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John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835–1850

, 120 pages

11 b&w photos

September 2017



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John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835–1850


Passed by the House of Representatives at the start of the 1836 session, the gag rule rejected all petitions against slavery, effectively forbidding Congress from addressing the antislavery issue until it was rescinded in late 1844. In the Senate, a similar rule lasted until 1850. Strongly supported by all southern and some northern Democratic congressmen, the gag rule became a proxy defense of slavery’s morality and economic value in the face of growing pro-abolition sentiment. In John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835–1850, Peter Charles Hoffer transports readers to Washington, DC, in the period before the Civil War to contextualize the heated debates surrounding the rule.

At first, Hoffer explains, only a few members of Congress objected to the rule. These antislavery representatives argued strongly for the reception and reading of incoming abolitionist petitions. When they encountered an almost uniformly hostile audience, however, John Quincy Adams took a different tack. He saw the effort to gag the petitioners as a violation of their constitutional rights. Adams’s campaign to lift the gag rule, joined each year by more and more northern members of Congress, revealed how the slavery issue promoted a virulent sectionalism and ultimately played a part in southern secession and the Civil War.

A lively narrative intended for history classrooms and anyone interested in abolitionism, slavery, Congress, and the coming of the Civil War, John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835–1850, vividly portrays the importance of the political machinations and debates that colored the age.

Peter Charles Hoffer is a distinguished research professor of history at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Sensory Worlds in Early America, Prelude to Revolution: The Salem Gunpowder Raid of 1775, and Law and People in Colonial America.

"A simply splendid book that will benefit student learners and their teachers. John Quincy Adams and the Gag Rule, 1835 1850, is lucid, fast-paced, clever, and richly researched."

"Hoffer provides a concise, readable account of one of the pivotal disputes in the ongoing struggle over the future of slavery in the United States. Anyone who is interested in the politics of the antebellum era will profit from reading this book."

"As the United States watches a dysfunctional congressional majority prevent serious debate over serious issues, Peter Hoffer reminds us how Congress in the 1830s and 1840s refused to face its responsibilities in dealing with the nation's most pressing issue, by preventing meaningful debate over slavery, and ignored the complaints of literally millions of Americans who opposed human bondage. This is a history book that should be read by every member of Congress."

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