Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Giddings, Joshua Reed
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Giddings, Joshua Reed
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GIDDINGS, Joshua Reed, statesman, b. in Athens, Bradford co., Pa., 6 Oct., 1795; d. in Montreal, Canada, 27 May, 1864. His parents removed to Canandaigua, N. Y., and in 1806 to Ashtabula county, Ohio, where the boy worked on his father's farm, and by devoting his evenings to hard study made up somewhat for his limited educational advantages. In 1812 he enlisted in a regiment commanded by Col. Richard Hayes, being the youngest member, and was in an expedition sent to the peninsula north of Sandusky bay. There, 29 Sept., 1812, twenty-two men, of whom he was one, had a skirmish with Indians, in which six of the soldiers were killed and six wounded. Mr. Giddings afterward erected a monument there to the memory of his fallen comrades. After the war he became a teacher, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1820. He was elected to the Ohio legislature in 1826, served one term, and declined a re-election. In 1838 he was elected, as a Whig, to congress, where he had hardly taken his seat before he became prominent as an advocate of the right of petition, and the abolition of slavery and the domestic slave-trade. He had been known as an active abolitionist before his election. His first attempt to discuss the subject on the floor of congress, 11 Feb., 1839, was thwarted by the gag rule; but two years later, 9 Feb., 1841, he delivered a notable speech on the war with the Indians in Florida, in which he maintained that the contest was waged solely in the interest of slavery, the object being to enslave the Maroons of that state, who were affiliated with the Seminoles, and break up the asylums for fugitives. This subject he set forth more elaborately years afterward in his “Exiles of Florida” (Columbus, Ohio, 1858; new ed., New York, 1863). In the autumn of 1841 the “Creole” sailed from Virginia for Louisiana with a cargo of slaves, who got possession of the vessel, ran into the British port of Nassau, N. P., and, in accordance with British law, were set free. In the excitement that followed, Daniel Webster, secretary of state, wrote to Edward Everett, U. S. minister at London, saying that the government would demand indemnification for the owners of the slaves. Thereupon Mr. Giddings, 21 March, 1842, offered in the house of representatives a series of resolutions in which it was declared that, as slavery was an abridgment of a natural right, it had no force beyond the territorial jurisdiction that created it; that when an American vessel was not in the waters of any state it was under the jurisdiction of the United States alone, which had no authority to hold slaves; and that the mutineers of the “Creole” had only resumed their natural right to liberty, and any attempt to re-enslave them would be unconstitutional and dishonorable. So much excitement was created by these resolutions that Mr. Giddings, on the advice of his friends, withdrew them, but said he would present them again at some future time. The house then, on motion of John Minor Botts, of Virginia, passed a resolution of censure (125 to 69), and by means of the previous question denied Mr. Giddings an opportunity to speak in his own defence. He at once resigned his seat and appealed to his constituents, who re-elected him by a large majority. In the discussion of the “Amistad” case (see Cinque), Mr. Giddings took the same ground as in the similar case of the “Creole,” and in a speech a few years later boldly maintained that to treat a human being as property was a crime. In 1843 he united with John Quincy Adams and seventeen other members of congress in issuing an address to the people of the country, declaring that the annexation of Texas “would be identical with dissolution”; and in the same year he published, under the pen-name of “Pacificus,” a notable series of political essays. A year later he and Mr. Adams presented a report discussing a memorial from the Massachusetts legislature, in which they declared that the liberties of the American people were founded on the truths of Christianity. On the Oregon question, he held that the claim of the United States to the whole territory was just, and should be enforced, but predicted that the Polk administration would not keep the promise on which it had been elected — expressed in the motto “Fifty-four forty, or fight” — and his prediction was fulfilled. In 1847 he refused to vote for Robert C. Winthrop, the candidate of his party for speaker of the house, on the ground that his position on the slavery question was not satisfactory; and the next year, for the same reason, he declined to support the candidacy of Gen. Taylor for the presidency, and acted with the Free-soil party. In 1849, with eight other congressmen, he refused to support any candidate for the speakership who would not pledge himself so to appoint the standing committees that petitions on the subject of slavery could obtain a fair consideration; and the consequence was the defeat of Mr. Winthrop and the election of Howell Cobb, the Democratic candidate. Mr. Giddings opposed the compromise measures of 1850, which included the fugitive-slave law, and the repeal of the Missouri compromise, taking a prominent part in the debates. In 1850, being charged with wrongfully taking important papers from the post-office, he demanded an investigation, and was exonerated by a committee that was composed chiefly of his political opponents. It was shown that the charge was the work of a conspiracy. In 1856, and again in 1858, he suddenly became unconscious, and fell while addressing the house. His congressional career of twenty years' continuous service ended on 4 March, 1859, when he declined another nomination. In 1861 President Lincoln appointed him U. S. consul-general in Canada, which office he held until the time of his death. One who knew him personally writes: “He was about six feet one inch in height, broad-shouldered, of very stalwart build, and was considered the most muscular man on the floor of the house. Whenever he spoke he was listened to with great attention by the whole house, the members frequently gathering around him. He had several affrays on the floor, but invariably came out ahead. On one occasion he was challenged by a southern member, and promptly accepted, selecting as the weapons two raw-hides. The combatants were to have their left hands tied together by the thumbs, and at a signal castigate each other till one cried enough. A look at Mr. Giddings's stalwart frame influenced the southerner to back out.” Mr. Giddings published a volume of his speeches (Boston, 1853), and wrote “The Rebellion: its Authors and Causes,” a history of the anti-slavery struggle in congress, which was issued posthumously (New York, 1864).