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Historical Highlights

The Creation of the Formal House Rules and the House Rules Committee

April 07, 1789
The Creation of the Formal House Rules and the House Rules Committee Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This 1917 image features the Rules Committee meeting with counsel Sherman Whipple.
On this date, after just five days of discussion, the House Select Committee on Rules unveiled the first set of parliamentary guidelines that would eventually become the formal House Rules. They established the function of the Speaker, outlined the legislative process, and set parameters for general debate and for the Committee of the Whole. Variations of these early rules continue to influence daily business in the House. The Select Committee on Rules was the first—and arguably the most powerful—select committee ever created by the House, but it did not become a permanent standing body until 1880. In fits and starts during the intervening 90 years, the Rules Committee became increasingly influential by shaping how the House performed its most basic function: considering and amending legislation. In the second half of the 19th century, the power of the Rules Committee got tied to the power of the Speaker, profoundly affecting the legislative process in the House. In large part, the history of the Rules Committee has been shaped by an ongoing search for balance between these two roles: one, as the manager of the complex business of the House; and the other as the strong arm of the majority party, wielded by the Speaker of the House.

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