Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 13: The House of Representatives - The American Commonwealth, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 13: The House of Representatives - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 1 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell, 2 vols (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995).
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives, usually called for shortness, the House, represents the nation on the basis of population, as the Senate represents the states.
But even in the composition of the House the states play an important part. The Constitution provides1 that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers,” and under this provision Congress allots so many members of the House to each state in proportion to its population at the last preceding decennial census, leaving the state to determine the districts within its own area for and by which the members shall be chosen. These districts are now equal or nearly equal in size; but in laying them out there is ample scope for the process called “gerrymandering,” 2 which the dominant party in a state rarely fails to apply for its own advantage. Where a state legislature has failed to redistribute the state into congressional districts, after the state has received an increase of representatives, the additional member or members are elected by the voters of the whole state on a general ticket, and are called “representatives at large.” Recently one state (Maine) elected all its representatives on this plan, while another (Kansas) elected three by districts and four by general ticket. Each district, of course, lies wholly within the limits of one state. When a seat becomes vacant the governor of the state issues a writ for a new election, and when a member desires to resign his seat he does so by letter to the governor.
The original House which met in 1789 contained only 65 members, the idea being that there should be one member for every 30,000 persons. As population grew and new states were added, the number of members was increased. Originally Congress fixed the ratio of members to population, and the House accordingly grew; but latterly, fearing a too rapid increase, it has fixed the number of members with no regard for any precise ratio of members to population. Under a statute of 1891, the number was fixed at 356, being, according to the census of 1890, one member to about 174,000 souls. In 1909, the number had reached 391. In 1911, under the census of 1910, it was increased to 435. Five states, Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, have one representative each; five have two each; while New York has 43, and Pennsylvania 36. Besides these full members there are also Territorial delegates, one from each of the Territories, regions enjoying a species of self-government, but not yet formed into states.3 These delegates sit and speak, but have no right to vote, being unrecognized by the Constitution. They are, in fact, merely persons whom the House, under a statute, admits to its floor and permits to address it.
The quorum of the House, as of the Senate, is a majority of the whole number. Till the Fifty-first Congress the custom had been to treat as absent all members who did not answer to their names on a roll call, but in 1890, one party persistently refusing to answer in order to prevent the transaction of business, Speaker Reed asserted the right of counting for the purposes of a quorum all he saw present. A rule was then passed directing him so to count. This was dropped in the next Congress but in 1894 restored, substituting two tellers for the Speaker.
The electoral franchise on which the House is elected is for each state the same as that by which the members of the more numerous branch of the state legislature are chosen. Originally franchises varied much in different states; and this was a principal reason why the Convention of 1787 left the matter to the states to settle: now what is practically manhood (which in five states includes womanhood) suffrage prevails in the Northern and Western states. A state, however, has a right of limiting the suffrage as it pleases, and many states do exclude persons convicted of crime, paupers, illiterates, etc. By the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (passed in 1870) “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by any State on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude,” while by the Fourteenth Amendment (passed in 1868) “the basis of representation in any State is reduced in respect of any male citizens excluded from the suffrage, save for participation in rebellion or other crimes.” This was designed to give the former slave states a motive for keeping their suffrage wide, but the fact remains that the franchise by which the federal legislature is chosen may differ, and does in some points actually differ in different parts of the Union.4
Members are elected for two years, and the election always takes place in the even years, 1912, 1914, and so forth. Thus the election of every second Congress coincides with that of a president; and admirers of the Constitution find in this arrangement another of their favourite “checks,” because while it gives the incoming president a Congress presumably, though by no means necessarily, of the same political complexion as his own, it enables the people within two years to express their approval or disapproval of his conduct by sending up another House of Representatives which may support or oppose the policy he has followed. The House does not in the regular course of things meet until a year has elapsed from the time when it has been elected, though the president may convoke it sooner, i.e, a House elected in November 1914 will not meet till December 1915, unless the president summons it in “extraordinary session” some time after March 4, 1915, when the previous House expires. This summons has been issued fifteen times since 1789. It so often brought ill luck to the summoning president that a sort of superstition against it grew.5 The question is often mooted whether a new Congress ought not by law to meet within six months after its election, for there are inconveniences in keeping an elected House unorganized and Speakerless for a twelvemonth. But the country is not so fond of Congress as to desire more of it. It is a singular result of the present arrangement that the old House continues to sit for nearly four months after the members of the new House have been elected, and that a measure may still be passed in the expiring Congress, against which the country has virtually pronounced at the general elections already held for its successor. In the Fifty-first Congress the House voted more than five-hundred millions of dollars in its appropriation bills after a new Congress had been elected, and when therefore it had in strictness no longer any constituents.
The expense of an election varies greatly from district to district. Sometimes, especially in great cities where illegitimate expenditure is more frequent and less detectible than in rural districts, it rises to a sum of $10,000 or more; sometimes it is trifling.6 No estimate of the average can be formed, because no returns of congressional election expenses are required by law; but as a rule a seat costs less than one for a county division does in England.7 A candidate, unless very wealthy, is not expected to pay the whole expense out of his own pocket, but is aided often by the local contributions of his friends, sometimes by a subvention from the election funds of the party in the state. All the official expenses, such as for clerks, polling booths, etc., are paid by the public. Although bribery is not rare, comparatively few elections are impeached, for the difficulty of proof is increased by the circumstance that the House, which is the investigating and deciding authority, does not meet till a year after the election. As a member is elected for two years only, and the investigation would probably drag on during the whole of the first session, it is scarcely worth while to dispute the return for the sake of turning him out for the second session.8 In many states, drinking places are closed on the election day.
Among the members of the House there are few young men, and still fewer old men. The immense majority are between forty and sixty. Lawyers abound, including in that term both those who in Great Britain are called barristers or advocates, and those who are called attorneys, there being in America no distinction between these two branches of the profession. An analysis of the House in the Fiftieth Congress showed that 203 members, or nearly two-thirds of the whole number, had been trained or had practiced as lawyers, and in subsequent Congresses the proportions have varied but little. In the Sixty-first the proportion of lawyers was slightly larger, especially among Southern members. Of course many of these had practically dropped law as a business and given themselves wholly to politics. Next in number come the men engaged in manufactures or commerce, in agriculture, or banking, or journalism, but no one of these occupations counted one-third so many members.9 Ministers of religion are very rare; there were, however, two in the Fifty-second Congress. No military or naval officer, and no person in the civil service of the United States, can sit. Scarcely any of the great railway men go into Congress, a fact of much significance when one considers that they are really the most powerful people in the country; and of the numerous lawyer members very few are leaders of the bar in their respective states. The reason is the same in both cases. Residence in Washington makes practice at the bar of a great city difficult or impossible, and men in lucrative practice would not generally sacrifice their profession in order to sit in the House, while railway managers or financiers are too much engrossed by their business to be able to undertake the duties of a member. The absence of railway men by no means implies the absence of railway influence, for it is as easy for a company to influence legislation from without Congress as from within.
Most members, including nearly all Western men, have received their early education in the common schools, but rather more than one-half of the whole number have also graduated in a university or college. This does not necessarily mean what it would mean in Europe, for some of the smaller colleges are no better than English grammar schools and not as good as German gymnasia. It is noticeable that in the accounts of their career which members prepare for the pages of the Congressional Directory, they usually dwell upon the fact of their graduation, or state that they have “received an academic education.” 10 Less than half have served in the legislature of their own state. In the Sixty-second Congress (1911–13) 128 out of 394 had sat in a state legislature. Not many are wealthy, and few are very poor, while hardly any were at the time of their election working men. Of course no one could be a working man while he sits, for he would have no time to spare for his trade, and the salary would more than meet his wants. Nothing prevents an artisan from being returned to Congress, but there seems little disposition among the working classes to send one of themselves;11 and the nomination system interposes obstacles to their standing as candidates of either of the great parties, though they sometimes stand as Labour men or Socialists.
A member of the House enjoys the title of Honourable, which is given to him not merely within the House (as in England), but in the world at large, as for instance in the addresses of his letters. As he shares it with members of state senates, all the higher officials, both federal and state, and judges, the distinction is not deemed a high one.
The House has no share in the executive functions of the Senate, nothing to do with confirming appointments or approving treaties. On the other hand, it has the exclusive right of initiating revenue bills and of impeaching officials, features borrowed, through the state constitutions, from the English House of Commons, and of choosing a president in case there should be no absolute majority of presidential electors for any one candidate. This very important power it exercised in 1801 and 1825.12
Setting extraordinary sessions aside, every Congress has two sessions, distinguished as the first or long and the second or short. The long session begins in the fall of the year after the election of a Congress, and continues, with a recess at Christmas, till the July or August following. The short session begins in the December after the July adjournment, and lasts till the 4th of March following. The whole working life of a House is thus from ten to twelve months. Bills do not, as in the English Parliament, expire at the end of each session; they run on from the long session to the short one. All however that have not been passed when the fatal 4th March arrives perish forthwith, for the session being fixed by statute cannot be extended at pleasure.13 There is consequently a terrible scramble to get business pushed through in the last week or two of a Congress. Sometimes the clock of the House is put back in order to enable the Speaker who faces it to allow business to be taken after the true noon has been passed on the last day. I have seen this done openly amid the merriment of the House and the galleries.
The House usually meets at noon, and sits till four or six o’clock, though towards the close of a session these hours are lengthened. Occasionally when obstruction occurs, or when at the very end of a session messages are going backwards and forwards between the House, the Senate, and the president, it sits all night long.
The usages and rules of procedure of the House, which differ in many respects from those of the Senate, are too numerous to be described here. I will advert only to a few points of special interest, choosing those which illustrate American political ideas or bring out the points of likeness and unlikeness between Congress and the English Parliament.
An oath or affirmation of fidelity to the Constitution of the United States is (as prescribed by the Constitution) taken by all members;14 also by the clerk, the sergeant-at-arms, the doorkeeper, and the postmaster.
The sergeant-at-arms is the treasurer of the House, and pays to each member his salary and mileage. He has the custody of the mace, and the duty of keeping order, which in extreme cases he performs by carrying the mace into a throng of disorderly members. This symbol of authority, which (as in the House of Commons) is moved from its place when the House goes into committee, consists of the Roman fasces, in ebony, bound with silver bands in the middle and at the ends, each rod ending in a spear head, at the other end a globe of silver, and on the globe a silver eagle ready for flight. English precedent suggests the mace, but as it could not be surmounted by a crown, Rome has prescribed its design.
The proceedings each day begin with prayers, which are conducted by a chaplain who is appointed by the House, not (as in England) by the Speaker, and who may, of course, be selected from any religious denomination. Lots are drawn for seats at the beginning of the session, each member selecting the place he pleases according as his turn arrives. Although the Democrats are mostly to the Speaker’s right hand, members cannot, owing to the arrangement of the chairs, sit in masses palpably divided according to party, a circumstance which deprives invective of much of its dramatic effect. One cannot, as in England, point the finger of scorn at “hon. gentlemen opposite.” Every member is required to remain uncovered in the House.
A member addresses the Speaker and the Speaker only, and refers to another member not by name but as the “gentleman from Pennsylvania,” or as the case may be, without any particular indication of the district which the person referred to represents. As there are thirty-six gentlemen from Pennsylvania, and the descriptives used in the English House of Commons (learned, gallant, right honourable) are not in use, facilities for distinguishing the member intended are not perfect. A member usually speaks from his seat, but many speak from the clerk’s desk or from a spot close to the Speaker’s chair. A rule (often disregarded) forbids anyone to pass between the Speaker and the member speaking, a curious bit of adherence to English usage.
Divisions were originally (rule of 17th April 1789) taken by going to the right and left of the chair, according to the old practice of the English House of Commons.15 This having been found inconvenient, a resolution of 9th June 1789 established the present practice, whereby members rise in their seats and are counted in the first instance by the Speaker, but if he is in doubt, or if a count be required by one-fifth of those present (which cannot be less than one-tenth of the whole House), then by two tellers named by the Speaker, between whom, as they stand in the middle gangway, members pass. When a call of yeas and nays is so demanded, the clerk calls the full roll of the House and each member answers aye or no to his name or says “ no vote. ” When the whole roll has been called, it is called over a second time to let those vote who have not voted in the first call. Members may now change their votes. Those who have entered the House after their names were passed on the second call cannot vote, but often take the opportunity of rising to say that they would, if then present in the House, have voted for (or against) the motion. All this is set forth in the Congressional Record, which also contains a list of the members not voting and of the pairs.
A process which consumes so much time, for it may take more than an hour to call through the names, is an obvious and effective engine of obstruction. It is frequently so used, for it can be demanded not only on questions of substance, but on motions to adjourn. This is a rule which the House cannot alter, for it rests on an express provision of the Constitution, art. I, § 5.
No one may speak more than once to the same question, unless he be the mover of the motion pending, in which case he is permitted to reply after every member choosing to speak has spoken. This rule is however frequently broken.
Speeches are limited to one hour, subject to a power to extend this time by unanimous consent, and may, in Committee of the Whole House, be limited to five minutes. So far as I could learn, this hour rule works very well, and does not tend to bring speeches up to that length as a regular thing. A member is at liberty to give part of his time to other members, and this is in practice constantly done. The member speaking will say: “I yield the floor to the gentleman from Ohio for five minutes,” and so on. Thus a member who has once secured the floor has a large control of the debate.
The great remedy against prolix or obstructive debate is the so-called previous question, which is moved in the form, “Shall the main question be now put?” and when ordered closes forthwith all debate, and brings the House to a direct vote on that main question.16 On the motion for the putting of the main question no debate is allowed; but it does not destroy the right of the member “reporting the measure under consideration” from a committee, to wind up the discussion by his reply. This closure of the debate may be moved by any member without the need of leave from the Speaker, and requires only a bare majority of those present. When directed by the House to be applied in committee, for it cannot be moved after the House has gone into committee, it has the effect of securing five minutes to the mover of any amendment, and five minutes to the member who first “obtains the floor” (gets the chance of speaking) in opposition to it, permitting no one else to speak. A member in proposing a resolution or motion usually asks at the same time for the previous question upon it, so as to prevent it from being talked out.
Closure by previous question, first established in 1811, is in almost daily use, and is considered so essential to the progress of business that I never found any member or official who thought it could be dispensed with. Even the senators, who object to its introduction into their own much smaller chamber, agree that it must exist in a large body like the House. That it is not much abused is attributed to the fear of displeasing the people, and to the sentiment within the House itself in favour of full and fair discussion, which sometimes induces the majority to refuse the previous question when demanded by one of their own party, or on behalf of a motion which they are as a whole supporting. “No one,” I was assured, “who is bona fide discussing a subject in a sensible way would be stopped by the application of the previous question. On the other hand we should never get appropriation bills through without it.”
Notwithstanding this powerful engine for expediting business, obstruction, or, as it is called in America, filibustering, is by no means unknown. It is usually practised by making repeated motions for the adjournment of a debate, or for “taking a recess” (suspending the sitting), or for calling the yeas and nays. Between one such motion and another some business must intervene, but as the making of a speech is “business,” there is no difficulty in complying with this requirement. No speaking is permitted on these obstructive motions, yet by them time may be wasted for many continuous hours, and if the obstructing minority is a strong one, it generally succeeds, if not in defeating a measure, yet in extorting a compromise. It must be remembered that owing to the provision of the Constitution above mentioned, the House is in this matter not sovereign even over its own procedure. That rules are not adopted, as they might be, which would do more than the present system does to extinguish filibustering, is due partly to this provision, partly to the notion that it is prudent to leave some means open by which a minority can make itself disagreeable, and to the belief that adequate checks exist on any gross abuse of such means.17 These checks are two. One is the fact that filibustering will soon fail unless conducted by nearly the whole of the party which happens to be in a minority, and that so large a section of the House will not be at the trouble of joining in it unless upon some really serious question. Some few years ago, seventeen or eighteen members tried to obstruct systematically a measure they objected to, but their number proved insufficient, and the attempt failed. But at an earlier date, during the Reconstruction troubles which followed the war, the opposition of the solid Democratic party, then in a minority, succeeded in defeating a bill for placing five of the Southern states under military government. The other check is found in the fear of popular disapproval. If the nation sees public business stopped and necessary legislation delayed by factious obstruction, it will visit its displeasure both upon the filibustering leaders individually, and on the whole of the party compromised. However hot party spirit may be, there is always a margin of moderate men in both parties whom the unjustifiable use of legally permissible modes of opposition will alienate. Since such men can make themselves felt at the polls when the next election arrives, respect for their opinion cools the passion of congressional politicians. Thus the general feeling is that as the power of filibustering is in extreme cases a safeguard against abuses of the system of closure by “previous question,” so the good sense of the community is in its turn a safeguard against abuses of the opportunities which the rules still leave open. One ex-Speaker, who had had large experience in leading both a majority and a minority of the House, observed to me that he thought the rules, taken all in all, as near perfection as any rules could be. This savours of official optimism. We all know the attachment which those who have grown old in working a system show to its faults as well as to its merits. Still, true is it that congressmen generally complain less of the procedure under which they live, and which seems to an English observer tyrannical, than do members of the English House of Commons of the less rigid methods of their own ancient and famous body. I know no better instance of the self-control and good humour of Americans than the way in which the minority in the House generally submit to the despotism of the majority, consoling themselves with the reflection that it is all according to the rules of the game, and that their turn will come in due course. To use the power of closing debate as stringently at Westminster as it is used at Washington would revolutionize the life of the House of Commons.18 But the House of Representatives is an assembly of a very different nature. Like the House of Commons it is a legislating, if hardly to be deemed a governing, body. But it is not a debating body. It rules through and by its committees, in which discussion is unchecked by any closing power; and the whole House does little more than register by its votes the conclusions which the committees submit. One subject alone, the subject of revenue, that is to say, taxation and appropriation, receives genuine discussion by the House at large. And although the power of limiting debate is often applied to expedite such business, it is seldom applied till opportunity has been given for the expression of all relevant views.
The rules regarding the procedure in Committee of the Whole House are in the main similar to those of the British House of Commons; but the chairman of such a committee is not (as usually in England) a permanent chairman of Ways and Means, but a person nominated by the Speaker on each occasion. A rule, not duly observed, forbids any member to speak twice to any question, until every member desiring to speak shall have spoken.19
The House has a power of going into secret session whenever confidential communications are received from the president, or a member informs it that he has communications of a secret nature to make. But this power, though employed in early days, is now in disuse. Every word spoken is reported by official stenographers and published in the Congressional Record, and the huge galleries are never cleared.
The number of bills brought into the House every year is very large, and has steadily increased. In the Thirty-seventh Congress (1861–63) the total number of bills introduced was 1,026, viz., 613 House bills, and 433 Senate bills. In the Fifty-first Congress (1889–91) the number had risen further, to 19,646 (including joint resolutions), of which 14,328 were introduced in the House, 5,318 in the Senate.20 In the Sixty-second there had been a further rise, for the bills and joint resolutions introduced in the House reached about 29,000, and those in the Senate approached 9,000. In the British House of Commons the number of public bills introduced was, in the session of 1892, 335 (20 of which had come from the Lords), besides 80 provisional order bills. In 1908 the total number of bills of all kinds introduced was 482, of which 297 were public bills, 56 provisional order bills, and 127 private bills. America is, of course, a far larger country, and more than twice as populous, but the legislative competence of Congress is incomparably smaller than that of the British Parliament, seeing that the chief part of the field both of public bill and private bill legislation belongs in America to the several states. By far the larger number of bills in Congress are what would be called in England “private” or “local and personal” bills, i.e., they establish no general rule of law but are directed to particular cases. Such are the numerous bills for satisfying persons with claims against the federal government, and for giving or restoring pensions to individuals alleged to have served in the Northern armies during the War of Secession. It is only to a very small extent that bills can attempt to deal with ordinary private law, since most of that topic belongs to state legislation. The proportion of bills that pass to bills that fail is a very small one, not one-thirtieth.21 As in England so even more in America, bills are lost less by direct rejection than by failing to reach their third reading, a mode of exinction which the good nature of the House, or the unwillingness of its members to administer snubs to one another, would prefer to direct rejection, even were not the want of time a sufficient excuse to the committees for failing to report them. One is told in Washington that few bills are brought in with a view to being passed. They are presented in order to gratify some particular persons or places, and it is well understood in the House that they must not be taken seriously. Sometimes a less pardonable motive exists. The great commercial corporations, and especially the railroad companies, are often through their land grants and otherwise brought into relations with the federal government. Bills are presented in Congress which purport to withdraw some of the privileges of these companies, or to establish or favour rival enterprises, but whose real object is to levy blackmail on these wealthy bodies, since it is often cheaper for a company to buy off its enemy than to defeat him either by the illegitimate influence of the lobby, or by the strength of its case in open combat. Several great corporations have thus to maintain a permanent staff at Washington for the sake of resisting legislative attacks upon them, some merely extortionate, some intended to win local popularity.
The title and attributions of the Speaker of the House are taken from his famous English original. But the character of the office has greatly altered from that original. The note of the Speaker of the British House of Commons is his impartiality. He has indeed been chosen by a party, because a majority means in England a party. But on his way from his place on the benches to the chair he is expected to shake off and leave behind all party ties and sympathies. Once invested with the wig and gown of office he has no longer any political opinions, and must administer exactly the same treatment to his political friends and to those who have been hitherto his opponents, to the oldest or most powerful minister and to the youngest or least popular member. His duties are limited to the enforcement of the rules and generally to the maintenance of order and decorum in debate, including the selection, when several members rise at the same moment, of the one who is to carry on the discussion. These are duties of great importance, and his position one of great dignity, but neither the duties nor the position imply political power. It makes little difference to any English party in Parliament whether the occupant of the chair has come from their own or from the hostile ranks. The Speaker can lower or raise the tone and efficiency of the House as a whole by the way he presides over it; but a custom as strong as law forbids him to render help to his own side even by private advice. Whatever information as to parliamentary law he may feel free to give must be equally at the disposal of every member.
In America the Speaker has immense political power, and is permitted, nay expected, to use it in the interests of his party. At one time he ruled and led almost as Rouher led and ruled the French Chamber under Louis Napoleon. In calling upon members to speak he prefers those of his own side. He decides in their favour such points of order as are not distinctly covered by the rules. His authority over the arrangement of business is so large that he can frequently advance or postpone particular bills or motions in a way which determines their fate. One much respected Speaker once went the length of intimating that he would not allow a certain bill, to which he strongly objected, to be so much as presented to the House; and this he could do by refusing to recognize the member desiring to present it. Although the Speaker seldom delivers a speech in the House, he may and does advise the other leaders of his party privately; and when they “go into caucus” (i.e., hold a party meeting to determine their action on some pending question) he is present and gives counsel. He is usually the most eminent member of the party who has a seat in the House, and is really, so far as the confidential direction of its policy goes, almost its leader. His most important privilege is, however, the nomination of the numerous standing committees already referred to. In the first Congress (April 1789) the House tried the plan of appointing its committees by ballot; but this worked so ill that in January 1790 the following rule was passed: “All committees shall be appointed by the Speaker unless otherwise specially directed by the House.” This rule has been readopted by each successive Congress since then.22 Not only does he, at the beginning of each Congress, select all the members of each of these committees, he even chooses the chairman of each, and thereby vests the direction of its business in hands approved by himself.23 The chairman is of course always selected from the party which commands the House, and the committe is so composed as to give that party a majority. Since legislation, and so much of the control of current administration as the House has been able to bring within its grasp, belong to these committees, their composition practically determines the action of the House on all questions of moment, and as the chairmanships of the more important committees are the posts of most influence, the disposal of them is a tremendous piece of patronage by which a Speaker can attract support to himself and his own section of the party, reward his friends, give politicians the opportunity of rising to distinction or practically extinguish their congressional career. The Speaker is, of course, far from free in disposing of these places. He has been obliged to secure his own election to the chair by promises to leading members and their friends; and while redeeming such promises, he must also regard the wishes of important groups of men or types of opinion, must compliment particular states by giving a place on good committees to their prominent representatives, must avoid nominations which could alarm particular interests. These conditions surround the exercise of his power with trouble and anxiety. Yet after all it is power, power which in the hands of a capable and ambitious man was from 1890 to 1910 so far-reaching that it was then no exaggeration to call him the second political figure in the United States, with an influence upon the fortunes of men and the course of domestic events superior, in ordinary times and in capable hands, to the president’s, although shorter in its duration and less patent to the world.24 His authority has now been reduced, but it is still great, and may regain its former extension.
The choice of a Speaker is therefore a political event of much significance; and the whole policy of a Congress sometimes turns upon whether the man selected represents one or another of two divergent tendencies in the majority. The distribution of members among the committees, which used to be left to him, but is now in the hands of a committee of the majority, is a critical point in the history of a Congress, and one which is watched with keen interest. As the chairmanships of the chief committees are posts of great significance forming a sort of second set of ministerial office, and as they may be compared to the cabinet offices of Europe, so the Speaker is himself a great party leader as well as the president of a deliberative assembly.
Although expected to serve his party in all possible directions, he must not resort to all possible means. Both in the conduct of debate and in the formation of committees a certain measure of fairness to opponents is required from him. He must not palpably wrest the rules of the House to their disadvantage, though he may decide all doubtful points against them. He must give them a reasonable share of “the floor” (i.e., of debate). He must concede to them proper representation on committees.
The dignity of the Speaker’s office is high. He receives $12,000 a year. In rank he stands next after the vice-president and on a level with the justices of the Supreme Court. Washington society was once agitated by a claim of his wife to take precedence over the wives of these judges, a claim so ominous in a democratic country that efforts were made to have it adjusted without a formal decision.
 Constitution, art. I, § 2, par. 3; cf. amendment XIV, § 2.
 So called from Elbridge Gerry, a leading Democratic politician in Massachusetts (a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and in 1812 elected vice-president of the United States), who when Massachusetts was being redistricted contrived a scheme which gave one of the districts a shape like that of a lizard. Stuart, the well-known artist, entering the room of an editor who had a map of the new districts hanging on the wall over his desk observed, “Why, this district looks like a salamander,” and put in the claws and eyes of the creature with his pencil. “Say rather a Gerrymander,” replied the editor; and the name stuck. The aim of gerrymandering, of course, is so to lay out the one-membered districts as to secure in the greatest possible number of them a majority for the party which conducts the operation. This is done sometimes by throwing the greatest possible number of hostile voters into a district which is anyhow certain to be hostile, sometimes by adding to a district where parties are equally divided some place in which the majority of friendly voters is sufficient to turn the scale. There is a district in Mississippi (the so-called Shoe String district) 500 miles long by 40 broad, and another in Pennsylvania resembling a dumbbell. South Carolina furnishes some beautiful recent examples. And in Missouri a district has been contrived longer, if measured along its windings, than the state itself, into which as large a number as possible of the Negro voters were thrown.
 As to the Territories, see Chapter 47 post.
 Rhode Island retained till 1888 a small property qualification for electors, and in some states payment of a poll tax is made a condition to the exercise of electoral rights. See Chapter 40 on state legislatures.
As to the recent restrictions of the suffrage in the states where slavery existed down till the War of Secession, see Vol. II, Chaps. 93–95.
 This ill luck is supposed (says Mr. Blaine in his Twenty Years in Congress) to attach especially to May sessions, which reminds one of the superstition against May marriages mentioned by John Knox apropos of the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley.
 As to bribery, see Chap. 67, Vol. II.
 A statute of 1910 requires national committees and national congressional campaign committees, and all organizations which in two or more states influence or attempt to influence the result of an election of representatives in Congress, to file with the Clerk of the House an account of all contributions received by or promised to it stating the persons contributing and the amounts.
In England the fixing a maximum, proportioned to the number of electors, has greatly reduced the cost of elections. The average expenditure, all kinds of lawful expense included, seems, in county constituencies, to be from £1,200 to £1,500, and in boroughs from £500 to £600.
 It was once proposed to transfer to a judicial tribunal the trial of election cases, which are now usually decided on party lines.
 In the Sixty-first there would appear from the Congressional Directory to have been 201 lawyers, 63 persons engaged in manufactures, commerce, or finance, 23 agriculturists, 13 journalists, and 2 physicians. As some members do not state their occupations, no complete analysis can be given.
 In the Sixty-first Congress 197 had received a “collegiate,” 78 an “academic,” and 73 a “common-school” education.
 In the Fifty-eighth Congress (1903–1905) there were two union labour members, described as Independents.
 See above, Chapter 5.
 Senate bills also expire at the end of a Congress.
The snowstorms that frequently occur at Washington in the beginning of March have led to proposals to extend the session till April or May and have the president inaugurated then.
 The oath is administered by the Speaker, and in the form following: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.” “Allegiance” to a legal instrument would have seemed an odd expression to those ages in which the notion of allegiance arose; yet it fairly conveys the idea that obedience is due to the will of the people, which has taken tangible and permanent shape in the document they have enacted.
 It was not until 1836 that the present system of recording the names of members who vote by making them pass through lobbies was introduced at Westminster—a significant result of the Reform Act of 1832. Till then one party remained in the House while the other retired into the lobby, and only the numbers were recorded.
 See Rule XVII.
 In 1890 a rule was passed declaring that “no dilatory motion shall be entertained by the Speaker.” This of course leaves it to him to decide what is dilatory (Rule XVI, par. 10).
 The Rules of Procedure in the House of Commons have become much stricter now (1914) than they were in 1888 when the above was first written.
 Proceedings in Committee of the Whole may be expedited by limiting (by a vote of the House) discussion in committee to a certain fixed period.
 Of these, 2,201 passed both houses, and 2,171 were approved by the president.
 In the British Parliamentary Session of 1908, 74 public bills (out of 297 introduced) became law, of which 21 were private members bills; 55 provisional order bills were also passed. The number of public bills introduced has increased in England since 1867, though not so rapidly as in America, but private (i.e., unofficial) members have great difficulty in passing their bills, recent changes in parliamentary procedure having reduced their chances.
 In England select committees on public matters are appointed by the House, i.e., practically by the “whips” of the several parties, though sometimes a discussion in the House leads to the addition of other members. Hybrid committees are appointed partly by the House and partly by the Committee of Selection. Private bill committees are appointed by the Committee of Selection. This committee is a small body of the older and more experienced members, intended to represent fairly all parties and sections of opinion.
 In 1910 an alteration in the rules was made which reduced the power of the Speaker, vesting some of it in a committee.
 “The appointment of the committees implies the distribution of work to every member. It means the determination of the cast business shall take. It decides for or against all large matters of policy, or may so decide; for while Speakers will differ from each other greatly in force of character and in the wish to give positive direction to affairs, the weakest man cannot escape from the necessity of arranging the appointments with a view to the probable character of measures which will be agitated. This, however, is far from the measure of the Speaker’s power. All rules are more or less flexible. The current of precedents is never consistent or uniform. The bias of the Speaker at a critical moment will turn the scale. Mr. Randall as Speaker determined the assent of the House to the action of the Electoral Commission [of 1877]. Had he wished for a revolutionary attempt to prevent the announcement of Hayes’s election, no one who has had experience in Congress, at least, will doubt that he could have forced the collision.” —From an article in the New York Nation of April 4, 1878, by an experienced member of Congress.