Five Facts on House Speaker Madness
All eyes are on the House of Representatives as it slogs through round after round of voting to determine the speaker of the House for the new Congress. While unprecedented in modern U.S. history, this is not the first time this normally mundane process has been bogged down in multiple rounds of voting. Here are Five Facts about previous contentious speaker elections in the nation’s history.
1. It’s taken multiple ballots to elect a speaker 14 times.
There have been 127 speaker elections since the creation of the House of Representatives in 1789. The first known multiballot election took place only four years later when Frederick Muhlenberg, the first speaker of the House in the nation’s history, reclaimed his gavel after three rounds of votes.
2. No speaker has been elected with between three and nine ballots.
When speaker races run long, they often run very long. While a number of speakers have been elected on the second or third ballot, if no one has claimed the gavel by that point, history shows that there are often many more rounds of votes to come.
3. The longest speaker election took two months to resolve.
In 1855, nearly two dozen candidates fought for the speaker’s gavel for the 34th Congress. After 133 ballots, fierce debating, and even physical altercations, anti-slavery Massachusetts Rep. Nathaniel Banks narrowly won out over pro-slavery South Carolina Rep. William Aiken, Jr. by a mere three votes.
4. Many contested speaker races took place in the run-up to the Civil War.
Between 1847 and 1859, four elections for speaker of the House took multiple ballots to resolve as the nation found itself increasingly divided over the issue of slavery and political parties weren’t as defined as today. In addition to Nathaniel Bank’s record victory, other elections during this period took as many as 63 ballots to resolve.
5. It’s been a century since a speaker wasn’t elected on the first ballot.
In 1923, it took the House of Representatives nine rounds of voting to elect a speaker of the House. A group of Progressive Republicans opposed incumbent speaker (and eventual winner) Fredrick Gillett (R-MA) until they received assurances that there would be a consideration to liberalize the rules of the House.