Speakers of the House Bibliography

The Speaker's Rooms in the 1870s were just off the House floor. Collection of U.S. House of Representatives
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The Speaker's Rooms in the 1870s were just off the House floor.
The founders prescribed in the Constitution that the “House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers" (Article I, section II). But that founding document remained silent on so many specifics: the method for choosing the Speaker, the presiding officer’s duties and powers, not to mention the Speaker’s role as a partisan. The founders had in mind, of course, their own experience with presiding officers in colonial legislatures, as well as the example of the British House of Commons. The Speakership they envisioned resembled a parliamentary referee who would rule on floor debate but do little else. From this origin, the office rapidly evolved in complexity and influence, shaped by the likes of Henry Clay of Kentucky, Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, Joseph Cannon of Illinois, and Sam Rayburn of Texas. By the 20th century, the Speakership was the most potent and multifaceted office on Capitol Hill: presiding officer of the chamber; leader of the majority party; and, additionally, an elected Representative with responsibilities to a distinct district constituency like the other 434 voting Members of the House. Speaker John White of Kentucky, who served in the early 1840s, sized up the enormity of the job: “I am sensible of the magnitude and difficulty of this task, of its arduous duties, of its high responsibilities. Six years’ service in this body has taught me that this chair is no bed of down, especially in a time of great political excitement.”

This bibliography is a compilation of scholarly analyses of the House Speakership, both its development and the individuals who have held the office. While not exhaustive, it is meant to help researchers and students gain a more sophisticated understanding of the institutional developments and personalities that have shaped the Office of the Speaker. This bibliography is organized into two sections: