THE “CONVENTIONS” OF CONVENTIONS: POLITICAL RITUALS AND TRADITIONS

JEFFERSON’S MANUAL

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Here, “Jefferson’s Manual” is referred to as the guiding political manual by which this 1853 Convention will abide. Ohio State Convention for Colored Freemen, 1853, “1853 Ohio Convention Rules: reference to “Jefferson’s Manual”

“Jefferson’s Manual” is one of the political manuals describing appropriate conduct that is mentioned by name in some of the convention minutes (as seen in the image accompanying this page).

Actually titled the Manual of Parliamentary Practice, “Jefferson’s Manual” was used by the U.S. Congress.[1] Named after President Thomas Jefferson, who compiled and published the work in 1801 when he was Vice President, “Jefferson’s Manual” was probably the reference work used most commonly in earlier Colored Conventions as it is cited in some minutes as the adopted system of parliamentary rules.[2] It was also the manual used by most state legislatures that were modeled, in turn, after Congress.

Jefferson begins his introduction with an excerpt from Section 17.12, Order in Debate, with the following epigraph:

No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; not to stand up and interrupt him; nor to pass between the Speaker and the speaking member; nor to go across the house, or to walk up and down it, or to take books or papers from the table, or write there. [3]

With this very direct description of what behavior is prohibited, Jefferson sets the tone for his manual which he intended as a definitive description of the rules of order for the efficient proceedings of the United States Senate. Although in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, legislators would have been well informed about parliamentary procedure, Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice established absolute procedure. Previous to this publication, the Senate was governed by “two dozen brief rules.” Jefferson saw this lack of complete oversight as the potential for “extremes of chaos and tyranny.”[3]

“Jefferson’s Manual,” though continuously reprinted, saw two major editions: 1801 and 1812.[3] Jefferson’s sources included writing by John Hatsell on parliamentary practice guiding the House of Commons. Hatsell published several works which Jefferson spoke about, including Precedents of the Proceedings in the House of Commons (3 vols., 1785) and—when making the changes for the 1812 edition—Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons (1796).

Much as Jefferson acknowledged that he was inspired by Hatsell’s work, the Colored Conventions built upon Jefferson’s work as they tweaked and emphasized various aspects of their own structures as they went about creating the political rituals that came to define them as political entities in their own right.

References:

[1] “1801-1850: February 27, 1801 No Hissing.” Senate.gov (government website). United States Senate, Senate Historical Office, Office of the Secretary Webmaster. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/No_Hissing.html.

[2] “Official Proceedings of the Ohio State Convention of Colored Freemen: Held in Columbus, January 19th – 21st, 1853.” Columbus, OH. ColoredConventions.org, accessed April 6, 2016, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/592.

[3] Thomas Jefferson, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, first edition 1801 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1993), introduction. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/SDoc103-8.pdf.