gag rules, in parliamentary procedure, rules limiting or prohibiting free debate on a particular issue. In U.S. history, the term is applied especially to procedural rules in force in the House of Representatives from 1836 to 1844. With the growth of antislavery feeling after the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the House was deluged with thousands of antislavery petitions, most of which requested the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Southerners, with the aid of Northern Democrats, secured passage of the gag rules, which prevented the discussion of antislavery proposals in the House. The fight to secure the right of petition, waged virtually singlehandedly, and brilliantly, by John Quincy Adams, aroused the North, and the gag rules were repealed. They had the effect of strengthening the cause of the abolitionists.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.