Papers of John Adams, volume 5

From James Warren

From Apollos Morris

Motion on Gunning Bedford, 12 June 1777 JA


Motion on Gunning Bedford, 12 June 1777 Adams, John
Motion on Gunning Bedford
12 June 1777

Resolved that the Freedom of Speech and Debate in Congress ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place, out of Congress.1

Resolved, that the Said Letters from Gunning Bedford Esq2 to 224Mr. Sergeant a Member of this Congress from the State of New Jersey, is a most daring Contempt of the Authority of this House and Violation of the Priviledge of the Said Member.3

Resolved the Said Member, in laying the said Letters before Congress, did what his Duty to this House and the State he represents required of him.

Resolved that it is the Right and the Duty of this Congress, to vindicate its own Authority from Contempts, And the Priviledges of all its Members.

Resolved that the said Gunning Bedford Esq. be taken into Custody of the Door keeper of this Congress, and committed to the Prison in this City, for his Contempt and Breach of Priviledge aforesaid, untill the further order of Congress.4

MS in JA's hand (PCC, No. 36, IV, f. 189).


Paraphrased from the Bill of Rights of 1689 and incorporated in the Articles of Confederation as adopted ( Parliamentary Hist. , 5:110; JCC , 9:910).


Gunning Bedford (1747–1812), often confused with his cousin of the same name (1742–1797), trained for the law in Philadelphia—hence the reference to him as “Esquire.” His cousin had a military career before going into politics and would thus have been referred to by his military title. The younger man sometimes designated himself as Gunning Bedford Jr. ( DAB for both).


Bedford took exception to remarks made about him by Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant and challenged him to a duel with pistols. In his reply Sergeant said he did not recall mentioning Bedford's “Character or Name on any Occasion unless in Congress, in the Course of Business.” Continuing to demand satisfaction, Bedford declared that the remarks' having been made in the congress only heightened the insult: “I have been much abused and illtreated by the arbitrary and ungenerous conduct of that house, and have long wished to lay my hands on some one particular member, whome I could prove had traduced my character; I am at length so happy as to have fixed on one, and could only wish he was an object more worthy of resentment.” The letters exchanged between the two men are in PCC, No. 78, II, f. 193–202.


Opposite this last resolve in the margin is written “neg.” Neither this set of resolutions nor another in the hand of William Duer, both offered when Sergeant presented the letters before the congress, was passed. Instead, the congress approved a briefer and more temperate resolve on 13 June and ordered Bedford to appear before it on the 14th, when it resolved that Bedford had been “guilty of a high breach of [its] privileges.” Bedford was dismissed after he asked the pardon of both the congress and Sergeant ( JCC , 8:458–461, 466–467). By 1785 Bedford was himself a member of the congress and later, of the Federal Convention.