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Writing of the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson's Manual


Jefferson’s Manual is a book of rules written by Thomas Jefferson that outlines the basic rules of parliamentary procedure.  These rules are still in use by Congress today.


A footnote from the GPO’s copy of the Jefferson’s Manual


“Jefferson’s Manual was prepared by Thomas Jefferson for his own guidance as President of the Senate in the years of his Vice Presidency, from 1797 to 1801. In 1837 the House, by rule that still exists, provided that the provisions of the Manual should ‘govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the Rules and orders of the House.’’ Rule XXIX, § 1105, infra. In 1880 the committee that revised the Rules of the House declared in their report that the Manual, ‘compiled as it was for the use of the Senate exclusively and made up almost wholly of collations of English parliamentary practice and decisions, it was never especially valuable as an authority in the House of Representatives, even in its early history, and for many years past has been rarely quoted in the House’ (V, 6757). This statement, although sanctioned by high authority, is extreme, for in certain parts of the Manual are to be found the foundations of some of the most important portions of the House’s practice. The Manual is regarded by English parliamentarians as the best statement of what the law of Parliament was at the time Jefferson wrote it. Jefferson himself says, in the preface of the work: ‘I could not doubt the necessity of quoting the sources of my information, among which Mr. Hatsel’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.’”



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