Prof. Richard Valelly '75 Furthers Scholarship on U.S. House's Reed Rules

Susan Clarey

Prof. Richard Valelly '75 Furthers Scholarship on
U.S. House's Reed Rules

by Michael Lott
10/22/2009

Richard Valelly

Prof. Richard M. Valelly '75

Richard M. Valelly '75, Claude C. Smith '14 Professor of Political Science, has published new scholarship about the U.S. House of Representatives’ Reed Rules in Studies in American Political Development. The set of procedural rules, named for House Speaker Thomas Bracket Reed, were instituted in 1890 and made the House a “governable legislature,” according to Valelly. They remain the basis for House procedure today.

In the article, Valelly argues that “these changes enacted by Speaker Reed and his Republican colleagues were meant to help them strengthen the Republican party,” rather than just for the general good of improving the House. Before Reed, the minority party was easily able to block the establishment of a quorum by refusing to respond to a roll call. Reed was also responsible for changing the House rules to allow the majority party to set the legislative agenda for any given day.

“Republicans wanted to federally regulate U.S. House elections in the ex-Confederacy. Such regulation would have strengthened African-American voting rights - and Republicans wanted to restore those rights as well as build the party in the South. But Republicans knew that Democrats would put up a huge fight. So they changed the rules of the House. They did not, in the end, succeed in their regulatory plan.”

He postulates, “if they had [succeeded], we would very likely never have had the full electoral disenfranchisement of African-Americans which swept through the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

The article, entitled “The Reed Rules and Republican Party Building: A New Look,” appears in the October 2009 issue of Studies in American Political Development [full text access restricted to subscribers; members of the Swarthmore community have access]. It is currently one of the top ten viewed articles in the journal online.