Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Chapter XIX -- United States House
of Representatives
--Methods of Busines
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289. Change of Rules in Fifty-first Congress.— This work would be, perhaps, much farther from completeness than it is if an account were not given of the difference between the rules of the House of Representatives before the Fifty-first Congress and the rules of that Congress. A series of circumstances prior to 1890 had concurred to render the House of Representatives the most unwieldy parliamentary body in the world. The last revision of the rules had been made by distinguished men of both parties, but all animated, for different reasons then existing, by a desire that the minority should have great power. By these rules adopted by the Forty-sixth Congress the power was really made absolute. The motions to adjourn, to fix the day of adjournment, and to take a recess, being “in order at all times,” constituted a barrier by which three resolute men could stop all public business, and one-fifth of the House, owing to the right to call the yeas and nays, could, with ease and comfort, use up three hours of public time by the employment of as many minutes. One member could move to take a recess, another to fix the time to adjourn, and the third to adjourn, and demand yeas and nays on each; each taking up three-quarters of an hour. With the time usually wasted on amendments to two of these motions, the three hours would go on, and at the end the motions could be renewed and another three hours be destroyed, and so on until the majority, tired out, would surrender. Even without this process the system of doing business was weak beyond measure. Bills were put on calendars, and there was no way of getting them off. Senate bills went on the Speaker’s table, and stayed there. The “morning hour” for committee reports was restricted to sixty minutes, and if a bill got there, all one had to do was to have one roll-call a day for two days and that bill was put to death, even if a great majority wanted it.

In short, every road was blocked. In the Fifty-first Congress this was changed. The motions to adjourn, to fix a time for adjournment, and to take a recess were sent back to their positions under general parliamentary law. A rule was adopted, which also was only a return to general parliamentary law, that the Speaker should entertain no dilatory motion, which meant that the processes of the House intended for the transaction of business should not be used to prevent business. The order of procedure was so changed that the bill from the Senate which was only a House bill amended could be at once taken up, if it did not appropriate money, as could also a Senate bill, the like of which had received a favorable report from a House committee. In addition, the “morning hour” was so changed that the House could have it terminate at the end of sixty minutes, or could go on after the sixty minutes and finish the pending bill. Other arrangements were made to facilitate the unfinished business. In short, the system contemplated that whatever business was entered upon should be finished, and not evaded except by recognized parliamentary motions. Under the old system bills were introduced, 10,000 in number, in open House, and referred in much confusion and with much waste of time. Under the new system these bills were handed to the Clerk, regularly referred, and no time of the House taken at all. Reports of committees which went to the calendars were similarly treated. As some body had to take up the question of what bills should have special preference, the Committee on Rules was charged with that duty, and reported from time to time bills to be taken up, with special rules for their consideration. These last two improvements were adopted by the next Congress, but the old obstruction paraphernalia of adjourn, fix the day, and recess, with a right to use proper motions for improper purpose, were reinstated. The “morning hour” was again reduced to sixty minutes, and that method of killing bills reestablished.

Whenever Congress desires to do work, it must change its old rules; whenever it desires to avoid work and responsibility the system before the Fifty-first Congress will be found admirable.


Explanation. The table on the following page is intended to answer the question in the vertical column during the pendency of the motion in the horizontal column, e.g.: Amend. Amend? (Can you amend an amendment?) Yes. Consideration, question of? (Can you raise question?) No. Motion as to methods of consideration? Yes. Debatable? Yes. Division of question? Yes. Postpone to day certain? No. Indefinitely? No. Previous question? No. Reading of papers? Yes. Reconsideration? Yes.

The + means yes; the 0, no. Numerals in table refer to opposite page.

Section of Rules.   Amend? Commit? Consideration, Question of? Consideration, Question of. Method of? Debatable? Division of Question? Postpone to day certain? Postpone indefinitely? Previous Question? Papers, Reading of? Reconsideration?
129 to 161 Amend..... + 0 0 + + + 0 0 0 + +
Appeal..... 0 0 0 + 1
0 0 0 0   +
Adjourn..... 2
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
171 --To fix time to which... + 0 0 0 + 0 0 0 0 0 +
119 Commit... + 0 0 + 3
0 0 0 0 + +
110 Consideration, Question of..... 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
194 --Motion as to methods of..... + 0 0 0 0 + 0 0 0 0 4
193 Division of Question + 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 +
114 Lay on table (see note)..... 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5
109 Main Question + + + + + + + + + + +
182 Order, Point of... 0 0 0 0 6
0 0 0 0 0 0
187 Papers, Reading of..... + 0 0 0 0 + 0 0 0 0 +
118 Postpone to day certain..... + 0 0   7
0 0 0 0 0 +
121 --Indefinitely.... 0 0 0   8
0 0 0 0 0 +
125 Previous Question 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 +
178 Privilege, Question of..... + + + + + + + + + + +
174 Recess..... + 0 0 0 + 0 0 0 0 0 0
191 Rules, Suspension of..... 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
189 Withdrawal of Motion ..... 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9


(Referred to by Numerals in Table.) 

1. But a motion to lay appeal on the table will cut off debate, and if carried will sustain the chair.

2. Motion to adjourn can not be amended unless it means a dissolution of the assembly. See §170.

3. But does not open to discussion the Main Question unless coupled with instructions. See §120.

4. But not after consideration has begun.

5. But not if motion has been decided affirmatively.

6. Not as of right, but solely by permission of the chair.

7. Does not open Main Question to discussion.

8. Opens Main Question to discussion, because decision in the affirmative is a final negative to the whole proposition.

9. But not after the member having leave to withdraw, has withdrawn it.

General Remarks 

Lay on Table. Motion to, can be entertained on amendment, but the result is the same as if made generally—the whole subject goes on the table. See §114. If made on “appeal” or “motion to reconsider” only the appeal or motion to reconsider goes on the table, but not the whole matter, and both appeal and motion are thereby ended.

Member on Floor can be taken off on Point of Order or on Question of Privilege. No one can claim the floor against a Question of Consideration seasonably raised.

Presiding Officer. When a member he may vote even when his vote makes a tie. A tie vote on an appeal sustains the chair.

Reconsideration. A motion to reconsider opens the whole question to debate even after it has passed under the previous question; but the motion to reconsider may be laid on the table, and thus negatived and debate cut off.

Second. None required on point of order or on reconsideration, or on question of consideration or appeal.