Historical Highlights

The Ban on Hats on the House Floor

September 14, 1837
The Ban on Hats on the House Floor Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Serving as the Member's office in the House Chamber, a Constantine desk (featured) had a shelf to store a Member's papers as well as their hat.
On this date, the House adopted a rule stipulating that no Member could wear a hat on the floor during a session of the House. With virtually no debate, the rules were modified to read: “Every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House.” The change was anticlimactic considering—as Hinds Precedents reported—that earlier proposals to ban hats were “the fruit of a considerable agitation” before 1837. In the institution’s early years, Representatives and guests in the galleries routinely donned their hats while the chamber was in session—a custom that hearkened to British Parliament. In 1822, Charles F. Mercer of Virginia proposed banning the practice. “Nor shall any Member remain in the Hall covered during the session of the House,” Mercer’s amendment read. Mercer’s proposal failed. Similar amendments went down to defeat on three other occasions when presented by different Representatives: George McDuffie of South Carolina in 1828, James K. Polk of Tennessee in 1833, and James Parker of New Jersey in 1835. Polk’s 1833 proposal “to provide that the members should sit in the House uncovered, unless under special leave of the Speaker,” caused a lively debate. Echoing earlier objections, Father of the House Lewis Williams of North Carolina argued that if Members were “to sit without hats” they would have no place to put them (the Old House Chamber had no facilities such as the modern day cloakrooms). Other Members stressed the symbolic value of the tradition, noting that members of the British House of Commons wore hats during debate to symbolize that body’s independence from the King of England. John M. Patton of Virginia defended “the really harmless but apparently indecorous practice of wearing our hats” as a manifestation of the House’s resolute rejection of presidential meddlesomeness. “Regarding then this usage as merely ‘the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual’ freedom of this body from all executive control or interference, let us preserve it,” Patton declared on the floor. “And whenever, if ever, our executive magistrates shall attempt to employ any improper influence on this body, let us be found with our hats on.”

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