Historical records matching Thomas Brackett Reed, 38th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
About Thomas Brackett Reed
Thomas Brackett Reed, (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1889–1891 and from 1895–1899. He was a powerful leader of the Republican Party, and during his tenure as Speaker of the House, he served with greater influence than any Speaker who came before, and he forever increased its power and influence for those who succeeded him in the position.
Born in Portland, Maine, Reed attended public school, including Portland High School, before graduating from Bowdoin College in 1860. He studied law. After college, he went on to become acting assistant paymaster, United States Navy, from April 1864, to November 1865, and was admitted to the bar in 1865. He practiced in Portland, and was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, in 1868 and 1869. He served in the Maine Senate in 1870 but left to serve as the state's Attorney General 1870–72. Reed became city solicitor of Portland 1874–1877, before being elected as a Republican to the Forty-fifth and to the eleven succeeding Congresses, serving from 1877, to September 4, 1899, when he resigned.
In the House of Representatives
He was known for his acerbic wit (asked if his party might nominate him for President, he noted "They could do worse, and they probably will"). His size, standing at over 6 feet in height and weighing over 300 lbs (136 kg), was also a distinguishing factor for him. Reed was a member of the social circle that included intellectuals and politicians Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams, John Hay and Mark Twain.
As a House freshman, Reed was appointed to the Potter Commission, which was to investigate voting irregularities in the presidential election of 1876, where his skill at cross examination forced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden to personally appear to defend his reputation. He chaired of the Committee on the Judiciary (Forty-seventh Congress) and chaired the Rules Committee (Fifty-first, Fifty-fourth, and Fifty-fifth Congresses).
As the Speaker of the House
Reed was first elected Speaker after an intense fight with William McKinley of Ohio. Reed gained the support of young Theodore Roosevelt, whose influence as the newly appointed Civil Service Commissioner was the decisive factor. Reed served as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1889 to 1891 and then from 1895 to 1899, as well as being Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.
During his time as Speaker, Reed assiduously and dramatically increased the power of the Speaker over the House; although the power of the Speaker had always waxed (most notably during Henry Clay's tenure) and waned, the position had previously commanded influence rather than outright power. Reed set out to put into practical effect his dictum that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch"; this was accomplished by carefully studying the existing procedures of the U.S. House, most dating to the original designs written by Thomas Jefferson. In particular, Reed sought to circumscribe the ability of the minority party to block business by way of its members refusing to answer a quorum call — which, under the rules, prevented a member from being counted as present even if they were physically in the chamber — thus forcing the House to suspend business. This is popularly called the disappearing quorum.
Reed's solution was enacted on January 28, 1890, in what has popularly been called the "Battle of the Reed Rules". This came about when Democrats attempted to block the inclusion of a newly elected Republican from West Virginia, Charles Brooks Smith. The motion to seat him passed by a tally of 162–1; however, at the time a quorum consisted of 165 votes, and when voting closed Democrats shouted "No quorum," triggering a formal House quorum count. Speaker Reed began the roll call; when members who were present in the chamber refused to answer, Reed directed the Clerk to count them as present anyway. Startled Democrats protested heatedly, issuing screams, threats, and insults at the Speaker. James B. McCreary, a Democrat from Kentucky, challenged Reed's authority to count him as present; Reed replied, "The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?"
Unable to deny their presence in the chamber, Democrats then tried to flee the chamber, but Reed ordered the doors locked. (Texas Representative "Buck" Kilgore was able to flee by kicking his way through a door.) Trapped, the Democrats tried to hide under their desks and chairs; Reed marked them present anyway.
The conflict over parliamentary procedure lasted three days, with Democrats delaying consideration of the bill by introducing points of order to challenge the maneuver, then appealing the Reed's rulings to the floor. Democrats finally dropped their objections on January 31, and Smith was seated on February 3 by a vote of 166–0. Six days later, with Smith seated, Reed successfully won a vote on his new "Reed Rules," eliminating the disappearing quorum and lowering the quorum to 100 members. Though Democrats reinstated the disappearing quorum when they took control of the House the following year, Reed as minority leader proved so adroit at using the tactic against them that Democrats reinstated Reed Rules in 1894.
In 1889–90, Republicans undertook one last stand in favor of federal enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment to protect the voting rights of blacks in the Solid South. Reed took a special interest in the project. Using his new rules vigorously, he won passage of the Lodge Fair Elections Bill in the House in 1890. The bill was later defeated in a filibuster in the Senate when Silver Republicans in the West traded it away for the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.
Presidential aspirations and departure from Congress
Reed tried to obtain the Republican nomination for President in 1896, but Ohio Governor McKinley's campaign manager, Mark Hanna, blocked his efforts.
In 1898 Reed supported McKinley in efforts to head off war with Spain. When McKinley switched to support for the war, Reed disagreed. He resigned from the speakership and from his seat in Congress in 1899 to enter private law practice.
On a nostalgic trip to Washington in 1902 he had a sudden heart attack and died; Henry Cabot Lodge eulogized him as "a good hater, who detested shams, humbugs and pretense above all else." He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, Maine. His will was executed by his good friend Augustus G. Paine, Sr. from New York.
The coastal town of Reed, Oregon, was named after him. There is a Reed House at Bowdoin College.
His home town of Portland, Maine, erected a statue of him at the corner of Western Promenade and Pine St in a ceremony on August 31, 1910.
In 1894, he published his handbook on parliamentary procedure, titled Reed's Rules: A Manual of General Parliamentary Law, which was, at the time, a very popular text on the subject and is still in use in the legislature of the State of Washington.
Thomas Brackett Reed House, also known as the Thomas B. Reed House is a National Historic Landmark at 30–32 Deering Street in Portland, Maine. The house was built in 1888 as the home of Thomas Brackett Reed. The house was added to the National Historic Register in 1973.
Biographies of the life of Thomas Brackett Reed have been written by Richard Stanley Offenberg, in 1963, and by Mead Dodd in 1930. Most recently, finance writer James Grant wrote the biography entitled, "Mr. Speaker! The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed: the Man who Broke the Filibuster."