DeVan Family History and Genealogy

Hon. Joshua Reed Giddings


"Joshua Reed Giddings (1795-1864) was an American statesman prominent in the anti-slavery conflict. He was born at Tioga Point, now Athens, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, on 6 October 1795. Six weeks later his father moved the family to Canandaigua, New York. In 1806 his family moved to what is now Wayne, Ashtabula County, Ohio, then sparsely settled and almost a wilderness.

Young Giddings worked on his father's farm, and though he received no systematic education, he devoted much time to study and reading. Then came the War of 1812.

Suddenly, to the dwellers in the Ohio wilderness a frightened whisper borne on the wind and later, the terrible names of British General Henry Proctor and Shawnee leader Tecumtha (Tecumseh) on the Maumee and marching eastward. Territorial Governor Hull surrendered Detroit and the whole of Michigan in August, and there was a call for soldiers.

Though but sixteen, young Giddings, along with his older brother Joseph Warren Giddings, took his place in the ranks of Colonel Webb Hayes' regiment, Captain Jedediah Burnham's company, which was hurried on to the Huron, encamping near the present town of Milan, Ohio. From this point, Major Frasier, with one hundred and thirty men, was pushed forward to a little stockade known as Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River (in the present-day town of Fremont, Ohio), and famous for its August 2nd, 1813 defense by 21-year old Major George Croghan and his 160 troops. With this band was young Giddings, who was soon weakened by sickness.

The battle at Fort Stephenson was an important victory at a time when the United States had vew military successes. It was also the turning point for the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. The British and Indian invasion at Fort Stephenson culminated in outright defeat; not one British officer was left standing, and one-fifth of the British army was either killed, wounded, or missing in action. Never again would the British or Indians threaten Ohio.

On the 28th of September 1813 came word that Indians were plundering the abandoned farms on the "peninsula," and sixty-four men, under Captain Joshua T. Cotton, volunteered to night-fall to meet them. Young Giddings, on coming off guard, found them marching at drum-beat up and down for recruits, and took his place with them. They made the advance by water that night, fought two sharp battles the next day, lost twelve men and their boats. The Indians were more numerous and might have cut them off, but were too roughly handled. Their hardships were very great on the return. Their old Indian friend Omic, to whom they had always been kind, must had led the enemy, as his scalping-knife was found in the body of one of their slain, advertising his presence and prowess.

Colonel Hayes' regiment was not needed for long service, and after five months the young soldier returned home. It is curious that, although several men were killed in this affair on the Peninsula, no account of it is to be found in any history of the war. Though his term of service was short, it was very useful in many ways to young Giddings. His strength, vigor, and endurance on the march, good conduct in camp, his courage and coolness in battle, were themes of praise through the regiment, and laid the foundation for the love and confidence of the people within his personal influence. The restraints and discipline of even five months' service were a useful lesson to him.

Thus the young soldier returned to the war-cloud darkened woods that sheltered his home.

For several years after 1814 he was a schoolteacher, 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 (future Senator from Ohio) Benjamin F. Wade. He served in the lower house of the state legislature from 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, next as a candidate of the Opposition Party, 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 Creole Case attracted particular attention, particularly since it was so closely associated with struggles by antislavery Congressmen to repeal the notorious "gag rule" barring antislavery petitions, a campaign led in the House of Representatives by ex-President John Quincy Adams. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. For offering these resolutions Giddings was attacked with rancor, and was formally censured by the House. Thereupon he resigned, appealed to his constituents, and was immediately reelected by a large majority. The "gag rule" was repealed three years thereafter.

Giddings went on to lead Congressional opposition by free state politicians to any further expansion of slavery, condemning the annexation of Texas (1846), the Mexican War (1846-8), the 1850 Compromises and the Kansas Nebraska Act (1854). His hatred of slavery led him to abandon his initial allegiance to the Whig party for the Free Soil party (1848) and in 1854-55 he became one of the leading founders of the Republican party. Throughout his life he was always very active in the Underground Railroad and was widely known (and condemned) for his egalitarian racial beliefs and actions.

In 1859 he was not re-nominated, and retired from Congress after a continuous service of more than twenty years. With the Thirty-fifth congress closed, the public career of Joshua R. Giddings also came to a closure. Twenty-one successive years he represented the same people in the house. One of the longest known in our annals, and, save that of his friend, John Quincy Adams, the most useful for conspicuous service in the cause of freedom and justice known to our history. In the appreciation and application of the principles of our constitution to the exigencies of politics, arising out of the great conflict of freedom and slavery, through the years of chronic strife, he excelled Mr. Adams, and stands deservedly the first of American statesmen in measure of time and second to none in ability, value, and extent of service. His period of labor exceed that of Mr. Adams by four years. In culture and course of life they were widely dissimilar. In mental structure, firmness of will, grasp, and tenacity of purpose, courage that arose to heroism, they were alike. Both had the same ardent love of the principles of liberty and justice, and undying hatred of oppression and wrong.

For seven years the elder Giddings maintained the deadly strife alone, when the young, strong champion** from the west, like the Red Cross knight, came to his side, gave him his heart, divided his labor, shared his hope, his counsel, and won his love. The heat of a core of fierce battles welded their friendship, and years of peril and common obloquy endeared them to each other. In time the younger made the onsets, sustained by the veteran, who, falling by the wayside, left the junior to wage the war alone, till younger men, educated by their teachings, and moved by their examples, came to equalize, win the battle, and wear the crown of victory.

Giddings' last conspicuous public appearance was at the 1860 Chicago convention, which nominated Lincoln. There he represented his old district for the last time. While others were managing candidates, he was anxious and spoke only for a recognition of the grand old truths. He sought a place on the committee of resolutions; that was refused him. The platform, as reported, ignored the principles, the throbbings of which produced the revolution. He moved them as an amendment; they were rejected. Heart-sick, with a few old lovers of the 'self-evident' truths, he withdrew. This aroused Mr. Curtiss, of New York, who moved them again. Under the charm of his speech they were accepted, and Mr. Giddings and his friends returned. The thunder-scars of the conflict which followed a ratification of the work of that convention still make the eyes of men wink.

In the spring of 1861, President Lincoln offered the consul-generalship of Canada to his friend, Joshua Reed Giddings. Mr. Giddings accepted, and held that position at the time of his sudden death at Montreal on May 27, 1864, of heart disease, an attack of which was once nearly fatal in the House of Representatives.

**The author is referring to George W. Julian, Congressman from Indiana, and Gidding's son-in-law. Julian carried the Giddings' tradition in Congress until 1871.

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-in-law, 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 Democratic Party (United States) Democrat; and more recently, James Brewer Stewart, " Joshua R. Giddings and the Tactics of Radical Politics" (Cleveland, 1970).

United States Representative 16th District from Ohio, 1838-1843: Preceded by - Elisha Whittlesey; Succeeded by: James Mathews

United States Representative 20th District from Ohio, 1843-1859: Preceded by - New District; Succeeded by: John Hutchins


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