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Parliamentary Quotations

The Annunzio Rule: The only thing that counts up here is votes. Everything else is bull----.
As quoted in Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics, Denny Hastert

U.S. Representative Frank Annunzio

Chairman House Administration Committee

But even when replies are not permitted, an exception should always be made in favour of the author of the motion. He may naturally be presumed to be best acquainted with the strong and weak points of his cause, and if he were not allowed the right of reply, objections to which he only could reply, might impose upon the assembly.

Jeremy Bentham

Political Tactics (Chapter XI "Of Debates" § 2), 1791

Ought a motion to require to be seconded? ... This regulation is considered proper, in order to prevent the introduction of motions which would consume time without producing any fruit. Before occupying the time of the assembly, the proposer should consult a friend. If he cannot find a single approver, where is the evil of abandoning his motion? - what chance has he of persuading the majority, if he have not succeeded with the man of his choice?

But this method has but little efficacy: it has none against party motions - none against a man who in the assembly has a civil or an easy friend - none against two fools or two madmen, who are determined to support one another.

Jeremy Bentham

Political Tactics (Chapter XI "Of Debates" § 1), 1791

If the members speak directly to each other, the discussion will more easily degenerate into personalities.

Jeremy Bentham

Political Tactics (Chapter XI "Of Debates" § 5), 1791

Reference is here made to a very simply mechanical apparatus for exhibiting to the eyes of the assembly the motion on which they are deliberating. The mere reading of a motion can only impart an imperfect and fugitive acquaintance with it. There is no other method for really presenting it to the minds of the members of an assembly, beside that of presenting it to their eyes.

A general idea of this table only will be presented here. We may suppose a gallery above the president's chair, which presents a front consisting of two frames, nine feet high by six feet wide, filled with black canvas, made to open like folding doors; - that this canvas is regularly pierced for the reception of letters of so large a size as to be legible in every part of the place of meeting. These letters might be attached by an iron hook, in such manner that they could not be deranged. When a motion is about to become the object of debate, it would be given to the compositors, who would transcribe it upon the table, and by closing the gallery, exhibit it like a placard to the eyes of the whole assembly.

The utility of this invention, in its most general point of view, consists in so arranging matters that no one could avoid knowing upon what motion he ought to vote.

Jeremy Bentham, describing a Table of Motions

Political Tactics (Chapter III "Place of Meeting" § 2), 1791

[M]any of our conventional ideas about gatherings find root in the beliefs of one Henry Martyn Robert and his rules. Now Robert's rules of order, or its grandchildren, invade every conference room and meeting hall. There is no escape.

Peter Block

Author and organizational effectiveness consultant
Quoted in Roberta's Rules of Order, by Alice Collier Cochran, p. 21

If there is a short cut to the mastery of technicalities, it consists in grasping the relationship between procedure and functions.

Sir Gilbert Campion

(subsequently Lord Campion)(1937-1948)
Clerk, UK House of Commons

To become an effective Chair, the individual must establish goodwill, respect, and trust between the Chair and the assembly.

Hugh Cannon

Cannon's Concise Guide to Rules of Order, p. 15

If the Chair is an effective leader--focusing on the members, treating each fairly, earning everyone's trust--then the meeting will be successful.

Hugh Cannon

Cannon's Concise Guide to Rules of Order, p. 13

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

Michael Crichton

Unless the reason for a rule is understood, it is difficult to learn the rule, and it is still more difficult to apply it successfully in practice.

George C. Crocker, President Massachusetts Senate

Crocker's Principles of Procedure preface, 1889

The great purpose of all rules and forms, is to subserve the will of the assembly rather than to restrain it; to facilitate, and not to obstruct, the expression of their deliberate sense.

Luther Cushing

Cushing's Manual (1844) § 315

Robert's Rules of Order is the greatest book ever written.

Richard J. Daley (1902-1976), Mayor of Chicago, IL

Remark at a City Council Meeting
Chicago Daily News, October 3, 1967

Robert's 'Rules of Order' are the rules of a fight; they are intended to prevent unfair advantage and to give the minority a fighting chance.

H. S. Elliott

The Process of Group Thinking (1938), p. 190 (quoted in Parliamentary Law for the Layman (1952) by Joseph F. O'Brien, p. 12)

The speakership isn't a dictatorship.

Thomas S. Foley

New York Times Magazine, November 11, 1990

Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Since getting elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, I have had to chair the national board meetings. The book keeps me informed of the rules, and is a really good sleep aid.

Actor Melissa Gilbert

President of Screen Actors Guild, commenting on Robert's Rules of Order: The Classic Manual of Parliamentary Procedure as quoted in Vanity Fair magazine

One man with courage makes a majority.

President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

It is only by having a law of proceeding, and by every member having the means of understanding it for himself, and appealing to it, that he can be protected against caprice and despotism in the chair.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Abraham Baldwin, April 14, 1802

It is much more material that 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.

Thomas Jefferson

Manual of Parliamentary Practice § 1

No one is to disturb another in his speech, by hissing, coughing, or spitting . . .

Thomas Jefferson

Manual of Parliamentary Practice § 17

If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.

Charles Kettering

A man with God is always in the majority.

John Knox (1513-1572)

Reformation Monument, Geneva, Switzerland

Parliamentary law is more perplexing than difficult.

Arthur T. Lewis

Author, Robert's Rules Simplified (1935)

Fewer rules would be thoughtlessly broken if there were fewer rules to be broken. We have too many.

Robert Luce

Legislative Procedure (1922)

You can't have a sense of community without rules.

Judith Martin ("Miss Manners")

The ideal committee is one with me as chairman, and the other members in bed with flu.

Lord Milverton

[U]nless you turn out to be a hermit or a recluse (pleasant to contemplate but hard to achieve in an atomic age), you, yourself, in the flesh, will probably belong to a half-dozen such organizations, including at least your church, community, and professional groups.  More important, it means that if you are to give your best to these organizations, and if you are to rise to a position of respect and influence in them, you will need to know something of parliamentary discussion, parliamentary law, and parliamentary strategy.

Joseph F. O'Brien

Parliamentary Law for the Layman, p. 6

If a member should refuse to obey the Speaker, he may be banished from the House for the rest of the day, under tow of the sergeant-at-arms if necessary.  If the offender persists in his defiance, the Speaker may cause him to be suspended--five days the first time, twenty days the second and indefinitely if the rebel sins again.  In extreme cases the Speaker may have the culprit confined in the tower of Big Ben.  This last provision has not been invoked since the heyday of Irish militancy.

Joseph F. O'Brien

Quoted in Parliamentary Law for the Layman (1952) by Joseph F. O'Brien, p. 11(citing Cheddar Harris, "Rt. Hon. Restraint,"The New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1951, p.48)

[D]o not be afraid to make an occasional mistake either while you are learning or after you become a proficient parliamentarian.  A new member of the House of Commons once asked a senior member, 'How can I learn the rules?' and was promptly told, 'By breaking them.'

Joseph F. O'Brien

Quoted in Parliamentary Law for the Layman (1952) by Joseph F. O'Brien, p. xxii (citing Robert Luce, Legislative Procedure (1922), p. 18)

The parliamentarians operate rather like football coaches.  They are not allowed on the playing field, and their signals to the players must be well concealed.  Their whispered counsels are never printed in the Congressional Record's account of debates.

Joseph F. O'Brien

Quoted in Parliamentary Law for the Layman (1952) by Joseph F. O'Brien, p. 10 (citing Harold Hinton, "Congress' Coaches," The New York Times Magazine, May 7, 1950, pp. 72-73)

When Reed, Speaker of the House of Representatives, was confronted with a passage in his own parliamentary manual contradicting a ruling he had just made, his rejoinder was, 'Oh, the book is wrong.'

Joseph F. O'Brien

Quoted in Parliamentary Law for the Layman (1952) by Joseph F. O'Brien, p. xxii (citing Robert Luce, Legislative Procedure (1922), p. 39)

The only way to do business inside the [House] rules is to suspend the rules.

Thomas B. Reed (1839-1902)

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
Galloway's History of the House of Representatives

In short, as the object and purpose of an assembly is to enable men to act together as a body, each member ought to so conduct himself as to facilitate the result, or at least so as not to hinder it.

Thomas B. Reed (1839-1902)

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
Reed's Rules (1894), p. 47-48

If the student has once fixed in his mind the idea that parliamentary law is not a series of arbitrary rules--but a plain, consistent system, founded on common sense, and sactioned by the experience of mankind--he will have gone far toward understanding it.

Thomas B. Reed (1839-1902)

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives

The committee is the eye, and ear, and hand, and very often the brain, of the assembly.

Thomas B. Reed (1839-1902)

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
Reed's Rules (1894), p. 53

The rules of the Senate are perfect. And if they change every one of them, the rules will be perfect.

Floyd M. Riddick (1908-2000)

Parliamentarian, U.S. Senate
Washington Star, December 25, 1974

We are here to get at the will of the assembly. This is the only valid reason for holding a meeting, and that must be the basis of all parliamentary action.

Henry M. Robert

Smedley, The Great Peacemaker

Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.

Henry M. Robert

Robert's Rules of Order preface, 1876

The object of Robert's Rules of Order is to assist an assembly to accomplish the work for which it was designed, in the best possible manner.

Henry M. Robert

Robert's Rules of Order preface, 1876

Ignorance of the rules and customs of deliberative assemblies is a heavy handicap to anyone who expects to influence the policy of a society.

Henry M. Robert

Robert's Rules of Order preface, 1876

It is very material that order, decency and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.

Henry M. Robert

Robert's Rules of Order preface, 1876

The assembly meets to transact business, not to have members exploit their knowledge of parliamentary law. A business meeting is not a class in parliamentary law.

Henry M. Robert

Parliamentary Law, p. 151

Parliamentary law should be the servant, not the master, of the assembly

Henry M. Robert

Parliamentary Law, p. 151

The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give to the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal

Henry M. Robert

Parliamentary Law, p. 4

A leader in any deliberative assembly should be prepared for any emergency, so that there is no danger of his being tripped up by some expert parliamentarian.

Henry M. Robert

Parliamentary Law, p. 4

Parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of an size, with due regard for every member's opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.

Henry M. Robert

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised preface

[A] very brief pocket manual, so cheap that every member of a church or society could own a copy, and so arranged as to enable one quickly to find when any particular motion could be made.

Henry M. Robert, describing his vision of his Rules

Smedley The Great Peacemaker

If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.

Will Rogers

Any Member introducing or causing to be introduced a dog into the Society's premises shall be liable to a fine of £5 inflicted by the Treasurer. Any animal leading a blind person shall be deemed to be a cat. Any animal entering on Police business shall be deemed to be a wombat.

Rule 51

The Oxford Union Society, February 2001

It follows that the spirit of justice and equality, tempered by individual judgment and common-sense, is of more importance in a parliamentarian than knowledge of methods. The technique is necessary, but is secondary to the spirit. One can know so much of parliamentary forms as to practically deny parliamentary principles.

Harriette R. Shattuck

The Women's Manual of Parliamentary Law (1891), p. xiii

DONNA: The Senator's allowed to yield for a question without yielding the floor.
LEO: What do you mean?
DONNA: He's allowed to yield for a question without yielding the floor.
[C.J. and Leo turn to President Bartlet.]
BARTLET: I was in the House. I know nothing about Senate rules.
DONNA: Yes sir, but Josh does, and he likes to explain things, and, well, I let him.
C.J.: I'm pretty sure it's true, sir.
BARTLET: What time is it? Let's wake up a parliamentarian.

Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing

"The Stackhouse Filibuster"
Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin
Story by: Pete McCabe
Directed by: Bryan Gordon

The purpose of parliamentary procedure is to facilitate the transaction of business and to promote cooperation and harmony.

Alice Sturgis

Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, p. 7

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Mark Twain

Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life. Violence and committee meetings.

George Will

Charts and articles are intended to provide general information on parliamentary procedure and are not legal advice or a legal opinion.