The Speaker of the House
"The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker. . . ."
– U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2
The Speaker of the House of Representatives is one of only three legislative positions
described in the Constitution. The Speaker is the only leadership position in either
chamber that is filled by a vote of the membership. Beyond the Speaker’s responsibility
as a representative of his or her elected district, the Speaker also serves as the
party leader, and the leader of the House overall. Customarily, the Speakership
includes calling the House to order, administering the oath of office to House Members,
presiding over debate, setting the legislative agenda, and leading the appointment
process for committee chairs. The Speaker is also second in the line of succession
to the presidency under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.
Development of the Speakership
Henry Clay of Kentucky, the
most prominent Speaker to serve in the Old Hall of the House, held office intermittently
from 1811 to 1825.
A natural leader with a national vision, Clay contributed greatly to defining the
role of the Speaker. He was the first Speaker to combine the functions of Parliamentarian,
Member, and Leader, insisting that his role as Speaker should did not jeopardize
his rights as a Member of the House to participate in debates or to vote.
Mid-19th century politics, characterized by strong feelings about slavery and the
presence of numerous minor parties, often made electing a Speaker difficult. In
1855 – 56, the process of electing Nathaniel T. Banks Jr.
of Massachusetts took almost two months and 133 ballots.
Henry Clay, (1785–1862) Guiseppe Fagnani, oil on canvas, 1852 Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
“Exciting Scene in the Hall of Representatives in the Announcement of N.P.
Banks, Jr. as Speaker,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper,
wood engraving, February 16, 1856Collection of the U.S. House of