Slavery, Abolition & Reconstruction

Slavery and abolition often framed debate in the House before the Civil War. To appease proslavery legislators, the House imposed a “gag rule” in 1836 that restricted debate on abolition; it lasted until 1844. By the 1850s, debate over slavery occasionally turned violent on the floor of the House and Senate. With the dissolution of slavery after the Civil War, Congress worked to rebuild the country and pass laws to prohibit racial discrimination and guarantee civil rights and the right to vote.

This 1872 print combined the portraits of seven Black legislators from the 41st and 42nd Congresses to commemorate the historic results of enfranchisement during Reconstruction./tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_first-black.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This 1872 print combined the portraits of seven Black legislators from the 41st and 42nd Congresses to commemorate the historic results of enfranchisement during Reconstruction.

Censures and the "Gag Rule"

The House “Gag Rule”
A historical highlight explaining the House “gag rule."

The House “Gag Rule”
This resolution renewed the 1836 "gag rule" and ensured that discussions regarding slavery did not take place in the House of Representatives, essentially silencing those who wanted to express their opposition to slavery.

Petition to Rescind Gag Rule
This 1838 petition, from a group of women in Brookline, Massachusetts, asks the House to rescind the “gag rule.”

Vermont Representative William Slade’s Antislavery Speech in the 25th Congress
A historical highlight outlining Representative Slade’s attempt to give a speech on abolition in 1837.

A Motion to Censure Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts
A historical highlight on the attempt to censure Representative John Quincy Adams in 1842.

The House Censured Claims Committee Chairman Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio
A historical highlight on the House censuring Representative Giddings for introducing a series of resolutions defending a slave rebellion abroad the Creole in 1842.

Fights on the House Floor

This print illustrates a floor brawl that erupted as Members debated Kansas’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution./tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_floor-fight.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This print illustrates a floor brawl that erupted as Members debated Kansas’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution.

A Near Gun Fight on the House Floor
A historical highlight detailing a fight between Tennessee Representatives William Churchwell and William Cullom in 1854 about the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska bill.

South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks’s Attack on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts
A historical highlight outlining the aftermath of South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks’s violent attack on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in 1856.

Assault of Senator Charles Sumner
After Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered a speech criticizing slavery in 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina repeatedly struck the Senator over the head with a cane. This sworn testimony of Senator Albert Brown of Mississippi describes Brooks’s justification for the attack.

Report on the Assault of Charles Sumner
The Select Committee on the Assault of Charles Sumner issued this report after their investigation into Representative Preston Brooks’s attack on the Senator.

The Most Infamous Floor Brawl in the History of the US House of Representatives
A historical highlight describing a fight between Pennsylvania Representative Galusha Grow and South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt in 1858. The melee grew to over thirty Members.

Congressional Row, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Midnight of Friday, February 5th, 1858
This print illustrates a floor brawl that erupted as Members debated Kansas’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution.

Slavery and Abolition

This 1865 composite image shows supporters of the constitutional amendment to ban slavery./tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_composite.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This 1865 composite image shows supporters of the constitutional amendment to ban slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act
A historical highlight explaining the 1854 act that repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which outlawed slavery north of the 36-30 latitude line.

Repeal Fugitive Slave Law
This petition created by the citizens of Farmington, Maine, asked the Congress to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, as well as confiscate the property of rebels against the government and declare their slaves forever free.

A Bill Abolishing Slavery in the District of Columbia
A historical highlight about the 1862 bill that abolished slavery in the District of Columbia.

Letter from House Page Albert S. Pillsbury to Mother
Albert S. Pillsbury of Chelsea, Massachusetts, a Page working for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862, describes the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

“Here will I hold my stand”: James Tallmadge Jr. and the Fight to Stop the Spread of Slavery
A blog exploring the anti-slavery amendments Missouri Representative James Tallmadge Jr. introduced in 1819.

The “Very Deserving Case” of Harriet Tubman
A blog revealing Harriet Tubman’s unsuccessful struggle to be compensated by the federal government for her service during the Civil War.

Reconstruction

This election certificate confirmed Representative Joseph Rainey’s 1874 election to the 44th Congress (1875–1877) for his third full term. He became the first Black Representative in 1870./tiles/non-collection/n/nhd_rainey-certif.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
About this record
This election certificate confirmed Representative Joseph Rainey’s 1874 election to the 44th Congress (1875–1877) for his third full term. He became the first Black Representative in 1870.

The Homestead Act
A historical highlight detailing the 1862 Homestead Act which granted land to adult citizens after occupying it for five years.

The Joint Committee on Reconstruction
A historical highlight on the creation of an investigative joint committee assigned to look into the political and social conditions in the former Confederate states in 1865.

The Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill
A historical highlight explaining the 1864 bill that granted congressional control over the rehabilitation of the defeated Confederacy.

Wade-Davis Bill
In his “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” issued on December 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln detailed his plan for Reconstruction.

House Passage of the 14th Amendment
A historical highlight marking House passage of the 14th Amendment in 1866, granting citizenship to anyone “born or naturalized in the United States.”

House Debate on Whether to Seat the Kentucky Delegation
A historical highlight outlining the decision to seat Kentucky Representatives in 1867.

The Veto of the Omnibus Southern States Admission Bill
A historical highlight explaining the 1868 bill President Andrew Johnson vetoed setting guidelines for allowing Southern states to rejoin the Union and send Representatives to Congress.

Reconstruction Acts Petition
The 14th Amendment prohibited individuals who actively rebelled against the Union from being employed by the government. In this 1868 application, Ira Garrett of Virginia petitions to have those political disabilities removed.

A Remarkable Event in the History of the National Congress
The front page of this 1868 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper shows John Willis Menard, a newly elected Member of Congress, accepting congratulations from his new colleagues just before the start of the House session. His election was later contested and he was denied his seat in the House.

African-American Congressmen
This 1886 engraved illustration shows the portraits of five African Americans serving in Congress during Reconstruction.