The House “Gag Rule”

The House “Gag Rule”/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_046imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
The House “Gag Rule”/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_046imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


On December 21, 1837, Representative John Patton of Virginia introduced this resolution, perpetuating a practice known as the “gag rule.” It ensured that discussions regarding slavery did not take place in the House of Representatives for the second consecutive session of Congress. This resolution renewed the 1836 gag rule and mandated that “all petitions, memorials, and papers touching the abolition of slavery or the buying, selling, or transferring of slaves in any state, district or Territory of the United States” be automatically tabled without discussion, essentially silencing those who wanted to express their opposition to slavery.

Debates over slavery intensified during the decades leading to the Civil War. Abolitionists inundated Congress with petitions demanding that slavery be checked. To combat this growing movement for abolition, advocates for slavery found new ways to protect the practice, such as prohibiting discussion of the issue in Congress. Arguing that the gag rule violated the 1st Amendment, Representative John Quincy Adams led the opposition against it. The House renewed the rule in each Congress until its eventual repeal in 1844.

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