Reed, Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett), 1839-1902
Thomas Brackett Reed (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), was an American politician from the state of Maine, and was a member of the Republican Party. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives 12 times, first in 1876, and served as Speaker of the House, from 1889–1891 and again from 1895–1899.
Occasionally ridiculed as "Czar Reed", he had great influence over the agenda and operations of the House, more so than any previous speaker. He increased the Speaker's power by instituting the "Reed Rules," which limited the ability of the minority party to prevent the establishment of a quorum.
Reed helped pass the Lodge Bill, which sought to protect African American voting rights in the Southern United States, but the bill failed to pass in the Senate and never became law. He opposed the Spanish–American War and resigned from Congress in 1899.
Reed was born in Portland, Maine on October 18, 1839 to Matilda Prince (Mitchell) and Thomas B. Reed. Reed attended public schools, including Portland High School, before attending Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1860.
Afterward, he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1865. He was an acting assistant paymaster for the United States Navy during the Civil War, from April 1864 to November 1865. He practiced in Portland and was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1868 and 1869. He served in the Maine Senate in 1870 but left to serve as the state's Attorney General from 1870 to 1872. Reed became city solicitor of Portland from 1874 to 1877 before being elected as a Republican to the 45th Congress in 1876.
As a House freshman, Reed was appointed to the Potter Commission, which was to investigate voting irregularities in the presidential election of 1876, where his skill at cross examination forced Democrat Samuel J. Tilden to appear in person to defend his reputation. He chaired the Committee on the Judiciary (Forty-seventh Congress) and chaired the Rules Committee (Fifty-first, Fifty-fourth, and Fifty-fifth Congresses).
Reed was first elected Speaker after an intense fight with William McKinley of Ohio. Reed gained the support of young Theodore Roosevelt; his influence as the newly appointed Civil Service Commissioner was the decisive factor. Reed served as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1889 to 1891 and then from 1895 to 1899, as well as being Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.
During his time as Speaker, Reed assiduously and dramatically increased the power of the Speaker over the House; although the power of the Speaker had always waxed (most notably during Henry Clay's tenure) and waned, the position had previously commanded influence rather than outright power. Reed set out to put into practical effect his dictum, "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch." That was accomplished by carefully studying the existing procedures of the US House, most dating to the original designs, written by Thomas Jefferson. In particular, Reed sought to circumscribe the ability of the minority party to block business by way of its members refusing to answer a quorum call, which, under the rules, prevented a member from being counted as present even if he were physically in the chamber, thus forcing the House to suspend business. That is popularly called the disappearing quorum.
Reed sought the Republican nomination for President in 1896, but Mark Hanna secured the nomination for Ohio Governor William McKinley.
In 1898, Reed joined McKinley in efforts to head off war with Spain. When McKinley switched to supporting the war, Reed, refusing to change his position, opposed him and then resigned from both the speakership and his seat in Congress in 1899, returning to private law practice.
In early December 1902, Reed was in Washington on legal business with the United States Supreme Court. On December 2, Reed visited his former colleagues in the Ways and Means Committee room. Later that day, he became ill while in another room of the Capitol and was rushed to the nearby Arlington Hotel. In the Arlington, Reed was diagnosed with Bright's disease complicated by appendicitis; he died five days later at 12:10am on December 7 with his wife and daughter at his bedside. A Gridiron Club dinner was occurring at the same time in the same hotel as Reed's death. When news broke of Reed's passing, "the diners rose to drink a silent toast to a man who had so often been among them".
He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, Maine. His will was executed by his good friend, the financier Augustus G. Paine, Sr. He left his family an estate of $200,000.
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|Lynching in literature|
|French spoliation claims|
|Politics, government and public administration|
|Representatives, U.S. Congress--Maine|
|Speakers of the House, U.S. Congress|