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A More Perfect Union : Instruments of Change

In Congress, ideas and issues from across the nation are discussed, debated, and acted upon. Petitions, investigations, and Acts of Congress are all instruments of change that can affect the lives of citizens and the direction of the nation.

For more than two hundred years, the Capitol has been the place where representatives of the American people have debated how best to achieve the nation’s ideals. This exhibit displays some of our most important documents, drawn primarily from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives, to illustrate the role of Congress in defining and helping to realize national goals and aspirations.

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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The desire for freedom and the quest for individual liberty are American ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In each era, Congress has debated and enacted measures to secure and expand freedom for all Americans, as demonstrated in these historical documents.

The Right to Liberty

Since the nation’s founding, anti-slavery advocates—including many free African Americans—worked tirelessly to abolish slavery. When the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law resulted in the kidnapping and enslavement of African Americans in the North, freemen of Philadelphia petitioned Congress in protest. Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808, but slavery itself did not end until after the Civil War with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

Equal Rights for Women

After women achieved voting rights in 1920 with the 19th Amendment, suffragist Alice Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to guarantee equality for women in all areas of the law. Some opponents, however, feared the ERA would negate other hard-won legal protections for women. Introduced in Congress in 1923, the ERA was reintroduced in every succeeding Congress until it finally passed both chambers in 1972. Ratified by 35 of the 38 states needed, it failed to become a constitutional amendment.

Working for Woman Suffrage

From 1848 at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and continuing into the 20th century, several generations of woman suffragists worked tirelessly for the right to vote. Over time, they employed different strategies—some worked for a constitutional amendment, and others pursued suffrage state by state. Tactics included petitions, parades, public speaking, civil disobedience, imprisonment and hunger strikes. Women finally achieved suffrage in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing them the right to vote.

Freedom from Past Exhibitions
  • Lithograph, The Fifteenth Amendment and its Results, drawn by G.F. Kahl, Baltimore, lithograph by E. Sachse & Co., c. 1870

    A parade in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrated the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment. This commemorative print features portraits of President Abraham Lincoln (top center), abolitionist Frederick Douglass (bottom left), and Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi (bottom right). Revels, the first African American elected to Congress, won a seat formerly occupied by a slaveholding secessionist.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • A Petition for Universal Suffrage, January 19, 1867

    After the Civil War, as Congress prepared to extend voting rights to black men, suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton recognized the opportunity to include women in any constitutional changes. This petition—signed by Anthony, Stanton, and other notable suffragists—asked Congress for “universal suffrage” for all citizens, regardless of sex.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Abraham Lincoln’s draft message to Congress on D.C. Emancipation, Wednesday, April 16, 1862

    President Abraham Lincoln expressed his confidence in Congress’s constitutional authority to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.  He had supported a plan for compensated emancipation in the nation’s capital since his time as a member of Congress in the late 1840s. This draft of his presidential message is in the handwriting of his private secretary, John Nicolay.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Women's Emancipation Petition with circular from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, January 25, 1864

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a national advocate for women’s rights, circulated this petition in 1864, hoping to present Congress with a million signatures supporting the abolition of all slavery. President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves only in Confederate-controlled areas. Stanton reminded women that, while they could not vote, they had the constitutional right to petition.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    While slavery exists ANYWHERE there can be freedom NOWHERE. THERE MUST BE A LAW ABOLISHING SLAVERY.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Stanton’s Address to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections

    When suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed a Senate committee in 1878, her speech invoked Senator Charles Sumner’s words that “Our Constitution...already secures to the humblest individual all the rights...of American citizens. But as statesmen differ in their interpretation” of the Constitution, she argued, an amendment was needed specifying women’s right to vote. Stanton was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • S.R. 16, 38th Congress

    This Senate resolution became the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction and gave Congress the power to pass legislation necessary to enforce the amendment. Submitted to the states on January 31, 1865, its ratification was completed within the year, on December 6, 1865.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Madison’s Notes for His Speech Introducing the Bill of Rights, June 8, 1789

    James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives and provided many of the intellectual arguments for strengthening and amending the Constitution so that it protected basic liberties.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Letter from James Madison to Edmund Randolph, August 21, 1789

    In June 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced a number of amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. That summer the House of Representatives fiercely debated the issue. In this letter to fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph, Madison describes the challenges of moving the amendments through Congress.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s Draft of a Bill to Abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, January 1849

    As a junior congressman from Illinois, Lincoln drafted a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. His cautious proposal offered payment to slave owners and only emancipated children born after 1850. Lacking support for the bill, Lincoln abandoned it. In 1862, as president, he signed an act emancipating slaves in the nation’s capital.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    President Abraham Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

    President Lincoln believed that permanent abolition of slavery was essential to the survival of the nation. In this address, he likened the war to a “fiery trial,” and summoned the Union to the great task of abolishing slavery, declaring that “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free…”

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • George Washington’s notes on George Mason's Objections to the Constitution of Government formed by the Convention, October 7, 1787

    Constitutional Convention delegate George Mason of Virginia, whose thoughts on liberty had strongly influenced Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence, objected to the lack of a “Declaration of Rights” in the U.S. Constitution. Fellow Virginian George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention, made notes regarding the freedoms Mason considered essential.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Liberty of the press––no declaration to secure it or the Tryal by Jury in civil causes—nor against the Danger of Standing Armies in times of Peace

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • "The Woman Who Dared" cover illustration by Thomas Wust (of Susan B. Anthony) for The Daily Graphic, June 5, 1873

    This satirical portrait of Susan B. Anthony reveals fears about changing gender roles: she wears Uncle Sam’s hat, men do the childcare, and women rally for their rights.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Abraham Lincoln, lithograph copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

    In the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, President Lincoln specified areas of the nation where enslaved people would be liberated. The proclamation focused on freeing slaves held as property within states that had seceded in rebellion from the Union. States not represented in Congress were considered to be rebellious.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free…

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Map, "Votes for Women a Success: The Map Proves It," ca. 1914

    In 1914 the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) announced success in its state-by-state campaign for voting rights. Nine states had enfranchised women, and NAWSA was optimistic that many others would soon follow. This map, meant for display at rallies and meetings, indicated the status of women’s voting rights in the 48 states.

     

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • H.J. Res. 75, Proposing the Equal Rights Amendment, December 13, 1923

    In 1923, Representative Daniel Anthony, nephew of suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony, introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in the House, while Senator Charles Curtis introduced it in the Senate. In 1972, Congress finally passed a reworded version: "Equal Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

     

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Vice President John Adams, February 9, 1790

    Benjamin Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery from 1787 until his death in April 1790. One of his last public acts was sending this letter and petition to Vice President John Adams, who presided over the Senate. Franklin, formerly a slaveholder, became an ardent abolitionist after ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    At the Request of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, I have the Honour of presenting to your Excellency the enclosed Petition…

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Lithograph, Joseph Cinquez (Cinque) (Sengbe Pieh), c. 1839

    Sengbe Pieh, known as Joseph Cinquez (Cinque), a Mendi chief of Sierra Leone, led the Amistad mutineers. This lithograph, distributed by the New York Sun newspaper, misidentified Cinquez as Congolese but used his celebrity to promote abolition. It quotes his speech to his fellow mutineers after they had seized control of the Amistad.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Brothers, we have done that which we purposed, our hands are now clean, for we have Striven to regain the precious heritage we received from our fathers…I am resolved that it is better to die than be a white man’s slave… .

    Art by Isaac or James Sheffield, lithography by Moses Yale Beach, Boston: Joseph A. Arnold

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Broadside, “Meeting For the Organization of a Colored Regiment in the District of Columbia,” 1863

    After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln authorized recruitment of African-American regiments. White Army officers posted recruitment notices, and black leaders including Frederick Douglass encouraged enlistment as a step toward gaining full civil rights. Some 1,500 African-American men enlisted in the District of Columbia’s First Regiment.

    Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives and Records Administration

    Antislavery Petitions from Women, 1835–1849

    These antislavery memorials are representative of the vast number of petitions sent by women to Congress. They urged Congress to end the slave trade and slavery in Washington, D.C., and not to admit new slave states into the Union. Signers included African American abolitionists Sarah Douglass and Charlotte Forten and women’s rights advocates Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth McClintock.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives and Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Memorial against slavery in the District of Columbia from females of Philadelphia, December 25, 1831

    Antislavery petitions that flooded Congress in the 1830s included many of huge size. This one, signed by 2,211 women of Philadelphia including reformer Lucretia Mott, advocated the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Petitions were so large Congress began referring to them by weight rather than by source or title.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Broadside, “Meeting For the Organization of a Colored Regiment in the District of Columbia,” 1863

    After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln authorized recruitment of African American regiments. White Army officers posted recruitment notices, and black leaders including Frederick Douglass encouraged enlistment as a step toward gaining full civil rights. Approximately 1,500 African American men enlisted in the District of Columbia’s First Regiment.

    Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Memorial of the American Equal Rights Association to Congress, January 3, 1867

    Proponents of abolition and suffrage were united in their initial push for universal civil rights. Frederick Douglass, Theodore Tilton, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, all officers of the American Equal Rights Association, petitioned Congress in 1867 in an appeal for equal rights for all citizens, regardless of color or sex.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

    Petition from Clark Mills, petition number 741

    Former slaveholders in Washington, D.C., had to petition to receive financial compensation under the D.C. Emancipation Act. Clark Mills, whose foundry cast the bronze Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome, claimed compensation for several slaves. He requested the most money for Philip Reid, a highly skilled craftsman who was instrumental in casting the statue.

    Records of the Department of Treasury, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, photograph by H. Rocher, Chicago, n.d.

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. She devoted her life to securing full rights for women.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • The Nineteenth Amendment, Passed by Congress, June 4, 1919

    After the Supreme Court denied women voting rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in 1875, suffragists began a campaign to grant voting rights under state law and by a federal constitutional amendment. In every Congress from 1878 to 1919, a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women was introduced in either the House or Senate. Finally in 1919, both houses of Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, and three-fourths of the states necessary ratified it the following year.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Ceremonial Copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, 1864-1865

    A measure of the importance placed on the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, is this ceremonial copy signed by its supporters. Members of Congress signed this copy after the bill passed in their respective houses. Although the president was not required to sign the amendment, Lincoln added his signature on February 1, 1865. He did not live to see it become law.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • New York’s ratification of the Bill of Rights, March 27, 1790

    In September 1789, the First Congress sent twelve constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. New York’s legislature approved eleven of them in February 1790 and this official parchment copy was sent to President George Washington. By December 1791, three fourths of the states had ratified ten of the articles, and Congress adopted them as amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

    President Abraham Lincoln’s message to Congress recommending a Resolution to Encourage Gradual Emancipation, March 6, 1862

    Aiming to limit the growth of slavery in states bordering the South, President Lincoln urged Congress in 1862 to adopt a joint resolution encouraging gradual emancipation. The plan offered federal financing to assist in the economic transition of any state that abolished slavery. Congress passed the resolution but no state accepted the offer.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    North Carolina's Proposed Amendments to the Constitution and Declaration of Rights, August 1, 1788

    North Carolina did not initially ratify or reject the U.S. Constitution, but adopted this resolution containing a Declaration of Rights and Proposed Amendments to the Constitution. North Carolina did not ratify the Constitution until after the Bill of Rights was proposed to the states.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony on the Charge of Illegal Voting at the Presidential Election in November, 1872

    After voting in a national election, Susan B. Anthony was arrested and tried for violation of federal law. She testified, “Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed…the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property.” Anthony spent decades advocating the vote for women which was not won in her lifetime.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Letter from Senator Charles Sumner to President Abraham Lincoln, November 20, 1864

    Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was a leading abolitionist in Congress. In this letter to the president, Sumner expressed his view that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and that emancipation, once declared, could not be revoked. He urged President Lincoln to take a strong stand in dealing with the leaders of the rebellion.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …I have replied…that freedom once given could not be reclaimed, & that the Country was solemnly bound to the immediate present freedom of every slave in the rebel States.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Photograph of delegations of women in support of woman suffrage on east Capitol steps, May 9, 1914

    In May 1914 the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, headed by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, organized a demonstration in the nation’s capital for women’s voting rights. Five thousand suffrage supporters marched from Lafayette Square down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol and delivered stacks of petitions from around the nation to Congress.

     

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Handbill, "Equal Rights Amendment," ca. 1920s

    he National Women’s Party (NWP) was one of the first women’s rights groups to lobby in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. This NWP flyer highlighted hopes that a constitutional amendment would guarantee women equality with men in pay, professional opportunities, property, child custody, contracts, and all other rights of citizens.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, February 3, 1790

    The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery was founded largely by Quakers in 1775. The Society petitioned the First Congress (1789-1791) to end slavery, calling the institution an “inconsistency” in the American character. The Senate took no action; the House, after bitter debate, also failed to abolish slavery before adjourning in 1791.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty being, alike objects of his care & equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness the Christian Religion teaches us to believe & the Political Creed of America fully coincides with the Position.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Affidavit of Kimbo, New Haven, Connecticut, October 7, 1839

    Kimbo, a Mendi man, gave his testimony through an interpreter. He was sold to a Spaniard in Africa, brought by ship to Cuba, and then forced onto the Amistad, where he suffered hunger, thirst, and severe beatings. Representative John Quincy Adams reviewed this document in preparing his defense of the Amistad captives.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …he was then carried by force on board the vessel…he had half enough to eat and drink…asking for more water he was driven back with a whip…for stealing some water he received a severe beating… .

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Ambrotypes, Portraits of black soldiers, no date, Gladstone Collection

    Many Civil War soldiers and sailors had their portraits made as keepsakes for loved ones. These images from the Library of Congress convey the personalities of African Americans who served in the war to end slavery in the United States.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • A Slave Coffle Passing the Capitol

    This late-19th-century illustration depicts a slave coffle passing the U.S. Capitol as it appeared—without a dome—in 1815. In 1862 Congress abolished slavery in Washington, D.C.

    Reproduced from A Popular History of the United States, by William Cullen Bryant, 1876-81

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Index of Petitions referred to the Select Committee to Abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, 1836

    The House of Representatives formed a select committee to deal with the influx of petitions urging the end of slavery in Washington, D.C. The committee kept a log of the petitions, noting for each one the date, the member who presented it, the group who sent it, and the number of signatures.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Ambrotype, portrait of a black sailor, no date, Gladstone Collection

    Many Civil War soldiers and sailors had their portraits made as keepsakes for loved ones. This sailor was one of approximately 198,000 African Americans who joined Union forces in the war to end slavery in the United States.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • The Fifteenth Amendment, lithograph with watercolor, ca. 1870-1874

    In the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, Congress declared it illegal to deny citizens the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This lithograph celebrating the amendment features a portrait of Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress, with abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany.

    Lithography and publication by Thomas Kelly, New York, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Emancipation in the District of Columbia, 38th Congress, 1st Session, House of Representatives, 1864

    Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase submitted a report to Congress showing federal payments to District of Columbia claimants in compensation for emancipated slaves. Clark Mills, number 741, is among the claimants listed on these pages. Amounts paid were lower than petitioners’ claims. Mills received $350.40 for Philip Reid (misspelled “Reed”); he had requested $1,500.

    General Collections, Library of Congress

  • Tennessee’s Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, August 18, 1920

    Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, completing the ratification process of three-fourths of the states. The amendment enfranchised women throughout the nation. Under their own laws, 29 states had already granted women the vote.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

    Senate Revisions to the House Version of the Bill of Rights, September 9, 1789

    This document shows the changes the Senate made to the amendments passed by the House. Representative James Madison reduced over 200 suggested amendments to 19, of which the House approved 17. The Senate combined articles and revised text, reducing the 17 to the 12 that, after being passed by both houses, were sent to the states for ratification. The states ratified 10 of the amendments—today’s Bill of Rights, which became effective on December 15, 1791.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, August 9, 1788

    Thomas Jefferson expressed to James Monroe his conviction that Congress should strengthen the new Constitution by adding amendments to guarantee important civil liberties. Of the liberties he cited, trial by jury, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press were codified in the ten amendments ratified by the states in 1791.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    This constitution forms a basis which is good, but not perfect. I hope the states will annex to it a bill of rights assuring those which are essential against the federal government; particularly trial by a jury, habeas corpus, freedom of religion, freedom of the press…

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Petition of Susan B. Anthony for remission of fine imposed for voting, January 12, 1874

    Because women lacked full citizenship rights, Susan B. Anthony could not appeal her conviction of illegal voting. Instead, she petitioned Congress for remission of her fine. Anthony insisted the judge’s ruling was in violation of common law and of the “common morality” of the Constitution. Congress considered bills to remit the fine but took no action.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …an indictment was found against her by the grand jury….charging your petitioner….with having "Knowingly voted without having a lawful right to vote."

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

    Flyer, "The Federal Suffrage Amendment," ca. 1917

    The National Woman’s Party created this flyer to explain the steps for securing women’s right to vote nationally. By 1917 women had gained full suffrage in only 11 of 48 states. The flyer argued that pressuring Congress for a constitutional amendment would be more successful than pursuing suffrage state by state.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Statement of Margaret Mead on the ERA, September 12, 1975

    Anthropologist Margaret Mead initially opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, fearing it would negate workplace and other special protections for women. After Congress passed the revised amendment she fully supported it, arguing that "We need the full participation of women in every type of work ... at every level of government and industry."

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The United States can hardly stand up among the nations of the world as the land of the free while arguing over the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Draft of the Amistad brief [to the U.S. Supreme Court], by John Quincy Adams, ca. February 1841

    Representative John Quincy Adams opposed slavery and spent years fighting the Gag Rule that suppressed discussion of the issue in Congress. He based his defense of the Amistad mutineers on their basic human rights, arguing that the Africans were free individuals, enslaved against their will, and not the property of Spanish slave traders.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The charge I make against the present Executive administration is that in all their proceedings relating to these unfortunate men, instead of that Justice…they have substituted Sympathy!—Sympathy, with one of the parties in this conflict of Justice—and Antipathy to the other. Sympathy, with the white—Antipathy to the black… .

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Representative John Quincy Adams's motion denouncing the "gag rule" as unconstitutional, May 27, 1836

    The House of Representatives passed three resolutions protecting slavery, introduced by Henry Laurens Pinckney of South Carolina. One of the Pinckney Resolutions, the “gag rule,” tabled antislavery petitions without discussion, on the grounds that Congress had no right to interfere with slavery. In response, Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts submitted this motion declaring the gag rule unconstitutional.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Hand-colored ambrotype, portrait of a black soldier, no date, Gladstone Collection

    Many Civil War soldiers and sailors had their portraits made as keepsakes for loved ones. This soldier was one of approximately 198,000 African Americans who joined Union forces in the war to end slavery in the United States.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Frederick Douglass’s draft for a speech on woman suffrage at Tremont Temple, Boston, Mass., May 24, 1886

    In a speech given more than 20 years after Congress abolished slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, Frederick Douglass expressed his deep appreciation for the work of women abolitionists and his support for women’s rights, which were not yet protected by the Constitution. Women achieved suffrage only after Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    When invited to be here, I was compelled to comply by two reasons; First; because I believe in the justice of the cause of woman, and Second; because I gratefully appreciate the services rendered by her to the cause of Emancipation.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • "Celebration of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, . . . April 19, 1866," wood engraving by Frank Dielman, Harper's Weekly, May 12, 1866

    African Americans in Washington, D.C., turned out in celebration of the fourth anniversary of emancipation in 1866. Emancipation Day is still celebrated every April in the District.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate Revisions to the House-passed Amendments to the Constitution, September 9, 1789

    Representative James Madison of Virginia winnowed more than 200 proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution to nineteen. The House of Representatives debated them and sent seventeen to the Senate, which further consolidated the articles into twelve. Approved by both houses, they were sent to the states—Articles three through twelve were ratified and became the Bill of Rights in 1791.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • NOW flyer, "Countdown Rally for ERA Ratification," June 30, 1981

    The National Organization for Women (NOW), the League of Women Voters, and ERAmerica, a coalition of women’s organizations, were leading proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment. NOW’s 1981 ERA support rally took place in Lafayette Square, near the White House, where suffragists had often rallied for the right to vote.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • John Quincy Adams, oil on canvas, by Ed Ahlstrom, 2002

    Representative John Quincy Adams served both in the Senate (1803–1808) and—after his presidency (1825-1829)—in the House (1831-1848). He is the only former U.S. president to return to public service in the House.

     

    Painting by Ed Ahlstrom after Jean-Baptiste-Adolphe Gibert

    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

  • "Gag Rule" Resolution, December 21, 1837

    The resolutions of May 1836 applied only to that session of Congress. The House of Representatives renewed the gag rule each subsequent session until 1840, when it became a standing rule until rescinded in 1844. This 1837 resolution was the second gag rule. Like the others, it tabled all antislavery petitions without further action or discussion.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

    Letter from Frederick Douglass to Hon. Justin S. Morrill, January 4, 1880

    African American activist Frederick Douglass praised the efforts of Senator Justin S. Morrill of Vermont to boost public funding to historically black schools. Morrill, who had introduced the first Land-Grant Act in the House of Representatives, garnered support for a second Land-Grant Act in 1890 that prohibited racial discrimination in distribution of state-based land-grant educational funds.

    If our government should place a school house at every cross road of the South and support teachers for cash during the next fifty years it would hardly atone for the wrong done my people during their two hundred years of slavery and enforced ignorance. Having been a slave, I have learned the value of education in part from my own destitution of it.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • H.R. 6729, An Act to confirm a certain private land claim in the Territory of New Mexico, 1881

    The House of Representatives introduced private legislation in 1881 confirming a land grant for heirs of Jose Julian Martínez. Ultimately Congress was unable to resolve the dispute and the case went to the Court of Private Land Claims. The court later ruled that a lumber company owned a portion of the property.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Equal Rights Amendment discharge petition, June 11, 1970

    Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan filed a discharge petition to force the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) out of the Judiciary Committee for a vote by the full House. Rarely used, discharge petitions require signatures by a majority of representatives. Griffiths obtained the necessary support to move the ERA forward.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration.

  • A Group of Philadelphia Abolitionists, offset lithograph by F. Gutekunst, ca. 1851

    Abolitionist Lucretia Mott (front row, second from right), an organizer of the first women’s rights convention in 1848, worked for universal suffrage and civil rights.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, map by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 2009

    A map of current land-grant educational institutions in the United States shows those supported by the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act (red circles), the 1890 Morrill Land-Grant Act (white stars), and the 1994 Land-Grant Act (blue squares). The 1890 group includes historically black colleges and universities; the 1994 institutions are American Indian colleges and universities.

    National Institute for Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Private Land Claim for the Petaca Grant in the Territory of New Mexico, 1875

    To prove a claim, Mexican Americans had to provide documentation of the original land grant. The heirs of José Julian Martínez sought to establish rights to a New Mexico tract that a governor had granted Martínez in 1836. They submitted evidence supporting their claim to the surveyor general of New Mexico, who recommended that Congress confirm the grant.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

    H.J. Res. 208, proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (Equal Rights Amendment), March 22, 1972

    In 1970 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed the House, but not the Senate. After Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan reintroduced it with slight revisions, it passed the House again in 1971 and the Senate in 1972. But by the extended deadline for ratification in 1982, the ERA was three states short of the three-fourths required for constitutional amendments.

    "Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994

    In 1994, more than a century after Congress prohibited racial discrimination in distributing land-grant funds to colleges and universities, a new act provided support for American Indian tribal educational institutions. Many of these colleges and universities were located in remote communities that previously lacked access to higher education.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Plat of the Petaca Grant in the Territory of Mew Mexico, 1878

    Maps and plats were important records used in land claims disputes. This plat shows the original boundaries of the property, known as the Petaca tract, granted to José Julian Martínez and others for farming in 1836. Landmarks such as Tio Ortiz hill on the north and Petaca creek on the east defined the original grant.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration