The New International Encyclopædia/Giddings, Joshua Reed

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GIDDINGS, Joshua Reed (1795-1864). An eminent American legislator, prominent as a ‘Constitutional’ Abolitionist in the anti-slavery struggle. He was born at Tioga Point, Pa., October 6, 1795. His early life was spent in Canandaigua, N. Y., until his parents removed to Ashtabula County, Ohio, where he afterwards resided. He enlisted as a soldier in the War of 1812, and served for a few months in the protection of the Western Reserve against the Indians; then taught school, studied law, and in 1821 began professional practice at Jefferson. In 1826 he was sent to the State Legislature, and in 1838 to Congress. The slavery agitation had already begun, and Giddings became a forceful advocate of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and the national Territories. He supported the efforts of John Quincy Adams to maintain the right of petition, and in fact seized upon every opportunity to develop a public sentiment hostile to slavery. On February 9, 1841, he delivered a powerful speech upon the Indian War in Florida, insisting that it was waged in the interest of slavery. While the excitement caused by the Creole Case (q.v.) was at its height, he introduced in the House of Representatives a series of resolutions declaring that the slaves, having simply asserted their indefeasible right to liberty, were guilty of no crime, and that as soon as they left the jurisdiction of Virginia they became free. The resolutions created a tumultuous excitement, and Giddings was censured by vote of the House for presenting them. He thereupon resigned his seat, but was reëlected by a very large majority. He was kept at his post by successive reëlections until 1859, thus completing a continuous service of twenty years. Until 1848 he was a member of the Whig Party, supporting its principal measures, but maintaining his independence in all matters relating to slavery. He did much to develop those views with regard to the relation of slavery to the National Government which afterwards became the basis of the Republican Party. He took a prominent part in the struggle to prevent the extension of slavery to the territory wrested from Mexico by the war of 1846-47, and in resisting the adoption of the Compromise of 1850, especially the reënactment of the Fugitive Slave Law (q.v.). He was also conspicuous in the debates which preceded the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854, and in the great struggle by which Kansas was made a free State. On May 8, 1856, while addressing the House, he suddenly fell to the floor in a state of unconsciousness. He soon revived, but his former strength was never fully restored. On January 17, 1858, he fell again in the same way, and for a time was supposed to be dead. He again rallied, however, but was compelled for a time to leave his post. In 1861 he was appointed Consul-General for the British North American Provinces, with headquarters in Montreal. In 1843 he wrote a series of political essays signed ‘Paciflcus,’ which attracted wide attention. A volume of his speeches was published in 1853. He also wrote: The Exiles of Florida (1858), and The History of the Rebellion: its Authors and Causes (1864). Consult: Buel, Joshua R. Giddings (Cleveland, 1882); and. more particularly, Julian, Life of Joshua R. Giddings (Chicago, 1892).