Historical Highlights

A House Rule Requiring the House Floor be Cleared Prior to the Start of a Session

March 31, 1869
A House Rule Requiring the House Floor be Cleared Prior to the Start of a Session Image courtesy of Library of Congress A Congressman from Michigan, Thomas Ferry served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1871.
On this date, on the motion of Thomas W. Ferry of Michigan, the House adopted a rule (V, Section 3) requiring the Doorkeeper to clear the House Floor of visitors and non-privileged employees 10 minutes prior to the start of a session. Subsequently, the rule was changed to 15 minutes and other revisions were made. In 1880, the House additionally required that the space above the old stained-glass ceiling of the chamber should be cleared of all persons when the House was in session. During a discussion of this addendum, Representative James Garfield of Ohio recalled that a maintenance worker once broke a pane while the House was in session. “There came very nearly being a fatal catastrophe,” Garfield recalled. When the man stepped “on one of these great squares of glass, which burst down through and came nearly killing my friend from Iowa here,” Representative Garfield noted, motioning to a Member of the Iowa delegation. The worker, he added, “came near coming through after it himself.” To which Representative Walter L. Steele of North Carolina shot back, to a chorus of laughter, “Was he eavesdropping?” Nevertheless, the change was incorporated. “So careful was the House after this accident,” noted Hinds’ Precedents, “that for a time the key of the room was each day brought down and deposited with the Speaker.” In 1890, another modification required that the floor remain clear “except those privileged to remain” until 10 minutes after adjournment. Currently, these stipulations may be found in Rule 2, Section 3(d)—which outlines the responsibilities of the Sergeant at Arms.

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