History of the House of Representatives

By George B. Galloway | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
EVOLUTION OF THE HOUSE RULES

UNDER THE CONSTITUTION each House may determine the rules of its proceedings. And in practice each House of Representatives has done so from the beginning of congressional history either by explicitly adopting rules or by acquiescing in those of a preceding House. As we saw earlier, the House of Representatives adopted a short code of four rules on April 7, 1789, and agreed to six additional rules a few days later. From then until 1860 the House rule book gradually expanded by a process of accretion, as the rules were enlarged by amendments offered mainly by individual members. Each new House customarily adopted the rules of its predecessor, sometimes with changes or additions, thus erecting a code that became continuous in character and substantially constant in content.

After seventy years of gradual expansion the rules of the House had grown to more than 150 in number, consuming some twenty pages of the journals, when a select committee of five was appointed, at the close of the first session of the Thirty-fifth Congress on June 14, 1858, "to digest and revise the rules...and to suggest alterations and amendments" therein.1 From time to time over the years they had been criticized as cumbersome and useless. Warren Winslow, ex-Speaker of the North Carolina Senate, was the author of this resolution which provided that the Speaker, James L. Orr of South Carolina, should be a member of the select committee. This was the first time in the history of the House that its presiding officer had served on one of its committees. On December 20, 1858 the select committee reported some thirty-one amendments of the rules, a dozen of which were to strike out existing rules.2 Its report was recommitted without further action in that Congress.

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