Henry Wise portrait

In 1840 Representative Henry Wise of Virginia proposed amending the House rules to impose a permanent gag on the discussion of anti-slavery petitions. [Wikimedia Commons]

Gag Rule Facts

May 26, 1836 - December 3, 1844

Key facts about the gag rule.

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  • During the 1830s, abolitionist organizations, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society, were urging citizens to flood the House with anti-slavery petitions.
  • During the 1830s, the number of anti-slavery petitions to the United states House of Representatives increased from the hundreds to the thousands, with hundreds of thousands of signatures.
  • Many anti-slavery petitions to the U.S. House of representatives during the 1830s and 1840s focused on the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C.
  • On May 26, 1836, by a vote of 177 to 68, the House of Representatives adopted a rule mandating the automatic tabling of “All petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers, relating in any way, or to any extent whatsoever, to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon.”
  • Opponents of the House rule adopted on May 26, 1836 derisively referred to it as the Pinckney gag rule, which was later shortened to simply the gag rule.
  • Throughout the 1830s and early 1840s, as special rules from previous sessions of the U.S. House of representatives expired, Southerners and Democrats, passed comparable, and even stricter, gag rules.
  • Southern-imposed censorship became more severe in 1840 when Representative Henry Wise of Virginia proposed amending the House rules to impose a permanent gag on the discussion of anti-slavery petitions.
  • On January 28, 1840, by a vote of 114 to 108, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a proposal “that no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper praying the abolition of slavery . . . shall be received by this House, or entertained in any way whatever.”
  • Throughout the 1830s and early 1840s, Whig representatives, led by former President John Quincy Adams attempted to overturn gag rules on numerous occasions.
  • On December 3, 1844, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a recommendation from former President John Quincy Adams to rescind the gag rule that had been in effect since 1836.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Gag Rule Facts
  • Coverage May 26, 1836 - December 3, 1844
  • Author
  • Keywords gag rule, u.s. house of representatives, john quincy adams
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 1, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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