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Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 66 of 199)
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rum and its rules ; and he called on the mem-
bers from the slaveholding States to come for-
ward now, and demand from the House the
puuisliment of the gentleman from Massachu-

Mr. Gkantland would second the motion,
and go all lengths in support of it.

Mr. Lewis said that, if the House would
inflict no punishment for such flagrant violations
of its dignity as this, it would be better for the
PfcCpreseritatives from the slaveholding States to
go home at once.

Mr. Alfoed inquired if the gentleman from
Massachusetts had certainly proposed to intro-
duce this petition.

The Speaker said the member from Massa-
chusetts had risen, and stated that he had a
petition coming from slaves, and had inquired
of the Chair whether it would come under the
order adopted by the House in reference to all
petitions and papers on the subject of slavery.

The Clerk having been directed to read the
minutes which he had taken at the time, read
as follows :

"Mr. Adams presented the petition of twenty-
two persons, declaring themselves to be slaves and
wished to know whether it came within the order of
the House."

Mr. ALFORDsaid that, if the gentleman from
Massachusetts intended to present this petition
he, (Mr. Alfoed,) the moment it was presented'
should move, as an act of justice to the South'
which he 111 part represented, and which he
conceived had been treated with indignity, that
It be taken from the House and burnt • and
he hoped that every man who was a friend
to the constitution would support him There
must be an end to this constant attempt to raise
excitement, or the Union could not exist much
longer. The moment any man should disgrace
the Government under which he lived by pre-
senting a petition from slaves prayine for
emancipation,. ho hoped that petition would
by order of the House, be committed to the

Mr. Patton moved to suspend the rule to



H. OF E.]

Abolition of Slavery.

[February, 1837.

be taken from the table and returned to the
gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. BouLDiN said that, as he had just voted
against suspending the rules on the motion of
his colleague, (Mr. Patton,) and had found
himself voting with those who, from their local
situation, might be supposed not to feel with
him on the very delicate and vital subject now
before the House, and as his name had not been
recorded with the names of those with whom
he knew he did feel and act substantially in
every important matter peculiar to the South,
and especially in regard to the subject-matter
now before the House, it became him to give
the reason for his vote. It was this : He wished
to dispose of the first branch of the subject,
and then he would be willing to suspend the
rules for his colleague, and would be willing to
go with him in any vote to take from our files
the paper he wished withdrawn, and which
was well calculated to throw disgrace and con-
tempt on the proceedings of the House. He
was willing the resolution and wish of his col-
league should prevail, and that the paper should
be returned to the venerable gentleman from
Massachusetts, to make what mischief he could
or he chose from it, in or out of this House.

But the gentleman from Massachusetts had
ofiered in the House the memorial of those
who, on the face of it, appeared to be slaves,
and had announced to the Ohair and to the
House that such was the paper.

Mr. B. said he did not care a rush whether
the paper went to the Chair or not. Nothing
that that gentleman could say or do in relation
to it could add to, or detract from, the impres-
sion that the statement of the proposition to
the Chair by him had made. He (Mr. B.)
wished now, without interruption of any other
business, to progress with this matter until he-
saw and understood what countenance the gen-
tleman from Massachusetts should receive from
the House.

Mr. W. Thompson had risen to move, as an
amendment to the motion of the honorable
gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Patton,) the
following resolution : ^

Resolved, That the honorable John Quinct Adams,
by the attempt just made by him to introduce a pe-
tition purporting on its face to be from slaves, has
been guilty of a gross disrespect to this House, and
that he be instantly brought to the bar to receive
the severe censure of the Speaker.

Mr. Thompson, of South Carolina, said : The
gentleman from Massachusetts ofifered to pre-
sent a petition from slaves, and so purporting
to be on its face, in open and wilful violation
of what he knew to be the rules of this House,
and insulting to a large portion of its members.
Does the gentleman, even in the latitude which
he gives to the right of petition, think that it
includes slaves ? . If he does not, he has wilfully
violated the rules of the House and the feelings
of its members. Does that gentleman know
that there are laws in all the slave States, and

here, for the punishment of those who excite
insurrection? I can tell him that there are
such things as grand juries ; and if, sir, the
juries of this District have, as I doubt not they
have, proper intelligence and spirit, he may yet
be made amenable to another tribunal, &nd we
may yet see an incendiary brought to condign
punishment. Mr. T. said that, when he first
took his seat here, and heard daily denunciations
of the people whom he represented, and every
vile epithet heaped upon them — a people for
whom he claimed, to say the very least, the
proudest equality — he was excited almost to
the point of frenzy. Now he found himself
sitting quietly under these things, when he saw
his new colleagues, not more excitable than he
was, in the same state of feeling in which he
was at the last session. Sir, it is a most in-
structive commentary upon the gradual wear
and tear of feeling, and the cooling of that just
indignation which every Southern man should
feel. Sir, if I desired the breaking up of this
Government, I should thank the gentleman
from Massachusetts for his course on this sub-
ject. All we desire, sir, is an issue, a fair and
distinct issue. If gentlemen think slavery an
abomination, and that they have a right to
abolish it, why not come up to the point, and
say so ? I will forgive them for all the past if
they will do it. We shall then, sir, soon, very
soon, settle this question forever.

Mr. Hatnes said that, believing the object
of the gentleman from South Carolina might
be more readily obtained by a resolution in a
different form, he would send to the table the
following amendment :

Strike out all after "JSe«o?rerf," and insert—

" That John Qcinot Adams, a Representative
from the State of Massachusetts, has rendered him-
self justly liable to the severest censure of this
House, and is censured accordingly, for having at-
tempted to present to the House the petition of

Mr. Geanqek said this was a question of
extreme delicacy, and one which he hoped
would not be closed by the previous question.
His honorable friend from Massachusetts (Mr.
Adams) knew that no man in this House had
more sincerely stood by him on the right of
petition than he (Mr. G.) had. But he (Mr. G.)
must express his surprise that, with papers in
his hand from sources of which he was igno-
rant, and of the genuineness of which he has
expressed a doubt, he (Mr. Adams) should have
assumed the responsibility he had this day
assumed. He (Mr. G.) was surprised that that
gentleman, holding the right of petition as one
of the most sacred rights granted to this people,
should ever have cheapened the value of that
right, by presenting indiscriminately papers
enclosed to him, (Mr. Adams,) when he was
himself ignorant of the names, condition, or
characters, of those who forwarded them. He
was the more surprised that a paper from this
immediate vicinity, and purporting to bear the



Februakt, 1837.]

Abolition of Slavery.

[H. OP R.

signatures of those who are represented by a
gentleman (Mr. Patton) sitting on the left of
the gentleman from Massachusetts, and with
whom that gentleman was on intimate terms,
should have been presented to this House with-
out some inquiry having been made as to the
character of those whose names were attached
to the petition, or without the gentleman (Mr.
Adams) being possessed of, or having guarded
himself by, the requisite information in relation
to the petition he was about to present. It
was well known that no man here deprecated
more than he (Mr. G.) did the decision of the
Ohair in tying down members of the House
under the resolution of the last and the present

This question, as now presented, was one of
deep interest. He felt bound to say that a
certain class of the community were too ready
to change their ground, and to hide their
opinions on the abolition of slavery under the
denial of the right of petition. He had in his
mind men, not ordinary men, who, feeling that
this right has been unjustly abridged, have
enlisted themselves in a cause in which they
would never otherwise have engaged ; men
who, only one year ago, were as much opposed
to the abolition of slaveiy as any man in this
House, but who are now found within its ranks.
These, he said, were not ordinary citizens, but
those who stood forth to the community in that
enviable relief which talent gives to virtue.
It was not to be disguised, and he felt bound
to declare, that, if the House wished to for-
ward the cause of abolition, they would pass
these hasty resolutions. No man in this nation
held the right of petition under the constitu-
tion more sacred than he did ; but it was dae
to himself to repeat, what he had heretofore
stated, that so long as the States of Maryland
and Virginia should continue their present
policy, he did not believe that Congress had
any just power to interfere in this question, nor
that either philanthropy or patriotism demanded
it; that in his opinion, at the time of the
cession of this District, it was no more con-
templated that slavery should be abolished here
before it was in the suiTOunding country, than
that this territory should continue in its present
position after the adjoining States by which it
had been ceded should have changed theirs.
But he would say to the gentlemen from South
Carolina (Mr. Thompson) and from Georgia
(Mr. Hatnes) that, if this resolution was pushed
to a vote of censure, its effect on the commu-
nity would be most serious.

Mr. Lewis offered the following amendment
which he suggested to his friend from South
Carolina (Mr. Thompson) to accept as a modi-
fication :

Resolved, That John Quinct Adams, a member
from the State of Massachusetts, by his attempt to
introduce into this House a petition from slaves, for
the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia,
committed an outrage on the rights and feelings of a
large portion of the people of this Union ; a flagrant

contempt on the dignity of this House ; and, by ex-
tending to slaves a privilege only belonging to free-
men, directly invites the slave population to insur-
rection; and that the said member be forthwith
called to the bar of the House, and be censured by
the Spealcer.

Mr. "W. Thompson accepted the modification.

Mr. Lewis, as a member from the South, was
not disposed to argue this question here. He
wished to see whether there was the power or
the will to discountenance such proceedings as
these. If not, the members from the South
had better go home and prepare to protect

Mr. Patton thought the House was proceed-
ing rather harshly in this matter. The resolu-
tion asserted two facts : first, that the paper
was a petition by slaves for the abolition of
slavery. "Was that the fact ? Was any gentle-
man here authorized to state that this was a
paper for the abolition of slavery? It was
essentially important, before the House was
called on to act, that they should know whether
this was the fact or not. The resolution asserted
also another fact : that the gentleman from
Massachusetts attempted to offer this petition.
He (Mr. P.) understood that this was not the
fact. He thought he should be disposed to go
as far as those who would go farthest in adopt-
ing any proper course for arresting these
attempts to procure the action of the House in
relation to the abolition of slavery in the Dis-
trict of Columbia, or anywhere else. He
should be ready to go to the utmost extent of
his constitutional powers to arrest that action,
either by the legislative intervention of the
House, in its ordinary course, or by refusing
to receive the petitions, or by inflicting censure
on members transgressing the bounds of their
duty to keep up an excitement on the subject.
But let us know (said Mr. P.) what we are
doing. Suppose that this petition was a quiz ;
and that, so far from being a petition for the
abolition of slavery, it was a petiton for a very
different thing. Mr. P. would object aa much
to the one proposition being presented here aa
the other. But. let the House, before it in-
volved itself in this solemn proceeding, before
it took this decided and hazardous step of
bringing to the bar of the House a member of
its body, as having violated its rights, know on
what grounds they were proceeding.

Were the facts as they were stated to be ? ,
Had any such petition been presented or offered
by a member of the House ? He regretted to
be involved in this excitement on grounds
which might turn out to be more of a farce
than a tragedy. He expected it would be found
that neither the one fact nor the other, assumed
in the resolution, was true.

Mr. Adams then rose and said he did not
know under what rule of the House the several
resolutions which had been presented in relation
to himself had taken the place of the resolution
or motion submitted by his friend from Virginia,
(Mr. Pation,) nor how it had happened that



H. OP E.]

Abolition of Slaver!/.

[Febbuakt, 1837.

this matter had come under the consideration
of the House, whilst a question -was pending
whether a paper previously presented by him
(Mr. A.) should be taken from the Speaker's
table and returned to him. The Speaker, he
presumed, knew how this had come about.

The Speaker explained that this had been
effected under the operations of that well-
established parliamentary law, which gave pre-
cedence to questions of privilege over all other

Mr. Adams. Well, sir, I am satisfied.

In regard to the resolutions now before the
House, as they all concur in naming me, and in
charging me with high crimes and misdemean-
ors, and in calling me to the bar of the House
to answer for my crimes, I have thought it was
my duty to remain silent imtil it should be the
pleasure of the House to act either on one or
other of these resolutions. I suppose that, if I
shall be brought to the bar of the House, I shall
not be struck mute by the previous question,
before I have an opportunity to say a word or
two in my own defence.

But, sir, gentlemen are really consuming the
time of the House in such a manner, that I
think the obligation rests upon me to ask them
to modify their resolution. It may be as severe
as they propose ; but I ask them to change the
matter of fact a little, so that when I come to
the bar, I may not, in one single word, put an
end to their resolution.

The gentlemen, who have such a laudable
zeal for the slaveholding portion of this con-
federacy, and I do not censure them for that
zeal, charge upon me, first, that I attempted to
present a petition from slaves ; and, secondly,
that that petition was for their emancipation
from slavery. I did not present the petition,
and I appeal to the Speaker to say that I did
not. I said I had a paper, purporting to be a
petition from slaves ; I did not say what the
prayer of the petition was ; I said it was a paper
purporting to be a petition from slaves, signed
partly by crosses for signatures, and partly by
letters, scarcely legible, purporting to be names.
I asked the Speaker whether he considered such
a paper as included within the general order
of the House, that all petitions, memorials, res-
olutions, and papers, relating in any way, or
to any extent whatever, to the subject of
slavery, should be laid on the table. I intended
to take the decision of the Speaker before I
went one step towards presenting, or offering
to present, that petition. I stated distinctly to
the Speaker that I should not send the paper
to the table until the question was decided,
whether a paper from persons declaring them-
selves slaves was included within the order of
the House. This is the fact.

Now, as to the fact what the petition was
for. I simply state to the gentleman from
Alabama, (Mr. Lewis,) who has sent to the
table a resolution assuming that this petition
was for the abolition of slavery; I state to
him that he is mistaken. He must amend his

resolution ; for, if the House should choose to
read the petition, I can state to them they
would find it something very much the reverse
of. that which the resolution states it to be;
and if the gentleman from Alabama still shall
choose to bring me to the bar of the House, he
must amend his resolution in a very important
particular; for he probably may have to put
into it, that my crime has been for attempting
to introduce the petition of slaves that slavery
should not be abolished. This is possible, sir.
I say, then, the gentleman must amend Lis
resolution ; and I take it for granted that he
and the House will be under the necessity of
seeing what that petition is, and that they must
not take it even from my representation. This
representation I am perfectly willing to make,
if the House shall think fit that the petition
should be received and considered ; and I shall
be willing to do almost any thing, except to
grant the prayer of the petition ; for the gentle-
man from Alabama may, perchance, find that
the object of the petition is precisely that
which he desires to accomplish ; and that these
slaves, who have sent this paper to me, are his
auxiliaries, instead of being his opponents. I
state these facts for the consideration of the
House. I shall not present the petition rmtil
the decision of the House has been announced ;
and I am disposed to be perfectly submissive
to that decision, whatever it may be.

Mr. Mann, of New York, said that the
future historian, when arriving at the trans-
actions of the twenty-fourth Congress, would
find it requisite to pause and contemplate the
spectacle now before us and the American
people. He will be at fault ,to discover the
cause for the scenes now presented ; and, con-
templating the nature of our political institu-
tions, tracing their formation and establishment,
he will find nothing which would necessarily
produce or justify the course of proceedings
which have occurred here for the last and pres-
ent sitting of Congress. Sir, (said Mr. M.,)
why is it, then, that we are weekly, and almost
daily, drawn into the consideration of abstract,
impracticable, and (Mr. M. said he must bo
permitted to say) improper, if not reprehensible
subjects, by the course adopted by the vener-
able member from Massachusetts ? (Mr. Adams.)
Is it from any defect in the forms or principles
of our ])roceedings ? Is it inherent in the
compact upon which rests all that is valuable
in our institutions? Is it to be found and
justified in the condition and circumstances of
our country ? Can it be traced to a want of
patriotic devotion in any considerable portion
of our country to the Union? Would it be
charitable to attribute it to any disappointment
of individual ambition, seeking revenge for
such disappointments in attempting to ruin
that which it could not rule ?

On no one of these inquiries, Mr. Speaker,
(said Mr. M.,) can we find a satisfactory solu-
tioh'of the question why we are now present-
ing to the country the deplorable spectacle,



FEBRTJARr, 1837.]

Abolition of Slavery.

[H. OF E.

shown ofif every petition day, by the honorable
member from Massachusetts, in presenting the
abolition petitions of his infatuated friends and
constituents. The House has, with a unanimity
almost unparalleled, prescribed a rule for its
government in respect to these petitions, with
which it is, upon experience, as well (Mr. M.
ventured the opinion) as the considerate men
of all parties, in every portion of the confeder-
acy, well satisfied. Yet the honorable mem-
ber has made himself to believe that it was his
duty, against the sense of the whole House,
(Mr. M. believed, with but few exceptions,)
against the sense of the whole country, includ-
ing his own political friends, (if any he has,) to
resist the execution of that rule with a degree
of violence paralleled only by revolutionarj'
madness of desperation. Sir, (said Mr. M.,) it
becomes me, the House, and the country, to re-
member that the venerable gentleman from
Massachusetts has occupied the executive chair,
and administered the duties of the highest
office of the civilized world. And it becomes
us, also, to respect his gray hairs, his old age,
his long public seryioes, and to seek out apolo-
gies and excuses in his behalf, if possible, for
the obstinacy and ebullitions of temper which
on these occasions he so often exhibits, and
which is so much opposed to cool deliberation
and the dignity of the proceedings of this
House. Thus shielded and protected by his
age and public character, it has been matter of
surprise to those who are not spectators of our
proceedings, that a member of his great learn-
ing and experience should so far forget his dig-
nity as to presume upon that age and character
as a license to him to annoy and trifle with the
House and its most solemn and satisfactory

Sir, (said Mr. M.,) while we contemplate the,
character and respect the age of the honorable
member, charity claims that we should also
remember the frailty of our nature, and that
man is mortal. It would be unjust to believe
that, in the prime and vigor of manhood, the
honorable member would have adopted the
course of action which, at this late period of
his life, seems to control him. The high noon-
tide of that life has long since passed with him,
and its wane is no doubt upon him, before he
is either aware or sensible of it ; for it cannot
be believed that, in the days of his more acute
perceptions, he could have yielded to influences
which now seem to have the mastery.

Mr. M. had always viewed this question of
abolition and its progress with the deepest
solicitude, as affecting the political integrity of
the confederacy. In the formation of this
Union it was, as we well know, one of the
greatest obstacles to be overcome, and was only
surmounted by a spirit of concession and com-
l)romise which it is feared does not exist now.
In that compromise, we of the free States
agreed to the doctrine of non-interference in
the domestic institutions and concerns of lihe

others. Some few of our people, however,
pretending to a holy zeal, worthy of a better
and more lawful cause, influenced by what they
claim to be paramount considerations to the
obligations of the constitution and the integrity
of the republic, regardless of consequences, in-
sidiously violate the spirit of the compact, by
interfering with the subject in this District.
And we are now again called upon by our
Southern brethren to know whether we will
live up to the agreement we have made;
whether we will keep the faith and perform
our bargain. This is the true question pro-
pounded to us in all these proceedings. And,
Mr. Speaker, (said Mr. M.,) as for me and my
household, my constituents and friends, I say,
without reservation, we will. Is there a patri-
otic heart in this hall, in this nation, is there a
friend to the welfare of the republic, who can
answer that he will not ? Mr. M. did not be-
lieve there was one ; and he therefore asked
that honorable members from the South should
give themselves no uneasiness on account of
these ill-advised proceedings. Mr. M. relied
upon the patriotism and good faith of the peo-
ple of the North to abide by the compact they
have made. He knew that this reliance would
not fail.

Mr. W. Thompson was sorry to see the air of
levity which it is attempted to throw over this
matter. He felt very diiferently. What, sir, is
it a mere trifle to hoax, to trifle with the mem-
bers from the South in this way and on this
subject ? Is it a light thing, for the amusement
of others, to irritate, almost to madness, the

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 66 of 199)