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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

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

The Gag Rule

In the 19th century, Americans vigorously exercised their First Amendment right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” An antislavery petition drive in the 1830s swamped Congress with 130,000 petitions in a single year. In response, beginning in 1836, proslavery members of the House of Representatives passed a series of gag rules to prevent discussion of such petitions. Representative and former President John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts worked for years to overturn the gag rule, which the House finally repealed in 1844.