Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

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Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Flag of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.png
Flag of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Seal of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.svg
Seal of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
John Boehner official portrait.jpg
John Boehner

since January 5, 2011
StyleMr. Speaker
(Informal and within the House)
The Honorable
AppointerU.S. House of Representatives
(Elected by)
Term lengthNo term limits are imposed; elected by the House at the start of each session, and upon a vacancy
Constituting instrumentU.S. Constitution
FormationMarch 4, 1789
First holderFrederick Muhlenberg
April 1, 1789
SuccessionSecond in the Presidential Line of Succession
WebsiteSpeaker of the House John Boehner
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Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Flag of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.png
Flag of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Seal of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.svg
Seal of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
John Boehner official portrait.jpg
John Boehner

since January 5, 2011
StyleMr. Speaker
(Informal and within the House)
The Honorable
AppointerU.S. House of Representatives
(Elected by)
Term lengthNo term limits are imposed; elected by the House at the start of each session, and upon a vacancy
Constituting instrumentU.S. Constitution
FormationMarch 4, 1789
First holderFrederick Muhlenberg
April 1, 1789
SuccessionSecond in the Presidential Line of Succession
WebsiteSpeaker of the House John Boehner

The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the chamber. The office was established in 1789 by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which states in part, "The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker..." The current Speaker is John Boehner, a Republican who represents Ohio's 8th congressional district. The Constitution does not require that the Speaker be an elected House Representative, though all Speakers have been an elected Member of Congress.[1]

The Speaker is second in the United States presidential line of succession, after the Vice President and ahead of the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate.[2] Unlike some Westminster system parliaments, in which the office of Speaker is considered non-partisan, in the United States, the Speaker of the House is a leadership position and the office-holder actively works to set the majority party's legislative agenda. The Speaker usually does not personally preside over debates, instead delegating the duty to members of the House from the majority party.

Aside from duties relating to heading the House and the majority political party, the Speaker also performs administrative and procedural functions, and represents his or her Congressional district.


The House of Representatives elects[clarification needed] the Speaker of the House on the first day of every new Congress and in the event of the death or resignation of an incumbent Speaker. The Clerk of the House of Representatives requests nominations: there are normally two, one from each major party (each party will have previously met to decide on its nominee). The Clerk then calls the roll of the Representatives-elect, each Representative-elect indicating the surname of the candidate he or she is supporting. Representatives-elect are not restricted to voting for one of the nominated candidates and may vote for any person, even for someone who is not a member (or member-elect) of the House at all. They may also abstain by voting "present".[3]

To be elected as Speaker, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of all votes cast for individuals, i.e. excluding those who abstain. If no candidate wins such a majority, then the roll call is repeated until a Speaker is elected. The last time repeated votes were required was in 1923, when the Speaker was elected on the ninth ballot.[3]

The new Speaker is then sworn in by the Dean of the United States House of Representatives, the chamber's longest-serving member.

In modern practice, the Speaker is chosen by the majority party from among its senior leaders either when a vacancy in the office arrives or when the majority party changes. It is usually obvious within two or three weeks of a House election who the new Speaker will be. Previous Speakers have been minority leaders (when the majority party changes, as they are already the House party leader, and as the minority leader are usually their party's nominee for Speaker), or majority leaders (upon departure of the current Speaker in the majority party), assuming that the party leadership hierarchy is followed. In the past, other candidates have included chairpersons of influential standing committees.

So far, the Democrats have always elevated their minority leader to the Speakership upon reclaiming majority control of the House. However, Republicans have not always followed this leadership succession pattern. In 1919, Republicans bypassed James Robert Mann, R-IL, who had been Minority Leader for eight years, and elected a backbencher representative, Frederick H. Gillett, R-MA, to be Speaker. Mann had "angered many Republicans by objecting to their private bills on the floor" and was also a protégé of autocratic Speaker Joseph Cannon, R-IL (1903–1911), and many members "suspected that he would try to re-centralize power in his hands if elected Speaker."[4] More recently, although Robert H. Michel was Minority Leader in 1994 when the Republicans regained control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections, he had already announced his retirement and had little or no involvement in the campaign. Including the "Contract with America", which was unveiled six weeks before Election Day. Michel opted not to seek re-election because he had been isolated in the caucus by Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and other younger and more aggressive Congressmen.

It is expected that members of the House vote for their party's candidate. If they do not, they usually vote for someone else in their party or vote "present". Those who vote for the other party's candidate often face serious consequences, up to and including the loss of seniority. The last instance where a representative voted for the other party's candidate was in 2000, when Democrat Jim Traficant of Ohio voted for Republican Dennis Hastert. In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts.

If the Speaker's party loses control of the House in an election, and if the Speaker and Majority Leader both remain in the leadership hierarchy, they would become the Minority Leader and Minority Whip, respectively. As the minority party has one less leadership position after losing the Speaker's chair, there may be a contest for the remaining leadership positions. Most Speakers whose party has lost control of the House have not returned to the party leadership (Tom Foley lost his seat, Dennis Hastert returned to the backbenches and resigned from the House in late 2007). However, Speakers Joseph William Martin, Jr. and Sam Rayburn did seek the post of Minority Leader in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Nancy Pelosi is the most recent example of an outgoing Speaker who was elected Minority Leader, after the Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections.


Frederick Muhlenberg (1789–1791, 1793–1795), was the first Speaker.

The first Speaker was Frederick Muhlenberg, who was elected as a Federalist for the first four Congresses.[5]

The position of Speaker started to gain its partisan role and its power in legislative development under Henry Clay (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825).[6] In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay participated in several debates, and used his influence to procure the passage of measures he supported—for instance, the declaration of the War of 1812, and various laws relating to Clay's "American System". Furthermore, when no candidate received an Electoral College majority in the 1824 presidential election causing the President to be elected by the House, Speaker Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, thereby ensuring Adams' victory. Following Clay's retirement in 1825, the power of the Speakership once again began to decline, despite Speakership elections becoming increasingly bitter. As the Civil War approached, several sectional factions nominated their own candidates, often making it difficult for any candidate to attain a majority. In 1855 and again in 1859, for example, the contest for Speaker lasted for two months before the House achieved a result. During this time, Speakers tended to have very short tenures. For example, from 1839 to 1863 there were eleven Speakers, only one of whom served for more than one term. To date, James K. Polk is the only Speaker of the House later elected President of the United States.

Henry Clay (1813–1814, 1815–1820, 1823–1825) used his influence as speaker to ensure the passage of measures he favored
Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911) was one of the most powerful speakers.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the office of Speaker began to develop into a very powerful one. At the time, one of the most important sources of the Speaker's power was his position as Chairman of the Committee on Rules, which, after the reorganization of the committee system in 1880, became one of the most powerful standing committees of the House. Furthermore, several Speakers became leading figures in their political parties; examples include Democrats Samuel J. Randall, John Griffin Carlisle, and Charles F. Crisp, and Republicans James G. Blaine, Thomas Brackett Reed, and Joseph Gurney Cannon.

The power of the Speaker was greatly augmented during the tenure of the Republican Thomas Brackett Reed (1889–1891, 1895–1899). "Czar Reed", as he was called by his opponents,[7] sought to end the obstruction of bills by the minority, in particular by countering the tactic known as the "disappearing quorum".[8] By refusing to vote on a motion, the minority could ensure that a quorum would not be achieved, and that the result would be invalid. Reed, however, declared that members who were in the chamber but refused to vote would still count for the purposes of determining a quorum. Through these and other rulings, Reed ensured that the Democrats could not block the Republican agenda.

The Speakership reached its apogee during the term of Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon (1903–1911). Cannon exercised extraordinary control over the legislative process. He determined the agenda of the House, appointed the members of all committees, chose committee chairmen, headed the Rules Committee, and determined which committee heard each bill. He vigorously used his powers to ensure that Republican proposals were passed by the House. In 1910, however, Democrats and several dissatisfied Republicans joined together to strip Cannon of many of his powers, including the ability to name committee members and his chairmanship of the Rules Committee.[9] Fifteen years later, Speaker Nicholas Longworth restored much, but not all, of the lost influence of the position.

One of the most influential Speakers in history was Democrat Sam Rayburn.[10] Rayburn was the longest-serving Speaker in history, holding office from 1940 to 1947, 1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1961. He helped shape many bills, working quietly in the background with House committees. He also helped ensure the passage of several domestic measures and foreign assistance programs advocated by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Rayburn's successor, Democrat John William McCormack (served 1962–1971), was a somewhat less influential speaker, particularly because of dissent from younger members of the Democratic Party. During the mid-1970s, the power of the Speakership once again grew under Democrat Carl Albert. The Committee on Rules ceased to be a semi-independent panel, as it had been since 1910. Instead, it once again became an arm of the party leadership. Moreover, in 1975, the Speaker was granted the authority to appoint a majority of the members of the Rules Committee. Meanwhile, the power of committee chairmen was curtailed, further increasing the relative influence of the Speaker.

Albert's successor, Democrat Tip O'Neill, was a prominent Speaker because of his public opposition to the policies of President Ronald Reagan. O'Neill is the longest continually serving Speaker, from 1977 through 1987. He challenged Reagan on domestic programs and on defense expenditures. Republicans made O'Neill the target of their election campaigns in 1980 and 1982 but Democrats managed to retain their majorities in both years.

The roles of the parties reversed in 1994 when, after spending forty years in the minority, the Republicans regained control of the House with the "Contract with America", an idea spearheaded by Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. Speaker Gingrich would regularly clash with Democratic President Bill Clinton, leading to the United States federal government shutdown of 1995 and 1996, in which Clinton was largely seen to have prevailed. Gingrich's hold on the leadership was weakened significantly by that and several other controversies, and he faced a caucus revolt in 1997. After the Republicans lost House seats in 1998 (although retaining a majority) he did not stand for a third term as Speaker. His successor, Dennis Hastert, had been chosen as a compromise candidate, since the other Republicans in the leadership were more controversial. Hastert played a much less prominent role than other contemporary Speakers, being overshadowed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and President George W. Bush. The Republicans came out of the 2000 elections with a further reduced majority but made small gains in 2002 and 2004. The periods of 2001-2002 and 2003-2007 were the first times since 1953-1955 that there was single-party Republican leadership in Washington, interrupted from 2001-2003 as Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become independent and caucused with Senate Democrats to give them a 51-49 majority.

In the 2006 midterm elections, the Democrats won a majority in the House. Nancy Pelosi became Speaker when the 110th Congress convened on January 4, 2007, making her the first female to hold the office. With the election of Barack Obama as President and Democratic gains in both houses of Congress, Pelosi became the first Speaker since Tom Foley to hold the office during single-party Democratic leadership in Washington.[11] During the 111th Congress, Pelosi was the driving force behind several of Obama's major initiatives that proved controversial, and the Republicans campaigned against the Democrats' legislation by staging a "Fire Pelosi" bus tour[12] and regained control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. House Minority Leader John Boehner was elected as Speaker.[13]

Notable elections[edit]

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Historically, there have been several controversial elections to the Speakership, such as the contest of 1839. In that case, even though the 26th United States Congress convened on December 2, the House could not begin the Speakership election until December 14 because of an election dispute in New Jersey known as the "Broad Seal War". Two rival delegations, one Whig and the other Democrat, had been certified as elected by different branches of the New Jersey government. The problem was compounded by the fact that the result of the dispute would determine whether the Whigs or the Democrats held the majority. Neither party agreed to permit a Speakership election with the opposite party's delegation participating. Finally, it was agreed to exclude both delegations from the election and a Speaker was finally chosen on December 17.

Another, more prolonged fight occurred in 1855 in the 34th United States Congress. The old Whig Party had collapsed but no single party had emerged to replace it. Candidates opposing the Democrats had run under a bewildering variety of labels, including Whig, Republican, American (Know Nothing), and simply "Opposition". By the time Congress actually met in December 1855, most of the northerners were concentrated together as Republicans, while most of the southerners and a few northerners used the American or Know Nothing label. Opponents of the Democrats held a majority in House, with the party makeup of the 234 Representatives being 83 Democrats, 108 Republicans, and 43 Know Nothings (primarily southern oppositionists). The Democratic minority nominated William Alexander Richardson of Illinois as Speaker, but because of sectional distrust, the various oppositionists were unable to agree on a single candidate for Speaker. The Republicans supported Nathaniel Prentiss Banks of Massachusetts, who had been elected as a Know Nothing but was now largely identified with the Republicans. The southern Know Nothings supported first Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky, and then Henry M. Fuller of Pennsylvania. The voting went on for almost two months with no candidate able to secure a majority, until it was finally agreed to elect the Speaker by plurality vote, and Banks was elected.[14] The House found itself in a similar dilemma when the 36th Congress met in December 1859. Although the Republicans held a plurality, the Republican candidate, John Sherman, was unacceptable to southern oppositionists due to his anti-slavery views, and once again the House was unable to elect a Speaker for several months. After Democrats allied with southern oppositionists to nearly elect the North Carolina oppositionist William N. H. Smith, Sherman finally withdrew in favor of compromise candidate William Pennington of New Jersey, a former Whig of unclear partisan loyalties, who was finally elected Speaker at the end of January 1860.[15]

The last Speakership elections in which the House had to vote more than once occurred in the 65th and 72nd United States Congress. In 1917, neither the Republican nor the Democratic candidate could attain a majority because three members of the Progressive Party and other individual members of other parties voted for their own party. The Republicans had a plurality in the House but James "Champ" Clark remained Speaker of the House because of the support of the Progressive Party members. In 1931, both the Republicans and the Democrats had 217 members with the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party having one member who served as the deciding vote. The Farmer-Labor Party eventually voted for the Democrats' candidate for Speaker, John Nance Garner, who later became Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1997, several Republican congressional leaders tried to force Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign. However, Gingrich refused since that would have required a new election for Speaker, which could have led to Democrats along with dissenting Republicans voting for Democrat Dick Gephardt (then Minority Leader) as Speaker. After the 1998 midterm elections where the Republicans lost seats, Gingrich did not stand for re-election. The next two figures in the House Republican leadership hierarchy, Majority Leader Richard Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, chose not to run for the office. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Bob Livingston, declared his bid for the Speakership, which was unopposed, making him Speaker-designate. It was then revealed, by Livingston himself, who had been publicly critical of President Bill Clinton's perjury during his sexual harassment trial, that he had engaged in an extramarital affair. He opted to resign from the House, despite being urged to stay on by House Democratic leader Gephardt. Subsequently, chief deputy whip Dennis Hastert was selected as Speaker. The Republicans retained their majorities in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) with Vice President Dick Cheney behind President George W. Bush at the 2007 State of the Union Address making history as the first woman to sit behind the podium at such an address. President Bush acknowledged this by beginning his speech with the words, "Tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own — as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker".[16]

The Democrats won a majority of seats in the 2006 midterm elections. On November 16, 2006, Nancy Pelosi, who was then Minority Leader, was selected as Speaker-designate by House Democrats.[17] When the 110th Congress convened on January 4, 2007, she was elected as the 60th Speaker by a vote of 233-202, becoming the first woman elected Speaker of the House. Pelosi remained Speaker through the 111th Congress. For the 112th Congress, Republican John Boehner was unanimously designated Speaker-designate by House Republicans and was elected the 61st Speaker of the House. As a show of dissent, nineteen Democratic representatives voted for Democrats other than Pelosi, who had been chosen as House Minority Leader and the Democrats' candidate for Speaker.

Partisan role[edit]

The Constitution does not spell out the political role of the Speaker. As the office has developed historically, however, it has taken on a clearly partisan cast, very different from the Speakership of most Westminster-style legislatures, such as the Speaker of the British House of Commons, which is meant to be scrupulously non-partisan. The Speaker in the United States, by tradition, is the head of the majority party in the House of Representatives, outranking the Majority Leader. However, despite having the right to vote, the Speaker usually does not participate in debate and rarely votes.

The Speaker is responsible for ensuring that the House passes legislation supported by the majority party. In pursuing this goal, the Speaker may use his or her power to determine when each bill reaches the floor. They also chair the majority party's steering committee in the House. While the Speaker is the functioning head of the House majority party, the same is not true of the President pro tempore of the Senate, whose office is primarily ceremonial and honorary.

When the Speaker and the President belong to the same party, the Speaker tends to play the role in a more ceremonial light, as seen when Dennis Hastert played a very low-key role during the presidency of fellow Republican George W. Bush. Nevertheless, there are times when the Speaker plays a much larger role if the President is a fellow member of their party, and thus, the Speaker is tasked with pushing through the agenda of the majority party, often at the expense of the minority opposition. This can be seen, most of all, in the Speakership of Democratic-Republican Henry Clay, who personally ensured the presidential victory of fellow Democratic-Republican John Quincy Adams. On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Sam Rayburn was a key player in the passing of New Deal legislation under the presidency of fellow Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon (under Theodore Roosevelt) was particularly infamous for his marginalization of the minority Democrats and centralizing of authority to the Speakership. In more recent times, Speaker Nancy Pelosi played a role in continuing the push for health care reform during the presidency of fellow Democrat Barack Obama.[18] The Republicans campaigned against Pelosi and the Democrats' legislation with their "Fire Pelosi" bus tour.[12][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26]

On the other hand, when the Speaker and the President belong to opposite parties, the public role and influence of the Speaker tend to increase. As the highest-ranking member of the opposition party (and in effect a de facto Leader of the Opposition), the Speaker is normally the chief public opponent of the President's agenda. In this scenario, the Speaker is known for undercutting the President's agenda by blocking measures by the minority party or rejecting bills by the Senate. One famous instance came in the form of Thomas Brackett Reed (under Grover Cleveland), a Speaker notorious for his successful attempt to force the Democrats to vote on measures where the Republicans had clear majorities, which ensured that Cleveland's Democrats were in no position to challenge the Republicans in the House. Joseph Cannon was particularly unique in that he led the conservative "Old Guard" wing of the Republican Party, while his President - Theodore Roosevelt - was of the more progressive clique, and more than just marginalizing the Democrats, Cannon used his power to punish the dissidents in his party and obstruct the progressive wing of the Republican Party.

More modern examples include Tip O'Neill, who was a vocal opponent of President Ronald Reagan's economic and defense policies; Newt Gingrich, who fought a bitter battle with President Bill Clinton for control of domestic policy; Nancy Pelosi, who argued with President George W. Bush over the Iraq War;[13] and current Speaker John Boehner, who clashes with President Barack Obama over budget issues and health care.[27]

Presiding officer[edit]

As presiding office of the House of Representatives, the Speaker holds a variety of powers over the House but usually delegates them to another member of the majority party. The Speaker may designate any member of the House to act as Speaker pro tempore and preside over the House. During important debates, the Speaker pro tempore is ordinarily a senior member of the majority party who may be chosen for his or her skill in presiding. At other times, more junior members may be assigned to preside to give them experience with the rules and procedures of the House. The Speaker may also designate a Speaker pro tempore for special purposes, such as designating a Representative whose district is near Washington, DC to sign enrolled bills during long recesses.

On the floor of the House, the presiding officer is always addressed as "Mister Speaker" or "Madam Speaker," even if it is a Speaker pro tempore, and not the Speaker him- or herself. When the House resolves itself into a Committee of the Whole, the Speaker designates a member to preside over the Committee as the Chairman, who is addressed as "Mister Chairman" or "Madam Chairwoman." To speak, members must seek the presiding officer's recognition. The presiding officer may call on members as they please, and may therefore control the flow of debate. The presiding officer also rules on all points of order but such rulings may be appealed to the whole House. The Speaker is responsible for maintaining decorum in the House and may order the Sergeant-at-Arms to enforce House rules.

The Speaker's powers and duties extend beyond presiding in the chamber. In particular, the Speaker has great influence over the committee process. The Speaker selects nine of the thirteen members of the powerful Committee on Rules, subject to the approval of the entire majority party. The leadership of the minority party chooses the remaining four members. Furthermore, the Speaker appoints all members of select committees and conference committees. Moreover, when a bill is introduced, the Speaker determines which committee will consider it. As a member of the House, the Speaker is entitled to participate in debate and to vote but, by custom, only does so in exceptional circumstances. Ordinarily, the Speaker votes only when his or her vote would be decisive or on matters of great importance, such as constitutional amendments or major legislation.

Other functions[edit]

The speaker's office in the US Capitol, during the term of Dennis Hastert (1999 to 2007).

Because joint sessions and joint meetings of Congress are held in the House chamber, the Speaker presides over all such joint sessions and meetings. However, the Twelfth Amendment and 3 U.S.C. § 15 require that the President of the Senate preside over joint sessions of Congress assembled to count electoral votes and to certify the results of a presidential election.

The Speaker is also responsible for overseeing the officers of the House: the Clerk, the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Chief Administrative Officer, and the Chaplain. The Speaker can dismiss any of these officers. The Speaker appoints the House Historian and the General Counsel and, jointly with the Majority and Minority Leaders, appoints the House Inspector General.

The Speaker is second in the presidential line of succession, immediately after the Vice President, under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. The Speaker is followed in the line of succession by the President pro tempore of the Senate and by the heads of federal executive departments. Some scholars argue that this provision of the succession statute is unconstitutional.[28]

To date, the implementation of the Presidential Succession Act has never been necessary and no Speaker has ever acted as President. Implementation of the law almost became necessary in 1973 after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew. At the time, many believed that President Richard Nixon would resign because of the Watergate scandal, allowing Speaker Carl Albert to succeed to the Presidency. However, before he resigned, Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as Vice President in accordance with the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Nevertheless, the United States government takes the Speaker's place in the line of succession seriously enough that, for example, since shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Speakers used military jets to fly back and forth to their districts and for other travel until Speaker Boehner discontinued the practice in 2011. The Speaker of the House is one of the officers to whom declarations of presidential inability or ability to resume the Presidency must be addressed under the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

List of Speakers of the United States House of Representatives[edit]

It includes the congressional district and political affiliation of each speaker as well as the number of their Congress and time they spent in the position.

1Muhlenberg.jpg Frederick MuhlenbergPro-AdministrationPennsylvania-AL1stApril 1, 1789 —
March 4, 1791
2JonathanTrumbull.jpg Jonathan Trumbull, Jr.Pro-AdministrationConnecticut-42ndOctober 24, 1791 —
March 4, 1793
3Muhlenberg.jpg Frederick MuhlenbergAnti-AdministrationPennsylvania-AL3rdDecember 2, 1793 —
March 4, 1795
4JDayton.jpg Jonathan DaytonFederalistNew Jersey-AL4thDecember 7, 1795 —
March 4, 1797
5thMay 15, 1797 —
March 4, 1799
5TheodoreSedgwick.jpg Theodore SedgwickFederalistMassachusetts-16thDecember 2, 1799 —
March 4, 1801
6NC-Congress-NathanielMacon.jpg Nathaniel MaconDemocratic-RepublicanNorth Carolina-57thDecember 7, 1801 —
March 4, 1803
North Carolina-68thOctober 17, 1803 —
March 4, 1805
9thDecember 2, 1805 —
March 4, 1807
7JosephBradleyVarnum.jpg Joseph Bradley VarnumDemocratic-RepublicanMassachusetts-410thOctober 26, 1807 —
March 4, 1809
11thMay 22, 1809 —
March 4, 1811
8Henry Clay.JPG Henry ClayDemocratic-RepublicanKentucky-312thNovember 4, 1811 —
March 4, 1813
Kentucky-213thMay 24, 1813 —
January 19, 1814
9LangdonCheves.jpg Langdon ChevesDemocratic-RepublicanSouth Carolina-1January 19, 1814 —
March 4, 1815
10Henry Clay.JPG Henry ClayDemocratic-RepublicanKentucky-214thDecember 4, 1815 —
March 4, 1817
15thDecember 1, 1817 —
March 4, 1819
16thDecember 6, 1819 —
October 28, 1820
11JohnWTaylor.jpg John W. TaylorDemocratic-RepublicanNew York-11November 15, 1820 —
March 4, 1821
12PPBarbour.jpg Philip Pendleton BarbourDemocratic-RepublicanVirginia-1117thDecember 4, 1821 —
March 4, 1823
13Henry Clay.JPG Henry ClayDemocratic-RepublicanKentucky-318thDecember 1, 1823 —
March 4, 1825
14JohnWTaylor.jpg John W. TaylorNational RepublicanNew York-1719thDecember 5, 1825 —
March 4, 1827
15AndrewStevenson.jpg Andrew StevensonDemocraticVirginia-920thDecember 3, 1827 —
March 4, 1829
21stDecember 7, 1829 —
March 4, 1831
22ndDecember 5, 1831 —
March 4, 1833
Virginia-1123rdDecember 2, 1833 —
June 2, 1834
16John Bell.jpg John BellWhigTennessee-7June 2, 1834 —
March 4, 1835
17James Knox Polk by GPA Healy, 1858.jpg James PolkDemocraticTennessee-924thDecember 7, 1835 —
March 4, 1837
25thSeptember 4, 1837 —
March 4, 1839
18RbrtMTHntr.jpg Robert M. T. HunterWhigVirginia-926thDecember 16, 1839 —
March 4, 1841
19John White.jpg John WhiteWhigKentucky-927thMay 31, 1841 —
March 4, 1843
20JohnWinstonJones.jpg John Winston JonesDemocraticVirginia-628thDecember 4, 1843 —
March 4, 1845
21John Wesley Davis.jpg John Wesley DavisDemocraticIndiana-629thDecember 1, 1845 —
March 4, 1847
22RCWinthrop.jpg Robert Charles WinthropWhigMassachusetts-130thDecember 6, 1847 —
March 4, 1849
23Cobb, Howell2.jpg Howell CobbDemocraticGeorgia-631stDecember 22, 1849 —
March 4, 1851
24LinnBoyd.jpg Linn BoydDemocraticKentucky-132ndDecember 1, 1851 —
March 4, 1853
33rdDecember 5, 1853 —
March 4, 1855
25Nathaniel Prentice Banks.jpg Nathaniel P. BanksAmerican/Republican*Massachusetts-734thFebruary 2, 1856 —
March 4, 1857
26James Lawrence Orr - Brady-Handy.jpg James Lawrence OrrDemocraticSouth Carolina-535thDecember 7, 1857 —
March 4, 1859
27William Pennington portrait.jpg William PenningtonRepublicanNew Jersey-536thFebruary 1, 1860 —
March 4, 1861
28Galusha A. Grow - Brady-Handy.jpg Galusha A. GrowRepublicanPennsylvania-1437thJuly 4, 1861 —
March 4, 1863
29Schuyler Colfax, photo portrait seated, c1855-1865.jpg Schuyler ColfaxRepublicanIndiana-938thDecember 7, 1863 —
March 4, 1865
39thDecember 4, 1865 —
March 4, 1867
40thMarch 4, 1867 —
March 3, 1869
30Theodore Medad Pomeroy - Brady-Handy.jpg Theodore M. PomeroyRepublicanNew York-24March 3, 1869 —
March 4, 1869
31James G. Blaine - Brady-Handy.jpg James G. BlaineRepublicanMaine-341stMarch 4, 1869 —
March 4, 1871
42ndMarch 4, 1871 —
March 4, 1873
43rdMarch 4, 1873 —
March 4, 1875
32Michael C. Kerr - Brady-Handy.jpg Michael C. KerrDemocraticIndiana-344thDecember 6, 1875 —
August 19, 1876
33Samuel J. Randall - Brady-Handy.jpg Samuel J. RandallDemocraticPennsylvania-3December 4, 1876 —
March 4, 1877
45thOctober 15, 1877 —
March 4, 1879
46thMarch 18, 1879 —
March 4, 1881
34J. Warren Keifer - Brady-Handy.jpg J. Warren KeiferRepublicanOhio-847thDecember 5, 1881 —
March 4, 1883
35John Griffin Carlisle, Brady-Handy photo portrait, ca1870-1880.jpg John G. CarlisleDemocraticKentucky-648thDecember 3, 1883 —
March 4, 1885
49thDecember 7, 1885 —
March 4, 1887
50thDecember 5, 1887 —
March 4, 1889
36Thomas Brackett Reed by John Singer Sargent.jpg Thomas Brackett ReedRepublicanMaine-151stDecember 2, 1889 —
March 4, 1891
37CharlesFrederickCrisp.jpg Charles Frederick CrispDemocraticGeorgia-352ndDecember 8, 1891 —
March 4, 1893
53rdAugust 7, 1893 —
March 4, 1895
38Thomas Brackett Reed by John Singer Sargent.jpg Thomas Brackett ReedRepublicanMaine-154thDecember 2, 1895 —
March 4, 1897
55thMarch 15, 1897 —
March 4, 1899
39DavidBremmerHenderson.jpg David B. HendersonRepublicanIowa-356thDecember 4, 1899 —
March 4, 1901
57thDecember 2, 1901 —
March 4, 1903
40JGCannon.jpg Joseph Gurney CannonRepublicanIllinois-1858thNovember 9, 1903 —
March 4, 1905
59thDecember 4, 1905 —
March 4, 1907
60thDecember 2, 1907 —
March 4, 1909
61stMarch 15, 1909 —
March 4, 1911
41James Beauchamp Clark.jpg Champ ClarkDemocraticMissouri-962ndApril 4, 1911 —
March 4, 1913
63rdApril 7, 1913 —
March 4, 1915
64thDecember 6, 1915 —
March 4, 1917
65thApril 2, 1917 —
March 4, 1919
42Frederick Huntington Gillett.png Frederick GillettRepublicanMassachusetts-266thMay 19, 1919 —
March 4, 1921
67thApril 11, 1921 —
March 4, 1923
68thDecember 3, 1923 —
March 4, 1925
43Nick Longworth Portrait.JPG Nicholas LongworthRepublicanOhio-169thDecember 7, 1925 —
March 4, 1927
70thDecember 5, 1927 —
March 4, 1929
71stApril 15, 1929 —
March 4, 1931
44John n garner.jpg John Nance GarnerDemocraticTexas-1572ndDecember 7, 1931 —
March 4, 1933
45Henry T. Rainey.jpg Henry Thomas RaineyDemocraticIllinois-2073rdMarch 9, 1933 —
August 19, 1934
46Joseph Byrns.jpg Joseph Wellington ByrnsDemocraticTennessee-574thJanuary 3, 1935 —
June 4, 1936
47William Brockman Bankhead (Young).jpg William B. BankheadDemocraticAlabama-7June 4, 1936 —
January 3, 1937
75thJanuary 5, 1937 —
January 3, 1939
76thJanuary 3, 1939 —
September 15, 1940
48Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn.jpg Sam RayburnDemocraticTexas-4September 16, 1940 —
January 3, 1941
77thJanuary 3, 1941 —
January 3, 1943
78thJanuary 6, 1943 —
January 3, 1945
79thJanuary 3, 1945 —
January 3, 1947
49SPEAKER JWMartin.jpg Joseph William Martin, Jr.RepublicanMassachusetts-1480thJanuary 3, 1947 —
January 3, 1949
50Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn.jpg Sam RayburnDemocraticTexas-481stJanuary 3, 1949 —
January 3, 1951
82ndJanuary 3, 1951 —
January 3, 1953
51SPEAKER JWMartin.jpg Joseph William Martin, Jr.RepublicanMassachusetts-1483rdJanuary 3, 1953 —
January 3, 1955
52Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn.jpg Sam RayburnDemocraticTexas-484thJanuary 3, 1955 —
January 3, 1957
85thJanuary 3, 1957 —
January 3, 1959
86thJanuary 7, 1959 —
January 3, 1961
87thJanuary 3, 1961 —
November 16, 1961
53Spiker John McCormack.jpg John William McCormackDemocraticMassachusetts-12January 10, 1962 —
January 3, 1963
Massachusetts-988thJanuary 9, 1963 —
January 3, 1965
89thJanuary 4, 1965 —
January 3, 1967
90thJanuary 10, 1967 —
January 3, 1969
91stJanuary 3, 1969 —
January 3, 1971
54Spiker albert.jpg Carl AlbertDemocraticOklahoma-392ndJanuary 21, 1971 —
January 3, 1973
93rdJanuary 3, 1973 —
January 3, 1975
94thJanuary 14, 1975 —
January 3, 1977
55Tip O'Neill 1978.jpg Tip O'NeillDemocraticMassachusetts-895thJanuary 4, 1977 —
January 3, 1979
96thJanuary 15, 1979 —
January 3, 1981
97thJanuary 5, 1981 —
January 3, 1983
98thJanuary 3, 1983 —
January 3, 1985
99thJanuary 3, 1985 —
January 3, 1987
56SpeakerWright.jpg Jim WrightDemocraticTexas-12100thJanuary 6, 1987 —
January 3, 1989
101stJanuary 3, 1989 —
June 6, 1989
57Tom Foley Official Portrait.jpg Tom FoleyDemocraticWashington-5June 6, 1989 —
January 3, 1991
102ndJanuary 3, 1991 —
January 3, 1993
103rdJanuary 5, 1993 —
January 3, 1995
58NewtGingrich.jpg Newt GingrichRepublicanGeorgia-6104thJanuary 4, 1995 —
January 3, 1997
105thJanuary 7, 1997 —
January 3, 1999
59Dennis Hastert.jpg Dennis HastertRepublicanIllinois-14106thJanuary 6, 1999 —
January 3, 2001
107thJanuary 3, 2001 —
January 3, 2003
108thJanuary 7, 2003 —
January 3, 2005
109thJanuary 3, 2005 —
January 3, 2007
60Speaker Nancy Pelosi.jpg Nancy PelosiDemocraticCalifornia-8110thJanuary 4, 2007 —
January 3, 2009
111thJanuary 6, 2009 —
January 3, 2011
61John Boehner official portrait.jpg John BoehnerRepublicanOhio-8112thJanuary 5, 2011 –
January 2, 2013
113thJanuary 3, 2013 –

* Note: Banks, a former Democrat originally elected as a Know Nothing, had come to be associated with the Republicans by the time the 34th Congress convened. Because the Republicans did not command a majority in Congress, and Banks did not receive any votes from Democrats or southern Know Nothings, Banks, after two months of deadlocked balloting, could only be elected after a motion was passed allowing the election of a speaker by plurality vote.

List of Speakers by time in office[edit]

17 years, 53 days
Sam Rayburn from 1940 to 1947,
1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1961
9 years, 350 days
Tip O'Neill from 1977 to 1987
8 years, 344 days
John W. McCormack from 1962 to 1971
4 years
Nancy Pelosi from 2007 to 2011.
The first woman in United States history to serve as Speaker.
275 days
John Bell from 1834 to 1835
257 days
Michael C. Kerr from 1875 to 1876
1 day
Theodore M. Pomeroy in 1869

This list is based on the difference between dates; if counted by number of calendar days all the figures would be one greater. Time after adjournment of one Congress but before the convening of the next Congress is not counted. For example, Nathaniel Macon was Speaker in both the 8th and 9th Congresses, but the eight-month gap between the two Congresses is not counted toward his service.

Sam Rayburn is the only person to have served as Speaker of the House for more than ten years.

Theodore M. Pomeroy served as Speaker of the House for one day after Speaker Schuyler Colfax resigned to become Vice President of the United States; Pomeroy's term as a Member of Congress ended the next day.

Sam Rayburn, Henry Clay, Thomas Brackett Reed, Joseph William Martin, Jr., Frederick Muhlenberg, and John W. Taylor are the only Speakers of the House to have ever served in non-consecutive Congresses (i.e. another Speaker served in between each tenure).

# in
48/50/52Sam Rayburn17 years, 53 days1
55Tip O'Neill9 years, 350 days2
53John W. McCormack8 years, 344 days3
59Dennis Hastert7 years, 359 days4
41Champ Clark6 years, 357 days5
08/10/13Henry Clay6 years, 231 days6
54Carl Albert5 years, 337 days7
40Joseph Gurney Cannon5 years, 285 days8
57Tom Foley5 years, 209 days9
31James G. Blaine5 years, 93 days10
42Frederick H. Gillett4 years, 341 days11
29Schuyler Colfax4 years, 176 days12
36/38Thomas Brackett Reed4 years, 172 days13
43Nicholas Longworth4 years, 133 days14
47William B. Bankhead4 years, 102 days15
15Andrew Stevenson4 years, 83 days16
49/51Joseph William Martin, Jr.4 years17
60Nancy Pelosi3 years, 363 days18
58Newt Gingrich3 years, 361 days19
61John Boehner3 years, 364 days20
06Nathaniel Macon3 years, 317 days21
35John G. Carlisle3 years, 267 days22
33Samuel J. Randall3 years, 215 days23
01/03Frederick Muhlenberg3 years, 64 days24
07Joseph Bradley Varnum3 years, 49 days25
04Jonathan Dayton3 years, 14 days26
37Charles Frederick Crisp2 years, 295 days27
17James K. Polk2 years, 268 days28
24Linn Boyd2 years, 182 days29
39David B. Henderson2 years, 182 days30
56Jim Wright2 years, 151 days31
19John White1 year, 277 days32
28Galusha A. Grow1 year, 243 days33
11/14John W. Taylor1 year, 198 days34
45Henry Thomas Rainey1 year, 163 days35
46Joseph W. Byrns, Sr.1 year, 153 days36
02Jonathan Trumbull, Jr.1 year, 131 days37
21John Wesley Davis1 year, 93 days38
05Theodore Sedgwick1 year, 92 days39
12Philip Pendleton Barbour1 year, 90 days40
20John Winston Jones1 year, 90 days41
34J. Warren Keifer1 year, 89 days42
22Robert Charles Winthrop1 year, 88 days43
26James Lawrence Orr1 year, 87 days44
44John Nance Garner1 year, 87 days45
18Robert M. T. Hunter1 year, 78 days46
23Howell Cobb1 year, 72 days47
09Langdon Cheves1 year, 44 days48
27William Pennington1 year, 31 days49
25Nathaniel P. Banks1 year, 30 days50
16John Bell275 days51
32Michael C. Kerr257 days52
30Theodore M. Pomeroy1 day53

Number of Speakers per State[edit]

South Carolina
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina

List of living former Speakers[edit]

Since the death of former Speaker Tom Foley on October 18, 2013, there are now four living former Speakers.

SpeakerYears in officeUp-arrow Date of birth (and age today)
Jim Wright1987 – 1989(1922-12-22) December 22, 1922 (age 92)
Newt Gingrich1995 – 1999(1943-06-17) June 17, 1943 (age 71)
Dennis Hastert1999 – 2007(1942-01-02) January 2, 1942 (age 73)
Nancy Pelosi2007 – 2011(1940-03-26) March 26, 1940 (age 74)

Recent election results[edit]

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives election, 2007[edit]

Source: Election of the Speaker Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. January 4, 2007.

CandidateVotes %
Nancy Pelosi (D)23353.6%
John Boehner (R)20246.4%

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives election, 2009[edit]

Source: Election of the Speaker Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. January 6, 2009.

CandidateVotes %
Nancy Pelosi (D)25558.6%
John Boehner (R)17440.1%
Not voting50.9%

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives election, 2011[edit]

Source: Election of the Speaker Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. January 5, 2011.

CandidateVotes %
John Boehner (R)24255.6%
Nancy Pelosi (D)17339.8%
Heath Shuler (D)112.5%
John Lewis (D)2<1.0%
Dennis Cardoza (D)1<1.0%
Jim Costa (D)1<1.0%
Jim Cooper (D)1<1.0%
Steny Hoyer (D)1<1.0%
Marcy Kaptur (D)1<1.0%
Not voting[b]2<1.0%

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives election, 2013[edit]

Source: Election of the Speaker Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. January 3, 2013.

CandidateVotes %
John Boehner (R)22050.8%
Nancy Pelosi (D)19244.3%
Eric Cantor (R)3<1.0%
Jim Cooper (D)2<1.0%
Allen West (R)[c]2<1.0%
Justin Amash (R)1<1.0%
John Dingell (D)1<1.0%
Jim Jordan (R)1<1.0%
Raul Labrador (R)1<1.0%
John Lewis (D)1<1.0%
Colin Powell (R)[c]1<1.0%
David Walker[c]1<1.0%
Not voting[d]71.6%

See also[edit]



  1. ^ At the time of the election, one seat was vacant, leaving 434 voting representatives.
  2. ^ Of these 2, 1 member did not cast a vote and 1 cast a vote of "present".
  3. ^ a b c Not a sitting member of the House of Representatives.
  4. ^ Of these 7, 6 members did not cast a vote and 1 cast a vote of "present".
  5. ^ At the time of the election, two seats were vacant, leaving 433 voting representatives.


  1. ^ "Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives". Clerk.house.gov. Retrieved August 10, 2012. 
  2. ^ See the United States Presidential Line of Succession statute, 3 U.S.C. § 19
  3. ^ a b http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30857.pdf
  4. ^ Ripley, Party Leaders in the House of Representatives, pp. 98-99.
  5. ^ Oswald Seidensticker, "Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives, in the First Congress, 1789," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 13, No. 2 (Jul. 1889), pp. 184-206 in JSTOR
  6. ^ C Stewart III, Architect or tactician? Henry Clay and the institutional development of the US House of Representatives" 1998, online
  7. ^ Robinson, William A. "Thomas B. Reed, Parliamentarian". The American Historical Review, October 1931. pp. 137–138.
  8. ^ Oleszek, Walter J. (December 1998). "A Pre-Twentieth Century Look at the House Committee on Rules". U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved July 5, 2007. 
  9. ^ Charles O. Jones, "Joseph G. Cannon and Howard W. Smith: An Essay on the Limits of Leadership in the House of Representatives," Journal of Politics (1968), 30: 617-646 doi:10.2307/2128798
  10. ^ "Sam Rayburn House Museum". Texas Historical Commission. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved July 5, 2007. 
  11. ^ See Party Divisions of United States Congresses
  12. ^ a b Condon, Stephanie (August 6, 2010). "GOP to Launch "Fire Pelosi" Bus Tour". CBS News. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Sanchez, Ray (November 3, 2010). "Nancy Pelosi: House Speaker's Exclusive Interview With Diane Sawyer - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
  14. ^ Allan Nevins. Ordeal of the Union, Volume II: A House Dividing 1852-1857 (New York, 1947), 413-415.
  15. ^ Allan Nevins. The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume II: Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861 (New York, 1950), 116-123.
  16. ^ Bush, George W. (January 23, 2007). "President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address". The White House. Retrieved August 26, 2007. 
  17. ^ San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. City & County of San Francisco, November 16, 2006. Retrieved on July 5, 2007.
  18. ^ "Nancy Pelosi steeled White House for health push - Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush". Politico.Com. Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
  19. ^ Braver, Rita (October 17, 2010). "Nancy Pelosi Fires Back". CBS News. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  20. ^ Lester, Kerry (October 14, 2010). "‘Fire Pelosi Bus Tour’ not joint endeavor". Daily Herald. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  21. ^ Gavin, Patrick (September 16, 2010). "The List: RNC's 'Fire Pelosi' Bus Tour". The Politico. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  22. ^ "RNC's "Fire Pelosi" bus tour stops in Waco". CBS. September 26, 2010. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  23. ^ Knickerbocker, Brad (September 15, 2010). "Michael Steele's 'Fire Pelosi' bus tour: 48 states or bust". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  24. ^ Krotzer, Chelsea (October 10, 2010). "Republican leader urges party faithful to ‘Fire Pelosi’". Billings Gazette. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  25. ^ Hamby, Peter (September 24, 2010). "Steele's bus tour draws crowds, but also critics". CNN. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  26. ^ Bowman, Quinn (September 15, 2010). "RNC Chairman Steele Urges Unity as He Rolls Out 'Fire Pelosi' Bus Tour". PBS. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  27. ^ Hurst, Steven R. (January 5, 2011). "Republicans take charge of US House, poised for clashes with Obama over spending, health care". 1310 News. Retrieved January 7, 2011. 
  28. ^ See Akhil Reed Amar & Vikram Amar,Is The Presidential Succession Law Constitutional?, 48 Stan. L. Rev. 113 (1995). This issue is discussed in the entry on the United States Presidential Line of Succession

External links[edit]

United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Vice President
Joe Biden
2nd in lineSucceeded by
President pro tempore of the Senate
Patrick Leahy