The New International Encyclopædia/Gag rules

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GAG RULES. In American history, the name applied to certain rules passed by the National Congress in disregard of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, for the abridgment of the right of petition with reference to the abolition or restriction of slavery. After the beginning of the earnest agitation of the Northern abolitionists against the institution of slavery about 1831, petitions of various kinds poured into the House and the Senate, praying for the abolition or the restriction of that institution. These were generally presented by John Quincy Adams, who as a member of Congress identified himself particularly with the struggle against any Congressional abridgment of the right of petition. In May, 1835, the House passed the so-called ‘Pinckney Resolutions,’ substantially renewed in January, 1837, which provided that all petitions relating to slavery should virtually be disregarded, should not be printed or referred, and should be laid on the table without action. The resolutions also asserted that Congress should not interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia, and that that body had no power, according to the Constitution, to take action with regard to slavery in the individual States. Adams's attempts to introduce petitions in disregard of these resolutions provoked animated debates, in which, on some occasions, considerable feeling was aroused between Northern and Southern members. In December, 1837, the House passed the so-called ‘Patton Resolutions,’ introduced by J. M. Patton, of Virginia, which declared against the reading, referring, debating, or printing of any petition praying for the interference of the National Government with the institution of slavery in any part of the United States, including the Territories and the District of Columbia. In December of the following year the House passed the so-called ‘Atherton Gag,’ covering much the same ground as the ‘Patton Resolutions,’ and in January, 1840, passed the famous Twenty-first Rule to the same general effect. Adams continued to offer petitions, however, and at the opening of each new Congress endeavored to have the objectionable rule omitted. The majority against him progressively decreased, and in December, 1844, the rule was rescinded. Consult: Adams's Memoirs (12 vols., Philadelphia, 1874-77); Benton's Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, 1789-1856 (16 vols., New York, 1857-61); id., Thirty Years' View (2 vols., New York, 1854-56); and Wilson, Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, vol. i. (3 vols., Boston, 1872-77).