Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government

By Burnet, R. Scott | The Historian, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government


Burnet, R. Scott, The Historian


Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government. By Jeffery A. Jenkins and Charles Stewart III. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 476. $35.00.)

The authors of this work are political scientists, and it is likely that many readers of The Historian, more accustomed to the notation conventions and writing style of academic historians, may be put off by the political-science orientation of this study of two centuries of speakership elections. This is not a verdict on the worth of the book but a word of warning to potential readers. Even many political historians might find that Jeffery Jenkins and Charles Stewart provide inadequate discussion of the basis of their quantitative analysis--Poole/Rosenthal "NOMINATE" scores, which are familiar and readily available (from http:// www.voteview.com), to be sure, but deserving of further elucidation, especially as these scores have not been calculated by Jenkins and Stewart from scratch.

Using spatial analysis of these scores and other methods (including good old-fashioned historical sources), the authors trace the growing role played by the act of organizing the US House of Representatives in forging coherent, disciplined political parties. The book examines, as Jenkins and Stewart put it, how the necessity of creating a majority party "organizational cartel" that could elect a speaker and other officers eventually (but by no means immediately or inexorably) led to a "procedural cartel" that could control the legislative agenda in the interests of the majority party.

Concentrating on the nineteenth century, Jenkins and Stewart demonstrate the unexpected consequences of the switch from electing a speaker by secret ballot to viva voce voting (recorded, public roll-call balloting). …

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