The object of a meeting for deliberation is, of course, to obtain a free expression of opinion and a fair decision of the questions discussed. Without rules of order this object would, in most cases, be utterly defeated; for there would be no uniformity in the modes of proceeding, no restraint upon indecorous or disorderly conduct, no protection to the rights and privileges of members, no guarantee against the caprices and usurpations of the presiding officer, no safeguard against tyrannical majorities, nor any suitable regard to the rights of the minority.—McElligott.


The fundamental principles of courtesy, so strenuously insisted upon throughout this work, must be rigorously observed in the debating society, lyceum, legislative assembly, and wherever questions are publicly debated. In fact, we have not yet discovered any occasion on which a gentleman is justified in being anything less than—a gentleman.

In a paragraph appended to the constitution and by-laws of a New York debating club, members are enjoined to treat each other with delicacy and respect, conduct all discussions with candor, moderation, and open generosity, avoid all personal allusions and sarcastic language calculated to wound the feelings of a brother, and cherish concord and good fellowship. The spirit of this injunction should pervade the heart of every man who attempts to take part in the proceedings of any deliberative assembly.

The rules of order of our State Legislatures, and of other less important deliberative bodies, are, in almost all fundamental points, the same as those of the National[Pg 117] Congress, which, again, are derived, in the main, from those of the British Parliament, the differences which exist growing out of differences in government and institutions. It is in allusion to its origin that the code of rules and regulations thus generally adopted is often called “The Common Code of Parliamentary Law.”


1. Motions.
A deliberative body being duly organized, motions are in order. The party moving a resolution, or making a motion in its simplest form, introduces it either with or without remarks, by saying: “Mr. President, I beg leave to offer the following resolution,” or “I move that,” etc. A motion is not debatable till seconded. The member seconding simply says: “I second that motion.” The resolution or motion is then stated by the chairman, and is open for debate.

2. Speaking.
A member wishing to speak on a question, resolution, or motion, must rise in his place and respectfully address his remarks to the chairman or president, confining himself to the question, and avoiding personality. Should more than one member rise at the same time, the chairman must decide which is entitled to the floor. No member must speak more than once till every member wishing to speak shall have spoken. In debating societies (and it is for their benefit that we make this abstract) it is necessary to define not only how many times, but how long at each time a member may speak on a question.

3. Submitting a Question.
When the debate or deliberation upon a subject [Pg 118]appears to be at a close, the presiding officer simply asks, “Is the society [assembly, or whatever the body may be] ready for the question?” or, “Are you ready for the question?” If no one signifies a desire further to discuss or consider the subject, he then submits the question in due form.

4. Voting.
The voting is generally by “ayes and noes,” and the answers on both sides being duly given, the presiding officer announces the result, saying, “The ayes have it,” or, “The noes have it,” according as he finds one side or the other in the majority. If there is a doubt in his mind which side has the larger number, he says, “The ayes appear to have it,” or, “The noes appear to have it,” as the case may be. If there is no dissent, he adds, “The ayes have it,” or, “The noes have it.” But should the president be unable to decide, or if his decision be questioned, and a division of the house be called for, it is his duty immediately to divide or arrange the assembly as to allow the votes on each side to be accurately counted; and if the members are equally divided, the president must give the casting vote. It is the duty of every member to vote; but in some deliberative bodies a member may be excused at his own request. Sometimes it is deemed advisable to record the names of members in connection with the votes they give, in which case the roll is called by the secretary, and each answers “yes” or “no,” which is noted or marked opposite his name.

5. A Quorum.
A quorum is such a number of members as may be required, by rule or statute, to be present at a meeting in order to render its transactions valid or legal.

[Pg 119]

6. The Democratic Principle.
All questions, unless their decision be otherwise fixed by law, are determined by a majority of votes.

7. Privileged Questions.
There are certain motions which are allowed to supersede a question already under debate. These are called privileged questions. The following are the usually recognized privileged questions:

1. Adjournment.—A motion to adjourn is always in order, and takes precedence of all others; but it must not be entertained while a member is speaking, unless he give way for that purpose, nor while a vote is in progress. It is not debatable, and can not be amended.

2. To Lie on the Table.—A motion to lay a subject on the table—that is, to set it aside till it is the pleasure of the body to resume its consideration—generally takes precedence of all others, except the motion to adjourn. It can neither be debated nor amended.

3. The Previous Question.—The intention of the previous question is to arrest discussion and test at once the sense of the meeting. Its form is, “Shall the main question now be put?” It is not debatable, and can not be amended. An affirmative decision precludes all further debate on the main question. The effect of a negative decision, unless otherwise determined by a special rule, is to leave the main question and all amendments just as it found them.

4. Postponement.—A motion to postpone the consideration of a question indefinitely, which is equivalent to setting it aside altogether, may be amended by inserting a certain day. It is not debatable.

5. Commitment.—A motion to commit is made when a question, otherwise admissible, is presented in an[Pg 120] objectionable or inconvenient form. If there be no standing committee to which it can be properly submitted, a select committee may be raised for the purpose. It may be amended.

6. Amendment.—The legitimate use of a motion to amend is to correct or improve the original motion or resolution; but a motion properly before an assembly may be altered in any way; even so as to turn it entirely from its original purpose, unless some rule or law shall exist to prevent this subversion. An amendment may be amended, but here the process must cease. An amendment must of course be put to vote before the original question. A motion to amend holds the same rank as the previous question and indefinite postponement, and that which is moved first must be put first. It may be superseded, however, by a motion to postpone to a certain day, or a motion to commit.

7. Orders of the Day.—Subjects appointed for a specified time are called orders of the day, and a motion for them takes precedence of all other business, except a motion to adjourn, or a question of privilege.

8. Questions of Privilege.—These are questions which involve the rights and privileges of individual members, or of the society or assembly collectively. They take precedence over all other propositions, except a motion to adjourn.

9. Questions of Order.—In case of any breach of the rules of the society or body, any member may rise to the point of order, and insist upon its due enforcement; but in case of a difference of opinion whether a rule has been violated or not, the question must be determined before the application of the rule can be insisted upon. Such a question is usually decided upon by the presiding officer, without debate; but any member may[Pg 121] appeal from his decision, and demand a vote of the house on the matter. A question of order is debatable, and the presiding officer, contrary to rule in other cases, may participate in the discussion.

10. Reading of Papers.—When papers or documents of any kind are laid before a deliberative assembly, every member has a right to have them read before he can be required to vote upon them. They are generally read by the secretary, on the reading being called for, without the formality of a vote.

11. Withdrawal of a Motion.—Unless there be a rule to that effect, a motion once before the assembly can not be withdrawn without a vote of the house, on a motion to allow its withdrawal.

12. The Suspension of Rules.—When anything is proposed which is forbidden by a special rule, it must be preceded by a motion for the suspension of the rule, which, if there be no standing rule to the contrary, may be carried by a majority of votes; but most deliberative bodies have an established rule on this subject, requiring a fixed proportion of the votes—usually two thirds.

13. The Motion to Reconsider.—The intention of this is to enable an assembly to revise a decision found to be erroneous. The time within which a motion to reconsider may be entertained is generally fixed by a special rule; and the general rule is, that it must emanate from some member who voted with the majority. In Congress, a motion to reconsider takes precedence of all other motions, except the motion to adjourn.

8. Order of Business.
In all permanently organized bodies there should be an order of business, established by a special rule or by-law; but where no such rule or law exists, the president, [Pg 122]unless otherwise directed by a vote of the assembly, arranges the business in such order as he may think most desirable. The following is the order of business of the New York Debating Club, referred to in a previous section. It may be easily so modified as to be suitable for any similar society:

Call to order.
Calling the roll.
Reading the minutes of previous meeting.
Propositions for membership.
Reports of special committee.
Balloting for candidates.
Reports of standing committee.
Secretary’s report.
Treasurer’s report.
Reading for the evening.
Recitations for the evening.
Candidates initiated.
Unfinished business.
New business.
9. Order of Debate.
1. A member having got the floor, is entitled to be heard to the end, or till the time fixed by rule has expired; and all interruptions, except a call to order, are not only out of order, but rude in the extreme.

2. A member who temporarily yields the floor to another, is generally permitted to resume as soon as the interruption ceases, but he can not claim to do so as a right.

3. It is neither in order nor in good taste to designate members by name in debate, and they must in no case[Pg 123] be directly addressed. Such forms as, “The gentleman who has just taken his seat,” or, “The member on the other side of the house,” etc., may be made use of to designate persons.

4. Every speaker is bound to confine himself to the question. This rule is, however, very liberally interpreted in most deliberative assemblies.

5. Every speaker is bound to avoid personalities, and to exercise in all respects a courteous and gentlemanly deportment. Principles and measures are to be discussed, and not the motives or character of those who advocate them.[Q]

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