Joshua Reed Giddings - Encyclopedia

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JOSHUA REED GIDDINGS (1795-1864), American statesman, prominent in the anti-slavery conflict, was born at Tioga Point, now Athens, Bradford county, Pennsylvania, on the 6th of October 1795. In 1806 his parents removed to Ashtabula county, Ohio, then sparsely settled and almost a wilderness. The son worked on his father's farm, and, though he received no systematic education, devoted much time to study and reading. For several years after 1814 he was a school teacher, but in February 1821 he was admitted to the Ohio bar and soon obtained a large practice, particularly in criminal cases. From 1831 to 1837 he was in partnership with Benjamin F. Wade. He served in the lower house of the state legislature in 1826-1828, and from December 1838 until March 1859 was a member of the national House of Representatives, first as a Whig, then as a Free-soiler, and finally as a Republican. Recognizing that slavery was a state institution, with which the Federal government had no authority to interfere, he contended that slavery could only exist by a specific state enactment, that therefore slavery in the District of Columbia and in the Territories was unlawful and should be abolished, that the coastwise slave-trade in vessels flying the national flag, like the international slave-trade, should be rigidly suppressed, and that Congress had no power to pass any act which in any way could be construed as a recognition of slavery as a national institution. His attitude in the so-called "Creole Case" attracted particular attention. In 1841 some slaves who were being carried in the brig "Creole" from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to New Orleans, revolted, killed the captain, gained possession of the vessel, and soon afterwards entered the British port of Nassau. Thereupon, according to British law, they became free. The minority who had taken an active part in the revolt were arrested on a charge of murder, and the others were liberated. Efforts were made by the United States government to recover the slaves, Daniel Webster, then secretary of state, asserting that on an American ship they were under the jurisdiction of the United States and that they were legally property. On the 21st of March 1842, before the case was settled, Giddings introduced in the House of Representatives a series of resolutions, in which he asserted that "in resuming their natural rights of personal liberty" the slaves "violated no law of the United States." For offering these resolutions Giddings was attacked with rancour, and was formally censured by the House. Thereupon he resigned, appealed to his constituents, and was immediately re-elected by a large majority. In 1859 he was not renominated, and retired from Congress after a continuous service of more than twenty years. From 1861 until his death, at Montreal, on the 27th of May 1864, he was U.S. consul-general in Canada. Giddings published a series of political essays signed "Pacificus" (1843); Speeches in Congress (1853); The Exiles of Florida (1858); and a History of the Rebellion: Its Authors and Causes (1864).

See The Life of Joshua R. Giddings (Chicago, 1892), by his son-inlaw, George Washington Julian (1817-1899), a Free-soil leader and a representative in Congress in 1849-1851, a Republican representative in Congress in 1861-1871, a Liberal Republican in the campaign of 1872, and afterwards a Democrat.

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