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Until 1841, that is.

History of the House

The first rule intended to limit the time a Representative could speak in debate on the House Floor was adopted on this date. Concerns about long speeches impeding House business had dated to at least 1820, when the irascible John Randolph of Virginia held the House Floor for a four-hour speech on the Missouri Compromise bill. A couple of proposals followed to limit the time a Member could speak to one hour; but the House did not act on them. In March 1833, Frank E. Plummer of Mississippi “so wearied the House in the last hours of the Congress that repeated attempts were made to induce him to resume his seat, and the House was frequently in extreme confusion and disorder.” Such episodes seemed on the increase. As the House membership grew with westward expansion and the incorporation of new territories into the Union, the impracticability of unlimited debate time on the House Floor grew apparent. The 1841 rule, adopted on the motion of Lott Warren of Georgia, required that “no member shall be allowed to speak more than one hour to any question put under debate.” It passed the House by a vote of 111 to 75—with John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts (known as “Old Man Eloquent” by his peers) among those dissenting. Warren’s amendment, however, only temporarily altered the House Rules. According to Hinds’ Precedents the one-hour limit did not become a standing rule of the House until June 1842.
After that, the minority party would sometimes make use of the "Disappearing Quorum".
Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine proceeded against the “disappearing quorum” during a roll-call vote by ruling as present those Members gathered on the floor but not voting. This seemingly innocuous act represented the beginning of a revolution in House rules and the Speakership. At the time, a quorum (i.e., the minimum number of Members required to conduct House business—half plus one) was established only by counting the number of Members who cast votes. Minority party Members could block legislation they opposed by refusing to vote or to respond to quorum calls. This practice stymied closely divided Congresses in the late 19th century. As a Member of the minority party Reed had defended the tactic as an “extraordinary mode” of protecting against the tyranny of the majority. Yet, when Republicans gained the majority and made Reed Speaker, he abruptly instructed the Clerk to count present all Members on the floor. Democrats vigorously protested. Days of contentious debate ensued, but Reed prevailed. His subsequent overhaul of House procedures, dubbed “Reed’s Rules,” greatly expanded his powers.
Extensive blockquotes, I know, but they are from a US Government website and therefore free from copyright.

The basic point is: when traditions get in the way of business getting done, traditions get changed. It happened today in the Senate; it happened in the House, but 172 years earlier.


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