John Quincy Adams’s Intent to Vote against the Gag Rule, 1836
In this note to the Presiding Officer, Representative Adams of Massachusetts denounced the first “gag rule” and stated his intent to vote against it. His fight continued until the gag rule’s repeal in 1844.
Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Old Man Eloquent
John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. After that came the high point of his life: 17 years in the House of Representatives.
Adams thrived on congressional combat. When Southern members imposed a rule that automatically prohibited debate on antislavery petitions, Adams was outraged. To "gag" citizens who petition their government, he thundered, was a "direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents."
Adams matched words with deeds. For eight years (1836–1844), he gleefully baffled opponents by exploiting every loophole and parliamentary trick to bring up antislavery petitions. His efforts won him wide popularity in the North, encouraging even more antislavery petitions. In 1844, on Adams’s motion, the House rescinded the "gag rule."
"Mr. Adams belongs to no local district, to no political party, but to the Nation and to the people...."
— Diary of Representative Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio