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John Quincy Adams Reports on Congress in 1838
Digital History ID 377

Author:   John Quincy Adams


In 1837, Adams began to send reports on Congressional affairs to a local newspaper, the Quincy Patriot. In this letter, he refers to a duel in which a pro-slavery Kentucky member of Congress, William Graves (1805-1848), killed a Maine Representative, Jonathan Cilley (1802-1838). After the incident took place - the two men stood a hundred yards apart and shot at each other four times with rifles - Adams persuaded Congress to pass a law outlawing dueling in the District of Columbia.

Document: At the second session of the 24th and the first and second sessions of the 25th or present Congress, great numbers of petitions and Remonstrances addressed to the House of Representatives of the Untied States, were committed to my charge from the citizens of other Districts, the Commonwealth, and from other States of the Union....

The great mass of the petitions from constituents to the Representative body have...the following purport. 1.

Praying for the abolition of slavery and the traffic in slaves, within the District of Columbia. 2.

For the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in all the Territories of the United States 3.

For the prohibition of the slave trade between the several States and Territories of the Union 4.

Against the admission into the Union of any new State, the Constitution of which recognizes...the institution of domestic slavery 5.

Against the admission of Texas into the Union 6.

Against the fraudulent treaty...and imploring mercy for the perishing remnants of the Indian tribes.... 7.

Remonstrances to the House of Representatives against the Resolutions of 18 January and 21 December 1837 8

Concerning the fatal duel and demanding some act of Congress for the suppression of the practice between its members

Of these eight classes of Petitions large numbers...were presented to the House by me.

Upon the duel, from three to four weeks of the time of the House were consumed in a struggle to turn the whole transaction into a political electioneering Engine, to blacken all the individuals concerned in the Tragedy on one side, and to whitewash those on the other--A Bill to suppress as far as possible the practice of duelling among the members actually passed the Senate and was referred to the duel Committee in the House--They did not report it back to the House till it was extorted from them, and never made the slightest effort even to call it up for consideration. It may be taken up at the next Session, and feeble and inefficient as it is, would at least have the good effect of bearing the solemn testimony of Congress against a practice congenial only to the moral code of Slavery.

All the other classes of those Petitions were without being read considered laid on the table.... To this universal extinction of the Constitution, the only exception has been enjoyed by the Petitioners against the admission of Texas and they only...because four State Legislatures of the South had passed Resolutions, earnestly urging the annexation on the express ground of fortifying the peculiar Institutions of the South and strengthening the feeble knees of slavery--It was this interposition of State Legislatures Thirsting for Texas, which burst open the doors of discussion upon the blessings of Slavery, so long and so perniciously... barred by Northern labour and Southern capital against all freedom of debate in the Representative Hall of the American People....

The slaveholding portion...were as tenacious of the freedom of debate and as anxious for their right of reply as the truest believer in the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence....

I offered a Resolution to the House requiring...a complete list of all the Petitions...treated at the last three sessions. But the combination of Northern labour and Southern capital to suppress the right of Petition and the freedom of debate, unwilling to expose to the world the extent of their Success and the blushing honors of that triumph, refused to entertain that motion. Nor can I find it in my heart to blame the tacit confession implicit by this refusal that this Catalogue of Petitioners spurned from the doors of the North American Congress, would have exhibited amazement of Mankind and to the contempt of after ages the most melancholy document that ever issued from the successors of that band of Patriots who but three score and two years since promulgated from the State House in Philadelphia the Declaration of Independence.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Quincy Adams to the Editor of the Quincy Patriot

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