Few opponents of slavery prior to the Civil War in Congress were more outspoken or more courageous than Joshua Giddings. Born on October 6, 1795. Giddings moved with his family to Ashtabula County, Ohio in 1806, part of the Western Reserve in Northeastern Ohio. A sparsely settled pioneer region, Giddings had little formal education, but spent a great deal of time as he grew reading and studying. In 1821 he was admitted to the Ohio bar. From 1838-1959 he served in the House of Representatives.
He quickly became known as a fierce opponent of slavery, taking every opportunity to attack it. He came to national notice in 1842 when he defended in Congress the slaves who had mutinied aboard the brig Creole. Sailing to Nassau, the slaves were freed by the British. The American government demanded the return of the slaves on the grounds that they were property. The British refused to return the slaves. Giddings proposed resolutions in Congress defending the right of the slaves to rebel and regain their God-given right to liberty. This aroused a furor among pro-slavery members of Congress and Giddings was censured by the House. Nothing daunted, he resigned from the House, and was re-elected by his constituents with a large majority.
Unlike most abolitionists, Giddings had no problem calling for violence to be used to free the slaves. He constantly called for slave insurrections, and stated that the people of the North had a moral duty to assist such insurrections.
Naturally this made him a marked man. In the House in 1846 he was threatened by a representative from Georgia with a pistol and a sword cane. Giddings yelled out to him, Come on! The People of Ohio don’t send cowards here!
Giddings was always willing to work with slavery opponents more moderate than himself, as he did in 1849 with Representative Abraham Lincoln in an abortive attempt to end slavery in the District of Columbia. A Whig initially, he then became a free soiler, and was one of the founders of the Republican party.
Active in the Underground Railroad most of his adult life, Giddings did not live to see slavery dead in the United States, but he saw it clearly dying. He died on May 27, 1864 in Montreal, Canada, his old friend Lincoln having appointed him consul general to Canada in 1861.