« PreviousContinue »
PREFACE TO JEFFERSON'S MANUAL.
The Constitution of the United States, establishing a legislature for the Union under certain forms, authorizes each branch of it "to determine the rules of its own proceedings." The Senate has accordingly formed some rules for its own government; but these going only to few cases, it has referred to the decision of its President, without debate and without appeal, all questions of order arising either under its own rules or where it has provided none. This places under the discretion of the Pesident a very extensive field of decision, and one which, irregularly exercised, would have a powerful effect on the proceedings and determinations of the House. The President must feel, weightily and seriously, this confidence in his discretion, and the necessity of recurring, for its government, to some known system of rules, that he may neither leave himself free to indulge caprice or passion nor open to the imputation of them. But to what system of rules is he to recur, as supplementary to those of the Senate? To this there can be but one answer. To the system of regulations adopted for the government of some one of the parliamentary bodies within these States, or of that which has served as a prototype to most of them. This last is the model which we have all studied, while we are little acquainted with the modifications of it in our several States. It is deposited, too, in publications posssessed by many and open to all. Its rules are probably as wisely constructed for governing the debates of a deliberative body, and obtaining its true sense, as any which can become known to us; and the acquiescence of the Senate, hitherto, under the references to them, has given them the sanction of its approbation.
Considering, therefore, the law of proceedings in the Senate as composed of the precepts of the Constitution, the regulations of the Senate, and, where these are silent, of the rules of Parliament, I have hero endeavored to collect and digest so much of these as is called for in ordinary practice, collating the Parliamentary with the Senatorial rules, both where they agree and where they vary. I have done this as well to have them at hand for my own government as to deposit with the Senate the standard by which I judge and am willing to be judged. I could not doubt the necessity of quoting the sources of my information, among which Mr. Rafael's most valuable book is preeminent; but as he has only treated some general heads, I have been obliged to recur to other authorities in support of a number of common rules of practice to which his plan did not descend. Sometimes each authority cited supports the whole passage. Sometimes it rests on all taken together. Sometimes the authority goes only to a part of the text, the residue being inferred from known rules and principles. For some of the most familiar forms no written authority is or can be quoted; no writer having supposed it necessary to repeat what all were presumed to know. The statement of these must rest on their notoriety.
I am aware that authorities can often be produced in opposition to the rules which I lay down as Parliamentary. An attention to dates will generally remove their weight. The proceedings of Parliament in ancient times, and for a long while, were crude, multiform, and embarrassing. They have been, however, constantly advancing toward uniformity and accuracy, and have now attained a degree of aptitude to their object beyond which little is to be desired or expected.
Yet I am far from the presumption of believing that I may not have mistaken the Parliamentary practice in some cases, and especially in those minor forms, which, being practiced daily, are supposed known to everybody, and therefore have not been committed to writing. Our resources in this quarter of the globe for obtaining information on that part of the subject are not perfect. But I have begun a sketch, which those who come after me will successively correct and fill up till a code of rules shall be formed for the use of the Senate, the effects of which may be accuracy in business, economy of time, order, uniformity, and impartiality.