Thomas Brackett Reed bigraphy, stories - U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the House

Thomas Brackett Reed : biography

October 18, 1839 - December 7, 1902

Thomas Brackett Reed (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1889–1891 and from 1895–1899. He was a powerful leader of the Republican Party, and during his tenure as Speaker of the House, he served with greater influence than any Speaker who came before, and he forever increased its power and influence for those who succeeded him in the position.

In the House of Representatives

Early service

Acerbic wit

He was known for his acerbic wit (asked if his party might nominate him for President, he noted "They could do worse, and they probably will"). His size, standing at over 6 feet in height and weighing over 300 lbs (136 kg), was also a distinguishing factor for him. Reed was a member of the social circle that included intellectuals and politicians Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams, John Hay and Mark Twain.

As a House freshman, Reed was appointed to the Potter Commission, which was to investigate voting irregularities in the presidential election of 1876, where his skill at cross examination forced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden to personally appear to defend his reputation. He chaired the Committee on the Judiciary (Forty-seventh Congress) and chaired the Rules Committee (Fifty-first, Fifty-fourth, and Fifty-fifth Congresses).

As the Speaker of the House

Pressure in Capitol builds for war in 1898; Reed (upper left) is unable to contain it, as McKinley watches Reed was first elected Speaker after an intense fight with William McKinley of Ohio. Reed gained the support of young Theodore Roosevelt, whose influence as the newly appointed Civil Service Commissioner was the decisive factor. Reed served as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1889 to 1891 and then from 1895 to 1899, as well as being Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.

Rules

During his time as Speaker, Reed assiduously and dramatically increased the power of the Speaker over the House; although the power of the Speaker had always waxed (most notably during Henry Clay's tenure) and waned, the position had previously commanded influence rather than outright power. Reed set out to put into practical effect his dictum that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch"; this was accomplished by carefully studying the existing procedures of the U.S. House, most dating to the original designs written by Thomas Jefferson. In particular, Reed sought to circumscribe the ability of the minority party to block business by way of its members refusing to answer a quorum call — which, under the rules, prevented a member from being counted as present even if they were physically in the chamber — thus forcing the House to suspend business. This is popularly called the disappearing quorum.

Reed's solution was enacted on January 28, 1890, in what has popularly been called the "Battle of the Reed Rules".Samuel W. McCall, Thomas B. Reed (1914) pp 152–72 This came about when Democrats attempted to block the inclusion of a newly elected Republican from West Virginia, Charles Brooks Smith.Price, Douglas H. ``The Congressional Career—Then and Now, in Nelson Polsby, ed., Congressional Behavior (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 19. The motion to seat him passed by a tally of 162–1; however, at the time a quorum consisted of 165 votes, and when voting closed Democrats shouted "No quorum," triggering a formal House quorum count. Speaker Reed began the roll call; when members who were present in the chamber refused to answer, Reed directed the Clerk to count them as present anyway.Representative Thomas B. Reed, remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 61, Jan. 29, 1890, p. 948. Startled Democrats protested heatedly, issuing screams, threats, and insults at the Speaker. James B. McCreary, a Democrat from Kentucky, challenged Reed's authority to count him as present; Reed replied, "The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?"

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