[Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 113th Congress]
[House Document 112-161]
[Jeffersons Manual of ParliamentaryPractice]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]
sec. xxxiv--the previous question
Sec. 461. The previous question of
When any question is before the House, any Member may move a
previous question, ``Whether that question (called the main question)
shall now be put?'' If it pass in the affirmative, then the main
question is to be put immediately, and no man may speak anything further
to it, either to add or alter. Memor. in Hakew., 28; 4 Grey, 27.
Sec. 462. Manner of putting the previous
The previous question being moved and seconded, the question from the
Chair shall be, ``Shall the main question be now put?'' and if the nays
prevail, the main question shall not then be put.
Before the question ``Whether the main question shall now be put?''
any person might formerly have spoken to the main question, because
otherwise he would be precluded from speaking to it at all. Mem. in
The proper occasion for the previous question is when a subject is
brought forward of a delicate nature as to high personages, &c., or the
discussion of which may call forth observations which might be of
injurious consequences. Then the previous question is proposed, and in
the modern usage the discussion of the main question is suspended and
the debate confined to the previous question. The use of it has been
extended abusively to other cases, but in these it has been an
embarrassing procedure. Its uses would be as well answered by other more
simple parliamentary forms, and therefore it should not be favored, but
restricted within as narrow limits as possible.
As explained in connection with clause 1 of rule XIX, the House has
changed entirely the old use of the previous question (V, 5445).
Sec. 463. History, use, etc., of the previous
question of Parliament.
This kind of question is understood by Mr. Hatsell to have
been introduced in 1604. 2 Hats., 80. Sir Henry Vane introduced it. 2
Grey, 113, 114; 3 Grey, 384. When the question was put in this form,
``Shall the main question be put?'' a determination in the negative
suppressed the main question during the session; but since the words
``now put'' are used, they exclude it for the present only; formerly,
indeed, only till the present debate was over, 4 Grey, 43, but now for
that day and no longer. 2 Grey, 113, 114.