and again, and was temporarily assuaged with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and the Compromise of 1850, but by 1861, efforts at last minute compromise failed and the nation was at war. Adams was saying that he and others of his generation, as grandchildren of the nation's Founding Fathers, were sentenced finally to decide the issue that had been more or less pushed aside in 1787 and the years since then.
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