Thomas Brackett Reed

The Gilded Age Speaker Who Made the Rules for American Politics

Robert J. Klotz

Defining a “statesman” as “a successful politician who is dead,” Thomas Brackett Reed gave himself some latitude in pursuing his goals as a congressional leader. His leadership style is encapsulated in the Reed Rules, which serve as the institutional foundation of the modern House of Representatives and as a metaphor for the practice of power politics for partisan ends.

Thomas Brackett Reed tells the story of a roller-coaster career in the Gilded Age. Speaker Reed reached a pinnacle when Republicans enacted landmark legislation in the aftermath of a transformation of parliamentary procedure spearheaded by his dramatic refusal to recognize delaying tactics permitted under the rules in 1890. Months later, Reed led Republicans to a disastrous off-year election, which cost his party unified governmental control and left it with only 26 percent of House seats. He returned as Speaker of the House in the late 1890s, when he became alienated from other Republicans over the issue of American expansionism.

“Learned, eloquent, and witty, Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed was a leading light of nineteenth-century congressional leadership. A prolific defender of majority rule and political party organization in the House, Reed built key aspects of the modern legislative process and the Speakership. This book captures Speaker Reed’s persona, his politics, and his lasting importance in a readable and compelling way.”

—Douglas B. Harris, Loyola University Maryland

Combining extensive archival research with political science findings, Robert Klotz offers a balanced portrayal of Reed’s leadership in Congress. While empowering the House majority party to govern, the Reed Rules can also elevate partisan discord by allowing majorities to craft bill-specific special rules and to neglect opposing viewpoints. Ultimately, the biography illuminates the transcendent challenge of finding compromise in polarized politics.

About the Author

Robert J. Klotz is associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.

Additional Titles in the Congressional Leaders Series