Between 1836 and 1844, the
United States House of Representatives adopted a series of
resolutions and regulations that banned petitions calling for
the Abolition of Slavery - these directives were referred to as
the Gag Rule as they suppressed discussion of issues involving
slavery. John Quincy Adams, a former president who continued in
politics as a member of the House of Representatives strongly
opposed the Gag Rule and emerged as the leader of those opposed
What was the Gag Rule?
What was the gag rule that was
passed in 1836? The Gag Rule of 1836 was the first of a series of
formal resolutions that was passed by the House of Representatives
on May 26, 1836 to prevent the reading of petitions from
constituents calling for the Abolition of Slavery. The
congressional Gag Rule stipulated that:
"All petitions, memorials,
resolutions, propositions, or papers, relating in any way, or to any
extent whatsoever, to the subject of slavery or the abolition of
slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid on
and … no further action whatever shall be had thereon."
The gagging of anti-slavery
petitions by Congress (the Gag Rule) continued from 1836 to 1844.
The Gag Rule for kids: Henry Laurens Pinckney
The 'Gag Rule' was
the name that was immediately given to the third of a series of
three resolutions made by Henry Laurens Pinckney of South Carolina
on February 8, 1836 that automatically "tabled" all anti-slavery
petitions, preventing them from being read or discussed in the House
of Representatives - effectively gagging all such petitions. The
first of Pinckney's resolutions was that Congress had no
constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the states.
The second of Pinckney's resolutions was that it "ought not" to
interfere with the issue of slavery in the District of Columbia and
the third was the infamous 'gag rule'. The House of Representatives
passed the Pinckney Resolutions on May 26, 1836.
Why did the Gag Rule happen? The
Why did the gag
rule happen? What prompted Pinckney's resolutions? The
was established in 1830. Its goal was to abolish slavery and one of
the methods adopted to achieve this objective was to apply political
pressure by petitioning legislatures on the subject. The
anti-slavery petitions started slowly but turned into flood by 1835
as the growing members of the Abolitionist Movement began printing
and distributing numerous petitions. Protocol required that the
first 30 days of each session of Congress be dedicated to the
reading of petitions from constituents. After the 30 days, petitions
were read in the House of Representatives every other Monday. Each
petition was first read aloud, then printed and finally assigned to
a committee that could choose to address or ignore it. There were so
many petitions that the committee stopped reporting on the numerous
anti-slavery petitions it was handling. The Southern
representatives, led by John C. Calhoun, were outraged by the
anti-slavery petitions and thought the petitions were insulting to
Southern slaveholders. The situation prompted the three Pinckney
Resolutions, which included the 'Gag Rule'.
The Gag Rule for kids: John Quincy Adams
The John Quincy Adams, the former
President of the United States, continued in politics after his term
in office as a member of the House of Representatives. John Quincy
Adams was a fervent Abolitionist and was presenting many of the
anti-slavery petitions. Adams began presenting petition after
petition, requesting Congress to forbid slavery in the District of
Columbia. John Quincy Adams became extremely vocal in his concerns
anti-slavery petitions were being "tabled" by the committees,
preventing them from being read or discussed in the House. Adams
believed this was an infringement of free speech and
The Gag Rule for kids:
The First Amendment and the Right of Petition
One of the most important rights of Americans was the Right of
Petition. In the old colonial days the British Parliament had
refused even to listen to petitions presented by the colonists. The
Amendment to the Constitution forbade Congress to make any law
to prevent citizens of the United States from petitioning.
"Congress shall make no law
... prohibiting the ...freedom of speech...and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances."
Amendment to the Constitution therefore allows American citizens to
express their opinions to the government, especially in situations
where they believe are unjust, allowing people to petition the
government to 'right a wrong'.
was the purpose of the Gag Rule?
What was the purpose of the gag
could not prevent the anti-slavery people from petitioning the
government but they could prevent the petitions being read when
presented. They did this by passing the Pinckney "Gag Resolutions".
John Quincy Adams protested against the Pinckney resolutions as an
infringement on the rights of his constituents. But the resolutions
were passed into law in May, 1836.
The Gag Rule for kids: Passing New 'Gag Rules'
The 'Gag Rule' could only be
placed into law for a single session of the House. Passing a new gag
rule became one of the first orders of a new session of Congress.
The first renewal of Pinckney's Resolution was passed on January 18,
John Quincy Adams
responded by requesting a petition, signed by 22 slaves, to be sent
to the Speaker (Joab Lawler), rather than to the clerk who normally
received Anti-slavery petitions. This action caused absolute mayhem
in the House, Southern members were in uproar demanding that John
Quincy Adams be censured for "Gross disrespect to this House". The
following resolution was made by Waddy Thompson of South Carolina on
February 6, 1837:
honorable John Quincy Adams, by the attempt just made by him to
introduce a petition purporting on its face
to be from slaves, has been guilty of a gross disrespect to this
House, and that he be instantly brought to the bar
to receive the severe censure of the Speaker "
The censure resolution was
rejected, Adam's request was rejected and the second 'Gag Rule' was
passed. The Pinckney Resolutions were replaced in 1838 by the Patton
Resolution submitted by John Patton of Virginia and passed. In 1839
the Atherton Resolutions were submitted by Charles Atherton of New
Hampshire and passed in 1839 and 1840. The 1841 Gag Rule was renamed
the Twenty-First (21st) House Rule, in 1842 the Gag Rule, called the
Twenty-third (23rd) House Rule was passed and the Twenty-fifth
(25th) House Rule was passed in 1843.
was the Gag Rule repealed?
When was the Gag Rule repealed?
The Gag Rule was repealed on December 3, 1844 when
the House of Representatives led by John Quincy
Adams and the pro-abolitionists overturned the gag
rule (House Rule 21, House Rule 23 and House Rule
25) on abolitionist petitions. The House voted to
reject the gag rule by a vote of 108-80.
The Gag Rule
The significance of the Gag Rule
was as follows:
The Gag Rule
fueled the growth of anti-slavery feeling in the
Americans, who cared little about slaves and did
not sympathize with the Abolitionist Movement,
were incensed at the Gag Rule and its
unconstitutional infringement of the freedom
of the press and the right of petition
started to request that a limit should be set to
the extension of slavery
united to resist all attempts to interfere with
slavery, determined to add new slave states to
controversy over the Gag Rule highlighted the
issue of slavery which would eventually lead to
the outbreak of
contributed to the
the Civil War