DURING THE SPRING of 1828, Congress passed the “tariff of abominations, ” thereby adding to the excitement and confusion of the presidential contest between the incumbent John Quincy Adams and his opponent, Andrew Jackson. Partisan and sectional feeling ran high on the tariff question, but slavery did not become a prominent campaign issue. In the history of the slavery controversy, 1828 is part of an ostensibly quiet decade extending from the end of the Missouri controversy to Nat Turner's uprising and the emergence of Garrisonian abolitionism. Yet, as it happened, the House of Representatives began the year 1828 with a protracted debate that raised disturbing questions about the nature of slavery and its place in the design of the federal union.
The often heated discussion ran on through most of January and into February. At least thirty-five congressmen took part, and many of them spoke more than once. The specific matter at issue dated back thirteen years to General Jackson's famous defense of New Orleans against British assault in January 1815. A slave named Warwick, who had been impressed into military service, suffered two serious wounds from enemy fire. His owner, Marigny D'Auterive, filed a claim against the United States for $239 to cover medical expenses, loss of the slave's time while recuperating, and the depreciation of his value as property. D'Auterive also asked payment of $855 for ninety-five cords of wood and military use of a cart with horse and driver. From its Committee on Claims, the House had previously received an adverse report on the subject without taking any action. In December 1827, the committee reversed itself to the extent of reporting a