[Deschler's Precedents, Contents]
[Historical Background]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

[Page iv-vi]
Historical Background

    Recorded history fails to tell us when parliamentary procedures 
were first adopted by man, though they were no doubt foreshadowed even 
in early tribal customs. ``In the whole history of law and order,'' 
wrote noted jurist Curtis Bok, ``the longest step forward was taken by 
primitive man when, as if by common consent, the tribe sat down in a 
circle and allowed only one man to speak at a time.''(4)
     4. Whitney, Parliamentary Procedure (Washington, D.C., Robert B. 
        Luce Incorporated, 1962) p. vi.
    Rudimentary parliamentary procedures have been traced as far back 
as the fifth century, A.D. to Anglo-Saxon or Germanic tribes prior to 
their migration to the Island of Britain.(5) In the 
centuries that followed, the elementary rules devised at that time were 
revised, refined, and adjusted. Thus, when the first English parliament 
was called together in 959, over 1,000 years ago, a somewhat more 
structured but still primitive system of parliamentary procedure was 
adopted to enable individuals with conflicting interests to gather and 
discuss their grievances in a fair and orderly manner.(6)
     5. Dietz, Political and Social History of England, 18 (N.Y., 
        Macmillan Co., 1937).
     6. Thomas Jefferson described the English parliamentary system of 
        the time in the following language: ``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.'' See House Rules and 
        Manual Sec. 284 (1973).
    The Norman Conquest in 1066 imposed French control over England, 
and the Norman kings assembled councils composed of individuals of 
their choice, but the structure of Anglo-Saxon parliamentary machinery 
was left largely intact. The conversion of these councils into what we 
now know as Parliament, and the adoption by it of the councils' 
procedural rules. came about during the 13th and early 14th 
     7. The term ``parliamentary law'' is derived from the adoption of 
        procedural rules for the English Parliament. The term 
        ``parliament'' itself is derived from the Freneh word parler 
        meaning ``to speak.''
    The 16th century saw a period of sustained conflict over the 
prerogatives of Parliament--as opposed to those of the King--

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resulting in numerous modifications of parliamentary procedure, 
especially in the House of Commons. This conflict was to have a 
profound influence on Thomas Jefferson and the other founding 
fathers and on the form of the parliamentary rules that were 
subsequently to be adopted by Congress.(8)
     8. When Jefferson asserted in his Summary View, in 1774, that the 
        King ``is no more than the chief officer of the people, 
        appointed by the laws and circumscribed with definite powers, 
        to assist in working the great machine of government,'' he 
        voiced a theory of executive power which, while not entirely 
        consistent with historical fact, ultimately gained the support 
        of the draftsmen of the first American constitutions. Andrew C. 
        McLaughlin, A Constitutional History of the United States, 81 
    It was Jefferson who concluded that the procedural rules of the 
English Parliament would provide the most practical model for the U.S. 
Congress. They had already served as prototypes for many of the 
existing state legislatures, where they had been adopted with 
modifications, and provided a model with which many of the founding 
fathers were already familiar. And it was Jefferson, too, who drafted 
the first statement, based on English precedents, of parliamentary 
rules for use in the U.S. Senate. This document, published under the 
title Jefferson's Mannal,(9) became the first to define and 
interpret parliamentary principles for use in America and to offer a 
basic model of uniform rules for use at both the federal and state 
     9. Jefferson was a Presidential candidate in 1796, and having 
        received the second largest number of votes, became Vice 
        President. As such, it was his duty to preside over the Senate, 
        and it was for this purpose that he wrote his now famous 
        manual, largely from memory. In a letter from Philadelphia to 
        his former law professor, George Wythe, Jefferson wrote on Feb. 
        20, 1800: ``So little has the parliamentary branch of the law 
        been attended to, that I not only find no person here, but not 
        even a book to aid me. I had at an early period of life read a 
        good deal on the subject, and common-placed what I read. This 
        common-place has been my pillow.'' Mayo, Jefferson Himself, 203 
        (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1942).
    It is ironic that Jefferson's Manual, while not part of the formal 
rules of the Senate, is a parliamentary authority of the House. In 1837 
the House, by rule which 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 

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not inconsistent with the standing rules and orders of the 
    10. Rule XLII, House Rules and Manual Sec. 938 (1973).