From 1836 to 1844, the House observed a gag rule preventing anti-slavery petitions from being considered.
The rule was introduced in response to an increase in anti-slavery petitions submitted to Congress, spurred by an 1834 anti-slavery petition drive by the American Anti-Slavery Society. It passed with the support of Southern congressmen representing slave states.
John Quincy Adams was among the first to oppose the rule. Blocked from reading anti-slavery petitions, he argued that the rule violated the Constitutional right to petition. In 1844, the House rescinded the rule on a motion made by Adams with the support of Northern congressmen concerned about the threat of southern “slave power” to civil liberties.
After the Senate rejected a similar gag rule over fears that abolitionists could gain public support as champions of civil liberties, it implemented a “complex...delaying procedure” to prevent petitions from being heard.