Jefferson, Thomas

Thomas Jefferson: The Importance of Adhering to Rules

Jefferson’s “Manual” (1812) begins with this admonition on the importance of the rules in parliamentary government:

“SEC. I: THE IMPORTANCE OF ADHERING TO RULES.

“MR. ONSLOW, the ablest among the Speakers of the House of Commons, used to say, ‘it was a maxim he had often heard, when he was a young man, from old and experienced members, that nothing tended more to throw power into the hands of administration and those who acted with the majority of the House of Commons, than a neglect of, or departure from, the rules of proceeding: that these forms, as instituted by our ancestors, operated as a check and control on the actions of the majority; and that they were in many instances, a shelter and protection to the minority, against the attempts of power.’ So far the maxim is certainly true, and is founded in good sense, that as it is always in the power of the majority, by their numbers, to stop any improper measures proposed on the part of their opponents, the only weapons by which the minority can defend themselves against similar attempts from those in power, are the forms and rules of proceeding which have been adopted as they were found necessary from time to time, and are become the law of the House; by a strict adherence to which, the weaker party can only be protected from those irregularities and abuses which these forms were intended to check, and which the wantonness of power is but too often apt to suggest to large and successful majorities. 2 Hats. 171, 172.”