[Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and the Rules of the House of Representatives, 114th Congress]
[House Document 113-181]
[Jeffersons Manual of ParliamentaryPractice]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]
sec. i--importance of adhering to rules
and experienced Members, that nothing tended more to throw power into
the hands of administration, and those who acted with the majority of
the House of Commons, than a neglect of, or departure from, the rules of
proceeding; that these forms, as instituted by our ancestors, operated
as a check and control on the actions of the majority, and that they
were, in many instances, a shelter and protection to the minority,
against the attempts of power.'' So far the maxim is certainly true, and
is founded in good sense, that as it is always in the power of the
majority, by their numbers, to stop any improper measures proposed on
the part of their opponents, the only weapons by which the minority can
defend themselves against similar attempts from those in power are the
forms and rules of proceeding which have been adopted as they were found
necessary, from time to time, and are become the law of the House, by a
strict adherence to which the weaker party can only be protected from
those irregularities and abuses which these forms were intended to
check, and which the wantonness of power is but too often apt to suggest
to large and successful majorities, 2 Hats., 171, 172.
Sec. 283. Rules as related to the privileges of
Mr. Onslow, the ablest among the Speakers of the House of
Commons, used to say, ``It was a maxim he had often heard when he was a
young man, from old
``I could not doubt the necessity of quoting the sources of my
information, among which Mr. Hatsel's most valuable book is preeminent;
but as he has only treated some general heads, I have been obliged to
recur to other authorities in support of a number of common rules of
practice, to which his plan did not descend. Sometimes each authority
cited supports the whole passage. Sometimes it rests on all taken
together. Sometimes the authority goes only to a part of the text, the
residue being inferred from known rules and principles. For some of the
most familiar forms no written authority is or can be quoted, no writer
having supposed it necessary to repeat what all were presumed to know.
The statement of these must rest on their notoriety.
``I am aware that authorities can often be produced in opposition to
the rules which I lay down as parliamentary. An attention to dates will
generally remove their weight. The proceedings of Parliament in ancient
times, and for a long while, were crude, multiform, and embarrassing.
They have been, however, constantly advancing toward uniformity and
accuracy, and have now attained a degree of aptitude to their object
beyond which little is to be desired or expected.
``Yet I am far from the presumption of believing that I may not have
mistaken the parliamentary practice in some cases, and especially in
those minor forms, which, being practiced daily, are supposed known to
everybody, and therefore have not been committed to writing. Our
resources in this quarter of the globe for obtaining information on that
part of the subject are not perfect. But I have begun a sketch, which
those who come after me will successively correct and fill up, till a
code of rules shall be formed for the use of the Senate, the effects of
which may be accuracy in business, economy of time, order, uniformity,
Sec. 284. The Manual as a statement of parliamentary law.
\1\Jefferson's Manual was prepared by Thomas Jefferson for
his own guidance as President of the Senate in the years of his Vice
Presidency, from 1797 to 1801. In 1837 the House, by rule that still
exists, provided that the provisions of the Manual should ``govern the
House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are
not inconsistent with the Rules and orders of the House.'' Rule XXIX,
Sec. 1105, infra. In 1880 the committee that revised the Rules of the
House declared in their report that the Manual, ``compiled as it was for
the use of the Senate exclusively and made up almost wholly of
collations of English parliamentary practice and decisions, it was never
especially valuable as an authority in the House of Representatives,
even in its early history, and for many years past has been rarely
quoted in the House'' (V, 6757). This statement, although sanctioned by
high authority, is extreme, for in certain parts of the Manual are to be
found the foundations of some of the most important portions of the
The Manual is regarded by English parliamentarians as the best statement
of what the law of Parliament was at the time Jefferson wrote it.
Jefferson himself says, in the preface of the work:
Those portions of the Manual that refer exclusively to Senate
procedure or that refer to English practice wholly inapplicable to the
House have been omitted. Paragraphs from the Constitution of the United
States have also been omitted, because the Constitution is printed in
full in this volume.
Sec. 286. Relations of the parliamentary law to the early
practice of Congress.
Jefferson also says in his preface, as to the source most desirable at
that time from which to draw principles of procedure:
``But to what system of rules is he to recur,
as supplementary to those of the Senate? To this there can be but one
answer: To the system of regulations adopted for the government of some
one of the parliamentary bodies within these States, or of that which
has served as a prototype to most of them. This last is the model which
we have all studied, while we are little acquainted with the
modifications of it in our several States. It is deposited, too, in
publications possessed by many, and open to all. Its rules are probably
as wisely constructed for governing the debates of a deliberative body,
and obtaining its true sense, as any which can become known to us; and
the acquiescence of the Senate, hitherto, under the references to them,
has given them the sanction of the approbation.''
* * * * *
Whether the House is in order so that a Member may proceed in debate
is determined by the Chair (Apr. 23, 2008, pp. 6748, 6749). Alleged
partiality in making such a determination has been renounced (July 31,
2008, p. 17495). The comportment of a presiding officer has formed the
basis of a question of privilege (Aug. 3, 2007, p. 22783).
Sec. 285. Necessity of rules of action.
And whether these
forms be in all cases the most rational or not is really not of so great
importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go
by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding
in business not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or captiousness of
the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be
preserved in a dignified public body. 2 Hats., 149.