John Quincy Adams, Gag Rule, 09 January 1837

House of Representatives, Monday, 09 January 1837.

Petitions and memorials were presented by Messrs. Evans and Jarvis of Maine; and Messrs. Jackson, Borden, and Adams, of Massachusetts.
Mr. Adams submitted the following resolution; which was agreed to:

Foreign Authors

Mr. Adams inquired if there was any member of the House who was charged with a petition from the "Authors of Great Britain." The reason why he had made the inquiry was, that he had received a letter from a very respectable person, Miss Harriet Martineau, accompanied by a printed address and petition of certain authors of Great Britain, to the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America. He thought it probable that some other gentleman might be charged with a similar petition — the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, perhaps — with the request to present it to the House. If so, he would not present the petition he had received, as he was not directly requested to present it to the House.

Mr. Adams then observed that he should not present the petition to-day, but he should take occasion to do so on some other petition day, next Monday perhaps.

Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia

Mr. Adams presented a petition from one hundred and fifty women, wives and daughters of his immediate constituents, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

Mr. Glascock objected to the reception of this petition.

[Mr. Adams]

[1] Mr. Adams did not expect that any objection would have been made to the reception of this petition. The petition was entirely respectful in terms, and came from women, mothers and daughters of his immediate constitutents. At the last session of Congress, after much debate, it was decided that petitions of this kind should be received, but provision was made for disposing of them afterwards; and that precedent went so far as to insure the reception of those petitions.

[2] It appeared to him that the decision of the House at the last session went quite far enough to suppress the freedom of speech; but this motion went one step further. It went to settle the principle that petitions upon a subject as interesting to the whole nation as any other should not even be received; and that, too, directly in the face of the Constitution itself.

[3] He hoped the people of this country would not tamely submit to the injustice and wrong which would be inflicted upon them by their immediate representatives, in deciding that their petitions should not be received. He lamented deeply that the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech on this subject had been violently assailed for the last twelve months. He lamented deeply the decision and determination of the House at the last session, so far as it went; but this motion went one step further; and he hoped it would not be sanctioned by the House.

[4] It was always in the power of the House to reject the prayer of a petition; and the House had at the last session, by an overwhelming majority, given a decision in advance of the disposition to be made of petitions of this kind, and it was now ready, too ready, to raise its voice against these petitions and reject the prayer of them.

[5] He considered that, from the fact that this petition came from women, wives mothers, and daughters of his constituents, persons of the greatest respectability, that it ought to be received, and treated with respect. He put the case to gentlemen: suppose the petitions to be from their own mothers, would they treat it with contempt or disrespect? He trusted not.

[6] Then as this petition was from respectable citizens of Massachusetts, and addressed to the House in respectful language, he hoped it would be received. He did not consider that the House had anything to fear from this petition of females, certainly not insurrection and blood and slaughter. He hoped, therefore, that the objection would be withdrawn, and that the panic which had been gotten up would not deter gentlemen from doing justice in regard to these petitions.

[Mr. Glascock]

[1] Mr. Glascock remarked that it was well known what position he occupied before that House and the country on this subject, at the last session of Congress; and if he were, on the present occasion, to accede to the proposition of receiving a petition of this character, it would be construed into an abandonment of the principles he then assumed. No man had, or could have a higher regard for petitions emanating from such a quarter, if upon proper subjects, than himself; but it was time, from the course and scenes acted at the last session, that those who believed they possessed the right not to receive those petitions should have the privilege which they conceived secured to them, by the rules of the House and the Constitution of the United States, to have their votes recorded against petitions of this character. This opportunity had been denied at the last session.

[2] If this were a new subject, a subject upon which the information of this House had not been already sought, and upon which the opinions of that House had not been obtained, emanating from daughters and mothers, he would respond to it as feelingly, and receive their petition as freely, as the gentleman from Massachusetts, or any other gentleman, and vote also to lay it on the table without reading, or, as the gentleman himself said on a former occasion, send it to sleep in the tomb of the Capulets. It was true that this petition emanated from females; but, Mr. G. must be permitted to remark, that he had great doubts whether all these petitions were not got up for effect of some kind or other, and that an improper influence had been exercised over them by mischievous and designing men. The gentleman had appealed to those who had mothers and daughters, to pay some regard to this petition; and went on to contend that to reject it, would be to treat them with disrespect.

[3] Now, if Mr. G. had been situated as that venerable gentleman was — had witnessed the many votes taken upon questions of this kind — and had seen and witnessed the excitement it always produced, his language to his mother and daughter would have told them something to this effect: Your prayers, though they may be just according to the views of those who surround you, and in your immediate section of the country, yet it is impossible they can be heard at this time; and as the subject is one calculated to renew a great excitement in the country which it is desirable should be allayed, let me, as a son, advise you, at least, to withhold them.

[4] Now, did the gentleman from Massachusetts presume that those from the South ought to have less sympathy for those who were more delicately situated upon the question he took upon himself to advocate than the mothers than the mothers and daughters who had signed that petition? Need he tell the gentleman that they of the South had mothers and daughters? Need he appeal to the mothers and daughters of the North that, if they would spare many a bitter pang, and many an anxious feeling, they would withhold these petitions? He would beseech them to do so. This is the kind of language he would hold out, not only to the mothers and daughters of the East, but to every person in this country. Why should these memorials be introduced here, when no possible good could result, and much evil was to be apprehended? This was a brief reply to the appeal to him by the gentleman from Massachusetts.

[5] The gentleman had further thought proper to advise Mr. G, for the honor of his character as a man and a citizen, to withdraw his objection to the reception of this petition. Were Mr. G to withdraw it, he would prove recreant to his own feelings, and to the known will of the thousands who had sent him there. It was a position he had assumed last session — a position which had received the almost unanimous approbation of his constituents; and God forbid that he should be found, at this time, abandoning it. But he appealed to the gentleman himself that, if he wished to allay excitement, and not produce further agitation in that House, and throughout the country, to present no such petitions here. There was no necessity for it, when no good could possibly result.

[6] Mr. G repeated that his sole object was to have an opportunity of recording upon the Journals the votes of those opposed to the reception of these petitions. It was far from his wish to be the means of producing any embarrassment, or throwing and confusion into the House, but that the simple question of reception should at once be taken.

[7] Mr. G then went on to show, from Jefferson's Manual, that the preliminary question of reception must first be put to the House before the petition could be considered in its possession, and ergo that Mr. Jefferson had contemplated the question of non-reception.

[Floor discussion]

Mr. Parks said that believing discussion upon this subject had never been productive of good, and could not be, but might be productive of harm, he therefore moved that the petition itself, and the objection to its reception, be severally laid on the table.

The Chair said it would be in order to move to lay the question of reception on the table, but not to include the petition. The motion prevailing, would suspend the motion on the petition itself; and it would remain in the possession of the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. Glascock appealed from this decision; but the Chair having stated the grounds of it, and referred to the rules bearing upon the point, Mr. G withdrew his objection.

Mr. Reed asked for the yeas and nays on the motion to lay on the table; which were ordered.

The question was then taken and decided in the affirmative — yeas 130, nays 60.

So the preliminary question of reception was laid on the table.

Mr. Chapin, when his name was called, rose and inquired of the Speaker what would become of the petition, in case the motion to lay the question of the reception of the petition on the table, prevailed.

The Chair answered, the petition would be arrested in the hands of the gentleman offering it, subject to the order of the House.

Mr. Pinckney, when his name was called, rose and asked leave to make a brief explanation of the vote he designed to give; but it was ruled to be out of order.

Mr. Adams rose and said, that as he understood, by the decision of the Speaker, the petition itself was not laid on the table, but only the motion to receive it, in order to save the time of the House, he gave notice that he should call up the motion for decision every day, as long as he should be permitted to do so by the House. He felt himself impelled to this course, because he should not have performed his duty to his constituents sl long as that petition was not received, and so long as the House had not decided they would not receive it. Mr. A. was proceeding further, when

Mr. Pinckney rose to a question of order.

The Chair decided that, under the rules, the notice of motion could not be debated.

Mr. Adams reiterated his notice, and declared his intention to renew it, from day to day, until it was decided.

Petition from the Women of South Weymouth

Mr. A then presented another memorial, signed by two hundred and twenty-eight women of South Weymouth, the wives and daughters, he said, of his immediate constituents, praying for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia.

Mr. A said, as a part of his speech, he should read the memorial itself, which was very short, and would not consume much time. He was proceeding therein, when

Mr. Pinckney inquired if the doing so was in order.

The Chair said the gentleman had a right, under the rule, to make a brief statement of its contents, but nothing more. It was not for the Chair to decide whether the gentleman should make the statement in his own language, or in that of the paper itself.

Mr. Adams said he read it as a part of his speech, and was proceeding again to do so, when

Mr. Chambers, of Kentucky, renewed the point of order made by Mr. Pinckney.

The Chair then decided, that as the 45th rule declared that a member presenting a petition should confine himself to a brief verbal statement of its contents, and as the lex parliamentaria, as given in Jefferson's Manual, laid it down that no member could read any paper to the House without leave, not even his own speech, therefore, as the question had been raised, he decided that the gentleman from Massachusetts could not insist upon reading this memorial.

Mr. Adams appealed from that decision; and after some remarks in support of it from Mr. Patton and Mr. Chambers of Kentucky, and against it by Mr. Briggs and Mr. Harper,

Mr. Adams withdrew his appeal.

So the decision of the Chair was acquiesced in.

Mr. Glascock then objected to the reception of the petition.

After some remarks from Mr. Dawson, deprecating any excitement on the subject, and condemning in strong terms the conduct of the fanatics in agitating it, Mr. Boon moved to lay the preliminary question on the reception of the petition on the table.

After some confusion, Mr. B. withdrew that motion at the request of Mr. A. Mann, who said, that wishing to save the time of the House and the nation, he demanded the previous question.

In reply to the inquiry of Mr. Glascock, The Speaker said the main question would be, "Shall this petition be received?"

Mr. Glascock. "That is all we want."

The previous question was seconded — ayes 114, noes not counted; and the main question ordered to be put without a count.

Mr. Chapin called for the yeas and nays on the main question; which were ordered.

Mr. Garland, of Louisiana, moved a call of the House; which was lost.

The question was then taken, and decided in the affirmative — yeas 137, nays 75.

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