1837 One Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

PrintPrintEmailEmail

At the opening of the Twenty-fifth Congress on December 18, Rep. William Slade of Vermont rose to present several petitions for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Since the gag rule of 1836 had not yet been reenacted, the Southerners, who grew increasingly outraged by his attack on slavery, could do nothing to stop him. Some tried to interrupt, and others called him to order, but Slade shouted over them, refusing to be silenced. Men gathered in groups on the floor, ignoring the Vermonter and talking angrily among themselves. Finally Virginia’s Henry A. Wise let it be known that his state’s delegates were retiring to another room, and other Southern representatives joined him. That evening they discussed holding a Southern convention; several days later they passed a strengthened gag rule to prevent further abolitionist speeches.

John Quincy Adams, Congress’s principal and notorious opponent of the gag rule and slavery, sat down with his diary the night after the gag resolutions were passed. “The conflict between the principle of liberty and the fact of slavery is coming gradually to an issue,” he wrote. “Slavery has now the power, and falls into convulsions at the approach of freedom. That the fall of slavery is predetermined in the counsels of Omnipotence I cannot doubt; it is a part of the great moral improvement in the condition of man, attested by all the records of history. But the conflict will be terrible, and the progress of improvement perhaps retrograde before its final progress to consummation.”