The 1st Amendment to the Constitution provides the right to petition the government to take action on issues of concern to the citizenry. In the 1830s, as the issue of slavery was hotly debated in Congress, Americans made their voices heard on the subject through vigorous petitioning. During the 24th Congress alone, more than 130,000 anti-slavery petitions were sent to Congress. In 1836, in an effort to stop the flood of abolitionist petitions and curb debate on slavery, a group of pro-slavery House Members introduced the “gag rule” to prohibit consideration of these petitions. The “gag rule” tabled all anti-slavery petitions without further action or discussion. It was renewed each Congress by resolution, until it became a standing rule in 1840.
This 1838 petition, from a group of women in Brookline, Massachusetts, asks the House to rescind the “gag rule” on the basis that it was, “an assumption of authority at once dangerous and destructive to the fundamental principles of republican government, to the rights of minorities, to the sovereignty of the People, and to the Union of these United States.” Despite forceful opposition from Members such as John Quincy Adams, it remained in effect until 1844.