The Rostrum & U.S. Flag
The rostrum, a place for public speaking, is the location from which the Speaker of the House presides. The Parliamentarian and the floor operations staff occupy the lower tiers of the rostrum when the House is in session. The rostrum is made of wood panels decorated with relief carvings of laurel branches across the lowest tier. Five words are also carved across the front of the rostrum: Union, Justice, Tolerance, Liberty, and Peace. The current wood rostrum replaced the 1857 marble version in the mid-20th century. Above the rostrum, bronze letters spelling out "In God We Trust" were added in 1962. Higher still, on a panel near the top of the Chamber, is inscribed an excerpt from then-Representative Daniel Webster's 1825 oration at Bunker Hill: "Let us develope[sic] the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests and see whether we also in our day and generation may not perform something worthy to be remembered."
The U.S. Flag
The U.S. Flag has traditionally been located behind the Speaker’s chair on the rostrum. Earlier in the 20th century, the flag was provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but is currently furnished by the Clerk of the House.
The original design of the flag is described as follows in a resolution adopted by the Marine Committee of the 2nd Continental Congresses at Philadelphia on June 14, 1777.
“Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.”
Representatives introduce bills by placing them in the bill hopper attached to the side of the clerk’s desk. The term derives from a funnel-shaped storage bin filled from the top and emptied from the bottom, which is often used to house grain or coal. Bills are retrieved from the hopper and referred to committees with the appropriate jurisdiction.
The Bronze Fasces
The bronze fasces, representing a classical Roman symbol of civic authority, are located on both sides of the U.S. flag. The original Roman fasces consisted of an axe within a bundle of rods, bound together by a red strap. The fasces were carried before the consul and were used to restore order and carry out punishment of the courts. The U.S. adopted the fasces as a symbol of the authority of Congress in part due to their symbolic relationship with Republican Rome, which the founding fathers consciously referenced in the formation of the United States. The form of the fasces also symbolically refers to the philosophy of American democracy. Like the thin rods bound together in the fasces, the small individual states achieve their strength and stability through their union under the federal government.
The mace, a decorative variation of the fasces, is placed by the Sergeant at Arms on a pedestal at the Speaker’s right each time the House convenes. The mace is moved to the lower pedestal of the Speaker’s rostrum when the House is called into the Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union or for the consideration of legislation.
This mace has been in use in the House since 1841 when the Members met in the old House Chamber, and was crafted by William Adams, a New York silversmith. The original House mace was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol in 1814. During the intervening years, a wooden mace was used. To restore order in the Chamber the Speaker may direct the Sergeant at Arms to take the mace from its pedestal and present it before an unruly Member.
Before the Speaker calls each session of the House to order, the coin silver inkstand is placed on the Speaker’s lectern. The inkstand is considered the oldest surviving relic of the House, dating from between 1810 and 1820. Although its origins are mysterious, it most likely came into the House around 1819, when the old Chamber (now Statuary Hall) was first in use. The inkstand’s earliest record is an 1821 portrait of Henry Clay in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, where it is pictured on a table at Clay’s side. The inkstand is stamped with the mark of J. Leonard, a Georgetown silversmith and watch maker. The tray contains three crystal inkwells and is adorned on both sides by swags and medallions with eagles. The feet of the tray take the form of fasces with snakes winding around them, a classical symbol of wisdom supporting authority and the strength of unity.