By James Brewer Stewart
Of humble New England origins, successful as a frontier lawyer, but disastrously unsuccessful as a land speculator, Joshua Reed Giddings entered Congress from Ohio’s Western Reserve in 1838. He turned to politics to recoup shattered fortunes, find a new career, and satisfy in antislavery political activity his moral outrage at the peculiar institution. Modeling himself on his colleague and hero, elder statesman John Quincy Adams, Giddings joined in the petition fight of the late 1830s and early 1840s. Then, launching his own crusade, he introduced resolutions in 1842 condemning American efforts to seize and try the mutinous slaves from the vessel Creole. Censured for it, he resigned his seat and stood triumphantly for reelection. With equal determination, he opposed the extension of slavery, the Mexican War, the Fugitive Slave Law, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, winning the plaudits of political and nonpolitical abolitionists alike.