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Brief History of Parliamentary Procedure
by Bob Palmer
[The dates below are found in the preface pages of Robert’s Rules of Order-Newly Revised 10th edition, also known as RONR.]
If you are studying, working with, or using Robert’s Rules of Order or Parliamentary Procedure, you are probably in a DELIBERATIVE ASSEMBLY: a body of persons meeting to discuss and determine upon a common action. How did DELIBERATIVE ASSEMBLIES come about and why was it necessary to develop rules for such bodies?
Here’s the story: After the Norman Conquest of 1066, Norman kings assembled councils who advised the kings, but kings still had total control. The councils had very little voice.
"You guys sit down and shut up. I’m the King, and don’t you forget it! You can come up and advise me and give me reports on what's going on in your shires, but don’t give any speeches to each other."
A Great Council grouping of councils evolved into Parliament during the 13th and 14th centuries. “Parliament” was a word used to describe any meeting held for the purpose of discussion.
Under King Henry III, (reigned 1216-1272), the barons of the council were not only to express their individual opinions to the king on matters laid before them, but they were to discuss with each other the overall state of the realm---the business “of king and kingdom” rather than only “the king’s business.”
"Hey! We’re going to need some rules on who can speak and when they can speak and how to address each other because we’re not just talking to the King anymore."
1275: Representatives from shires, towns, boroughs, (burgesses), the communities that had become known as the commons, were invited to Parliament. These representatives were known as Commons. They were officially split off into the House of Commons in 1340 and the other side of Parliament was the House of Lords.
"With no King present to boss us around, we’d better have some agreed-upon rules of order for when we get up to speak among ourselves on various issues. Maybe we’ll dub it Parliamentary Procedure. What do you think? Catchy title, eh?"
You can see how some basic rules of DELIBERATIVE ASSEMBLY might be “invented” out of pure necessity. Some considerations would be: courtesy, fairness, equality, adherence to time constraints, establishing a sense of order and decorum. What noble concepts!
Can you believe it? The rule of addressing only one subject “on the floor” at a time didn’t come about until this year. They must have had all sorts of “motions” flying around being discussed at any given time before then.
Alternation between opposing points of view (debate pro vs con) began.
Requirement was made that the Chair calls on the Negative vote as well as the Affirmative vote. Before then, we can assume they just counted the Affirmatives.
Decorum and avoidance of personalities in debate was ruled. This meant that you were not to slander your opponent in debate as a way of winning your side. You were to stick to the merits of the argument at hand and not get into personal attacks.
Confinement of the debate to the merits of the impending question rule was enacted. This meant speakers should stick to the subject and should not veer off on inconsequential, time-wasting tangents.
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