Letter from a Pennsylvania congressman reiterating his support for “Southern Rights” and opposition to abolition while explaining why he voted against the Gag Rule in the House of Representatives. William W. Potter to James McManus.
Letter from a Pennsylvania congressman reiterating his support for “Southern Rights” and opposition to abolition while explaining why he voted against the Gag Rule in the House of Representatives.
Letter from a Pennsylvania congressman reiterating his support for “Southern Rights” and opposition to abolition while explaining why he voted against the Gag Rule in the House of Representatives.

Letter from a Pennsylvania congressman reiterating his support for “Southern Rights” and opposition to abolition while explaining why he voted against the Gag Rule in the House of Representatives.

Washington, DC to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania: 1838. Envelope or Cover. This two-page stampless folded letter measures 16” x 10” unfolded. It is datelined “Washington 10th Janry 1838. It bears a red circular “Washington City D.C.” postmark dated January 10 and a manuscript “Free” signed by “W. W. Potter”. The letter is in nice shape. Transcript is included.

In this letter that appears to be a response to a constituent, Potter emphasizes his commitment to the Constitution and state’s rights, however he also bristles at Southern representatives’ attempts to pass a Gag Rule prohibiting the reading of citizens’ Petitions regarding abolition, which he believed to be unconstitutional:

“You do not go as far as I do for Southern Rights, as I am of opinion Congress has no constitutional right to touch slavery in the States or in the District of Columbia. And no right to receive Petitions asking for the doing any unconstitutional act, yet could not vote for Mr. Pattons resolution. 1st. Because I firmly believe that the Constitution guarantees to the citizens of the territories of the United States who are under the sole legislation and control of Congress the right of Petition – and reference and consideration of their petitions on the abolition of slavery or the prevention of its introduction and as this right was impugned by the resolution I could not in consciences vote for it. 2nd. Because I from my soul detest acting on compulsion and could not swallow Southern dictation and the gag law enforcing it.”. Very good. Item #009444

In 1831 after abolitionists had given up on using American churches to affect emancipation, Congress was deluged with petitions of various types all “praying” for the abolition of slavery or its restriction from new territories. Most were presented to the House by John Quincy Adams, who not only abhorred slavery but was a strong supporter of the First Amendment which guaranteed citizens the right to petition for redress of grievances.

Anti-abolition, pro-slavery, and constitutionalists objected, and passed a series of ‘gag rules’ that automatically ‘tabled’ all abolition or slavery petitions, preventing them from being read or discussed.

To no avail, anti-slavery politicians insisted that the gag rules were unconstitutional based on the First Amendment even though the petitioners’ requests were not related to any personal grievance the government had committed against the petitioners themselves, and Congress continued to pass gag rules that were ever more restrictive. (Interestingly, the abolitionists never challenged these rules in the courts; perhaps because they recognized their arguments as flimsy, but more likely because the Supreme Court was dominated by Democrats and not sympathetic to the abolitionist cause.)

Despite Representative Potter’s vote, in December 1837, Congress passed the Patton Resolutions referenced in this letter, which were introduced by John M. Patton of Virginia.

Price: $300.00