It is easy to imagine that the way the House of Representatives is run now is how it has been run in the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the history of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has been all-powerful and virtually powerless; the president has run the House and has been run by the House; legislation enacted by the chamber has reflected the views of a majority of the House, reflected the views of the majority party, and reflected the views of just a handful; work was done by all the members in the committee of the whole and divvied up among the committees; power was centered in the floor leader, the speaker, the party caucus, the full chamber, the rules committee, and no one.
It is not too much to say that the rules of the chamber reflect efforts by its members to have and retain power and to address the problems that arise when members who desired power could not obtain and use it. Fights over the rules, and the leadership of the House itself, have at times consumed weeks of deliberations on the House floor — where the chamber is run under general parliamentary law until a package was drafted that could be adopted by the full chamber.
I’ve been looking at the history and development of the House by reading some of the leading experts and have started to put together a summary of the eras of control of the House of Representatives. This is a working document and likely contains inaccuracies, overstatements, and many other issues. But I thought it might be of interest to you so I’m publishing a live version of the working document below.
Please feel encouraged to send me your thoughts, feedback, and corrections.