[Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 110th Congress]
[House Document 109-157]
[Jeffersons Manual of ParliamentaryPractice]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]
sec. xxxiii--privileged questions
Sec. 437. Possession of a bill by the
It is no possession of a bill unless it be delivered to the Clerk to
read, or the Speaker reads the title. Lex. Parl., 274; Elysynge Mem.,
85; Ord. House of Commons, 64.
In the House, by rule and practice, the system of privileged motions
and privileged questions has been highly developed (rule IX, clause 5 of
rule XIII, clause 1 of rule XIV, and clause 4 of rule XVI).
Sec. 438. Theory as to privileged questions.
It is a general
rule that the question first moved and seconded shall be first put.
Scob., 28, 22; 2 Hats., 81. But this rule gives way to what may be
called privileged questions; and the privileged questions are of
different grades among themselves.
The rules and practice of the House have prescribed comprehensively
the privilege and status of the motion to adjourn (clause 4 of rule
XVI). The motion intervenes between the putting of the question and the
voting, and also between the different methods of voting, as between a
vote by division and a vote by yeas and nays, as after the yeas and nays
are ordered and before the roll call begins (V, 5366). But after the
roll call begins it may not be interrupted (V, 6053). Clause 4 of rule
XVI was amended in the 93d Congress to provide that a motion that when
the House adjourns on that day it stand adjourned to meet at a day and
time certain is of equal privilege with the motion to adjourn, if the
Speaker in his discretion recognizes for that purpose (H. Res. 6, p.
26). In the 102d Congress the motion to authorize the Speaker to declare
a recess was given an equal privilege (H. Res. 5, Jan. 3, 1991, p. 39).
Sec. 439. Precedence of the motion to adjourn.
A motion to
adjourn simply takes place of all others; for otherwise the House might
be kept sitting against its will, and indefinitely. Yet this motion can
not be received after another question is actually put and while the
House is engaged in voting.
``Orders of the day'' are part of the regular and daily order of
business (IV, 3151). Although a mention of them has survived in clause 1
of rule XIV, ``orders of the day'' have disappeared from the practice of
the House (IV, 3057) and should not be confused with ``special orders of
business,'' which are resolutions reported from the Committee on Rules
pursuant to clause 5 of rule XIII to provide for consideration of
matters not regularly in order. The term ``special orders'' is also used
separately to describe permissions for Members to address the House at
the conclusion of legislative business.
Sec. 440. Obsolete parliamentary law governing
orders of the day.
Orders of the day take place of all other questions, except
for adjournment--that is to say, the question which is the subject of an
order is made a privileged one, pro hac vice. The order is a repeal of
the general rule as to this special case. When any Member moves,
therefore, for the order of the day to be read, no further debate is
permitted on the question which was before the House; for if the debate
might proceed it might continue through the day and defeat the order.
This motion, to entitle it to precedence, must be for the orders
generally, and not for any particular one; and if it be carried on the
question, ``Whether the House will now proceed to the orders of the
day?'' they must be read and proceeded on in the course in which they
stand, 2 Hats., 83; for priority of order gives priority of right, which
cannot be taken away but by another special order of business.
every proposition which can be made to them. Such are: 1. The previous
question. 2. To postpone indefinitely. 3. To adjourn a question to a
definite day. 4. To lie on the table. 5. To commit. 6. To amend. The
proper occasion for each of these questions should be understood.
It is proper that every parliamentary assembly should have certain
forms of questions, so adapted as to enable them fitly to dispose of
The House by clause 4 of rule XVI has established the priority and
other conditions of motions of this kind.
Sec. 441. Jefferson's discussion of certain privileged
After these there are other privileged questions, which will
require considerable explanation.
The previous question of the parliamentary law has been changed by the
House into an instrument of entirely different use (V, 5445; clause 1 of
Sec. 442. Obsolete use of the previous
1. When a proposition is moved which it is useless or inexpedient now
to express or discuss, the previous question has been introduced for
suppressing for that time the motion and its discussion. 3 Hats., 188,
As already explained, in the House the previous question is no longer
used as a method of postponement (V, 5445) but a means to bring the
pending matter to an immediate vote. The House does use the motion to
postpone indefinitely, and in clause 4 of rule XVI and the practice
thereunder, has defined the nature and use of the motion.
ing claims the present time, the question or debate is adjourned to such
a day within the session as will answer the views of the House. 2 Hats.,
81. And those who have spoken before may not speak again when the
adjourned debate is resumed. 2 Hats., 73. Sometimes, however, this has
been abusively used by adjourning it to a day beyond the session, to get
rid of it altogether as would be done by an indefinite postponement.
Sec. 443. The motion to postpone indefinitely.
2. But as the
previous question gets rid of it only for that day, and the same
proposition may recur the next day, if they wish to suppress it for the
whole of that session, they postpone it indefinitely. 3 Hats., 183. This
quashes the proposition for that session, as an indefinite adjournment
is a dissolution, or the continuance of a suit sine die is a
discontinuance of it.
The House does not use the motion to adjourn a debate. But it
accomplishes the purpose of such a procedure by the motion to postpone
to a day certain, which applies, not to a debate, but to the bill or
other proposition before the House. Of course, if a bill that is under
debate is postponed, the effect is to postpone the debate. The
conditions and use of the motion are treated under clause 4 of rule XVI.
Sec. 444. Postponement to a day certain.
3. When a motion is
made which it will be proper to act on, but information is wanted, or
something more press
This is the use of the motion to lay on the table that is established
in the general parliamentary law, and was followed in the early practice
of the House. But by an interesting evolution in the House the motion
has now come to serve an entirely new purpose, being used for the final,
adverse disposition of a matter (clause 4 of rule XVI; V, 5389). And a
matter once laid on the table may be taken therefrom only by suspension
of the rules (V, 6288) or similar process, unless it be a matter of
privilege (V, 5438, 5439) such as bills vetoed by the President (IV,
3549; V, 5439). A proposition to impeach having been laid on the table,
a similar or identical proposition may be again brought up (III, 2049;
Sec. 445. Motion to lay on the table.
4. When the House has
something else which claims its present attention, but would be willing
to reserve in their power to take up a proposition whenever it shall
suit them, they order it to lie on their table. It may then be called
for at any time.
6. But if the proposition be well digested, and may need but few and
simple amendments, and especially if these be of leading consequence,
they then proceed to consider and amend it themselves.
In the House it is a general rule that all business goes to committees
before receiving consideration in the House itself. Occasionally a
question of privilege or a minor matter of business is presented and
considered at once by the House.
Sec. 446. Delegation of consideration to
5. If the proposition will want more amendment and digestion than the
formalities of the House will conveniently admit, they refer it to a
for the parliamentary: the senate uses:
Postponement to a day beyond
Postponement indefinite, E the session.
Postponement to a day within
Adjournment, E the session.
Lying on table, E Lying on the table.
the main question, the term postponement must be understood according to
their broad use of it, and not in its parliamentary sense. Their rule,
then, establishes as privileged questions the previous question,
postponement, commitment, and amendment.
In their eighth rule, therefore, which declares that while a question
is before the Senate no motion shall be received, unless it be for the
previous question, or to postpone, commit, or amend
The House governs these motions by clause 4 of rule XVI.
Sec. 447. Privileged motions in the Senate and in
The Senate, in their practice, vary from this regular graduation of
forms. Their practice comparatively with that of Parliament stands thus:
commit <3-l }>
amend In the first, second, and
2. Postpone and previous question third classes, and the first
commit member of the fourth class,
amend the rule ``first moved first
3. Commit and previous question <3-lput'' takes place.
4. Amend and previous question
commit <3-ln }>
commit from being put to question before it, but also from being put
after it; for if the previous question be decided affirmatively, to wit,
that the main question shall now be put, it would of course be against
the decision to postpone or commit; and if it be decided negatively, to
wit, that the main question shall not now be put, this puts the House
out of possession of the main question, and consequently there is
nothing before them to postpone or commit. So that neither voting for
nor against the previous question will enable the advocates for
postponing or committing to get at their object. Whether it may be
amended shall be examined hereafter.
In the first class, where the previous question is first moved, the
effect is peculiar; for it not only prevents the after motion to
While clause 4 of rule XVI now governs the priority of motions, these
provisions of the Manual remain of interest because of the parliamentary
theory they present.
Sec. 448. Obsolete provision as to priority of
But it may be asked: Have these questions any privilege among
themselves? or are they so equal that the common principle of the
``first moved first put'' takes place among them? This will need
explanation. Their competitions may be as follows:
1. Previous question and postpone
The previous question is used now for bringing a vote on the main
question and not for suppressing it.
The third class is subject to the same observations as the second.
vious question, the question of amendment shall be first put.
The fourth class. Amendment of the main question first moved, and
afterwards the pre
In present practice of the House the question on the previous question
would be put first, and being decided affirmatively would force a vote
on the amendment and then on the main question.
Amendment and postponement competing, postponement is first put, as
the equivalent proposition to adjourn the main question would be in
Parliament. The reason is that the question for amendment is not
suppressed by postponing or adjourning the main question, but remains
before the House whenever the main question is resumed; and it might be
that the occasion for other urgent business might go by, and be lost by
length of debate on the amendment, if the House had it not in their
power to postpone the whole subject.
Amendment and commitment. The question for committing, though last
moved shall be first put; because, in truth, it facilitates and
befriends the motion to amend. Scobell is express: ``On motion to amend
a bill, anyone may notwithstanding move to commit it, and the question
for commitment shall be first put.'' Scob., 46.
These principles of priority of privileged motions are recognized in
the House, and are provided for by clause 4 of rule XVI.
not on the original primary question, but on the secondary one, e.g.:
Sec. 449. General principles of priority of
Second class. If postponement be decided affirmatively, the proposition is
removed from before the House, and consequently there is no ground for
the previous question, commitment or amendment; but if decided
negatively (that it shall not be postponed), the main question may then
be suppressed by the previous question, or may be committed, or amended.
Suppose a motion to postpone, commit, or amend the main question, and
that it be moved to suppress that motion by putting a previous question
on it. This is not allowed, because it would embarrass questions too
much to allow them to be piled on one another several stories high; and
the same result may be had in a more simple way--by deciding against the
postponement, commitment, or amendment. 2. Hats., 81, 2, 3, 4.
While the general principle that one secondary or privileged motion
should not be applied to another is generally recognized in the House,
yet the entire change in the nature of the previous question (V, 5445)
from a means of postponing a matter to a means of compelling an
immediate vote, makes obsolete the parliamentary rule. For as the
motions to postpone, commit, and amend, are all debatable, the modern
previous question of course applies to them (clause 1 of rule XIX).
Therefore the motion to postpone the secondary motion for the previous
question, or for committing or amending, can not be received. 2. This is
a piling of questions one on another; which, to avoid embarrassment, is
not allowed. 3. The same result may be had more simply by voting against
the previous question, commitment, or amendment.
Sec. 450. Applications of the previous question to
debatable secondary and privileged motions.
We have hitherto considered the
case of two or more of the privileged questions contending for privilege
between themselves, when both are moved on the original or main
question; but now let us suppose one of them to be moved,
Suppose a commitment moved of a motion for the previous question, or
to postpone or amend. The first, second, and third reasons, before
stated, all hold against this.
The principles of this paragraph are in harmony with the practice of
the House, which provides further that a motion to suspend the rules may
not be postponed (V, 5322).
Sec. 451. Motion to postpone not applicable to other
Suppose a motion for the previous question, or commitment or
amendment of the main question, and that it be then moved to postpone
the motion for the previous question, or for commitment or amendment of
the main question. 1. It would be absurd to postpone the previous
question, commitment, or amendment, alone, and thus separate the
appendage from its principal; yet it must be postponed separately from
its original, if at all; because the eighth rule of the Senate says that
when a main question is before the House no motion shall be received but
to commit, amend, or pre-question the original question, which is the
parliamentary doctrine also.
Although the nature of the previous question has entirely changed, yet
the principle of the parliamentary law applies to the new form.
privilege of attaching itself to a secondary and privileged motion; that
is, we may amend a postponement of a main question. So, we may amend a
commitment of a main question, as by adding, for example, ``with
instructions to inquire,'' &c. * * *
Sec. 452. The motion to amend not applicable to the
Suppose an amendment moved to a motion for the previous
question. Answer: The previous question can not be amended.
Parliamentary usage, as well as the ninth rule of the Senate, has fixed
its form to be, ``Shall the main question be now put?''--i.e., at this
instant; and as the present instant is but one, it can admit of no
modification. To change it to to-morrow, or any other moment, is without
example and without utility. * * *
This principle is recognized in the practice of the House (V, 5521).
Sec. 453. Motion to amend applicable to
motions to postpone or refer.
* * * But suppose a motion to amend a motion for
postponement, as to one day instead of another, or to a special instead
of an indefinite time. The useful character of amendment gives it a
This rule of the parliamentary law is considered fundamental in the
House (clause 6 of rule XVI).
to what day a postponement shall be, the number of a committee, amount
of a fine, term of an imprisonment, term of irredeemability of a loan,
or the terminus in quem in any other case; then the question must begin
a maximo. Or whether the lesser includes the greater, as in questions on
the limitation of the rate of interest, on what day the session shall be
closed by adjournment, on what day the next shall commence, when an act
shall commence or the terminus a quo in any other case where the
question must begin a minimo; the object being not to begin at that
extreme which, and more, being within every man's wish, no one could
negative it, and yet, if he should vote in the affirmative, every
question for more would be precluded; but at that extreme which would
unite few, and then to advance or recede till you get to a number which
will unite a bare majority. 3 Grey, 376, 384, 385. ``The fair question
in this case is not that to which, and more, all will agree, but whether
there shall be addition to the question.'' 1 Grey, 365.
Sec. 454. Amendment in the third degree not in
* * * In like manner, if an amendment be moved to an amendment, it is
admitted; but it would not be admitted in another degree, to wit, to
amend an amendment to an amendment of a main question. This would lead
to too much embarrassment. The line must be drawn somewhere, and usage
has drawn it after the amendment to the amendment. The same result must
be sought by deciding against the amendment to the amendment, and then
moving it again as it was wished to be amended. In this form it becomes
only an amendment to an amendment.
ments changing other portions of the resolution that have not been
amended as well (Apr. 27, 1977, p. 12485). In recent practice an amount
in an appropriation bill has been changed by inserting a parenthetical
``increased by'' or ``decreased by'' after the amount rather than by
directly changing the number.
The thirteenth rule of the Senate has been dropped. The House has no
rule on the subject other than this provision of the parliamentary law.
It is very rare for the House to fill blanks for numbers. When a number
in pending text is to be changed by amendment, the practice of the House
permits to be pending: the alternative number proposed in the amendment
to the text; a second alternative number as an amendment to the
amendment; a third as a substitute; and a fourth as an amendment to the
substitute. Thus, if the pending text itself states a number, then five
alternative numbers may be pending simultaneously. With respect to a
concurrent resolution on the budget (which is considered as read and
open to amendment at any point and to which amendments must be
mathematically consistent under clause 10 of rule XVIII), adoption of a
perfecting amendment changing several figures precludes further
amendment merely changing those figures, but does not preclude more
Sec. 455. Filling blanks; and amendment to
[In filling a blank with a sum, the largest sum shall be first put to the
question, by the thirteenth rule of the Senate, contrary to the rule of
Parliament, which privileges the smallest sum and longest time. 5 Grey,
179; 2 Hats., 8, 83; 3 Hats., 132, 133.] And this is considered to be
not in the form of an amendment to the question, but as alternative or
successive originals. In all cases of time or number, we must consider
whether the larger comprehends the lesser, as in a question
In the House the principle that a text should be perfected before a
question is taken on striking it out, and that an amendment should be
perfected before agreeing to it, is well established. But in considering
bills, even by paragraphs, the House does not agree to the paragraphs
severally; but after amending one passes to the next, and the question
on agreeing is taken only on the whole bill by the several votes on
engrossment and passage.
Sec. 456. Priority of amendments over motions to
strike out or agree.
Another exception to the rule of priority is when a
motion has been made to strike out, or agree to, a paragraph. Motions to
amend it are to be put to the question before a vote is taken on
striking out or agreeing to the whole paragraph.
This principle governs the procedure of the House, but a question of
order arising after a motion for the previous question must be decided
without debate (clause 1 of rule XIX).
Sec. 457. Incidental questions, like points of
order, that intervene during consideration of the main question.
But there are
several questions which, being incidental to every one, will take place
of every one, privileged or not; to wit, a question of order arising out
of any other question must be decided before that question. 2 Hats., 88.
<> Reading papers relative to the question before the House.
This question must be put before the principal one. 2 Hats., 88.
Rule IX of the House and the practice thereunder, confirm and amplify
the principles of this provision of the parliamentary law.
This provision formerly applied in the House to the reading of papers
other than those on which the House was to vote. That was under an
earlier form of clause 6 of rule XVII, which now applies only to the use
of exhibits in debate. For a history of the former rule on reading
papers and an explanation of the earlier practice, see Sec. Sec. 963-
Sec. 458. Matters of privilege as intervening
A matter of privilege arising out of any question, or from a quarrel
between two Members, or any other cause, supersedes the consideration of
the original question, and must be first disposed of. 2 Hats., 88.
The House does not vote on the withdrawal of motions, but provides by
clause 2 of rule XVI and clause 5 of rule XVIII the conditions under
which a Member may of his own right withdraw a motion.
Sec. 460. Withdrawal of motions.
Leave asked to withdraw a
motion. The rule of Parliament being that a motion made and seconded is
in the possession of the House, and can not be withdrawn without leave,
the very terms of the rule imply that leave may be given, and,
consequently, may be asked and put to the question.