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The Cause is Great and Good: John Quincy Adams, the Gag Rule, and the Fight Against Slavery


In February 1836, South Carolina representative Charles Pinckney offered a resolution that the House of Representatives would table any petitions mentioning slavery and ban discussions of them by committees. Despite opposition from Northern representatives, who were led by former president John Quincy Adams, the resolution passed. Adams dedicated himself to fighting to overturn this so called “Gag Rule,” writing in his diary, “This is a cause upon which I am entering at the last stage of my life…The cause is good and great.”



Handout A: John Quincy Adams and his Struggle Against Slavery and the Gag Rule

Handout B: 1830s Anti-Slavery Petition



Have students read Handout A and Handout B, then answer the following questions.


Comprehension and Analysis Questions:

  1. Why did Southern representatives pass the Gag Rule?
  2. What constitutional principles did Adams believe that the Gag Rule violated?
  3. What principles did the petitioners in Handout B believe slavery violated?
  4. How are the principles that Adams defended and the principles that the petitioners defended related?
  5. In what way does the story of the Gag Rule illustrate increasing sectional tensions between the North and South in this period?

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