Letter from Benjamin Brown French

Letter from Benjamin Brown French/tiles/non-collection/c/c_083imgtile1.xml
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Letter from Benjamin Brown French/tiles/non-collection/c/c_083imgtile2.xml
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Letter from Benjamin Brown French/tiles/non-collection/c/c_083imgtile3.xml
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Letter from Benjamin Brown French/tiles/non-collection/c/c_083imgtile4.xml
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Description

After a combined 15 years of service to the U.S. House of Representatives, first as assistant clerk, then acting Clerk of the House, and eventually Clerk of the House, Benjamin Brown French asked Congress for another job. On July 22, 1850, Representative Harry Hibbard introduced French’s request on the House Floor, and it was referred to the Rules Committee. French followed up on that proposal in this July 25, 1850, letter to Rules Committee Chairman David S. Kaufman asking that he be employed to compile a parliamentary practice manual to help Members, particularly newly elected Representatives, navigate their House service. French believed his House experience made him the ideal candidate. His letter was accompanied by two resolutions describing the scope of the work and French’s recommendations for his compensation.

French served as Clerk of the House from 1845 to 1847. By 1850, he found himself without employment and “entirely at leisure, and should be glad, under the patronage of the House, whose servant I so long was, to prepare a work, which, in my belief would greatly aid the members.” At the time, the House did not have a formal Parliamentarian—the nonpartisan official who renders objective assistance on legislative and parliamentary procedure in the House—and no official compilation of its precedents. French envisioned his manual as “collecting such views and opinions, upon parliamentary practice, applicable to the proceedings of the House, as will settle, by precedent, the proper mode of procedure in any case that may arise.” He intended to classify these views and opinions by subject, to list them chronologically, and to compile an index.

Despite French’s repeated prodding, no committee action was ever taken on his proposal. Persons who performed various aspects of the Parliamentarian’s duties held a series of titles throughout congressional history, including “Messenger to the Speaker,” “Clerk to the Speaker,” and “Clerk at the Speaker’s Table.” Beginning in the 70th Congress (1927–1929) the title became “Parliamentarian.” The House would not begin to compile and publish its precedents until Asher Hinds’ precedents were published in the early 20th century.

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