In 1836, did the US House of Representatives ban discussion of slavery in order to ‘preserve the peace’?

Saturday, July 17, 2021
By Jacob Alabab-Moser

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 In 1844, the House rescinded the rule on a motion made by Adams with the support of Northern congressmen concerned about the threat of southern “slave power” to civil liberties.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.

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
US House of Representatives The House ‘gag rule’
University of Houston Digital History John Quincy Adams on the gag rule
US Senate Gag rule
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