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Thomas Brackett Reed, (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Mainemarker, and Speaker of the House from 1889–1891 and from 1895–1899. He was a powerful leader of the Republican Party but was unable to stop the Spanish-American War.

Political life

Born in Portland, Mainemarker, Reed attended public school, including Portland High Schoolmarker, before graduating from Bowdoin Collegemarker in 1860. He studied law. After college, he went on to become acting assistant paymaster, United States Navy, from April, 1864, to November 1865, and was admitted to the bar in 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 1870-72. Reed became city solicitor of Portland 1874–1877, before being elected as a Republican to the Forty-fifth and to the eleven succeeding Congresses, serving from 1877, to September 4, 1899, when he resigned.

In the House of Representatives

Early service

Acerbic wit

He was known for his acerbic wit (asked if his party might nominate him for President, he noted "They could do worse, and they probably will"; His size, standing at over 6 feet in height and weighing over 300 lbs (136 kg), was also a distinguishing factor for him. Reed was a member of the social circle that included intellectuals and politicians Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams, John Hay and Mark Twain.

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 personally appear to defend his reputation. He chaired of the Committee on the Judiciary (Forty-seventh Congress) and chaired the Rules Committee (Fifty-first, Fifty-fourth, and Fifty-fifth Congresses).

As the Speaker of the House

Reed was first elected Speaker after an intense fight with William McKinley of Ohio. Reed gained the support of young Theodore Roosevelt, whose influence with 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 that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch"; this was accomplished by carefully studying the existing procedures of the U.S. House, most dating to the original designs written by Thomas Jefferson. What followed has popularly been called the "Battle of the Reed Rules".

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, thus forcing the House to suspend business. This is popularly called the disappearing quorum. As Speaker, Reed's solution was as controversial as it was simple: when a quorum call was, Reed began counting every member present in the chamber, whether they chose to answer the roll call or not. Reed's intent was simple: to enable the majority party to make decisions that the minority could not block by parliamentary maneuver.

Reed was convinced of the need to streamline House procedure, but the Democrats had the most to lose as the minority party. The parliamentary intrigue and back room infighting was heated and at times threatening. Reed's cunning and Cannon's technical skill won out. His changes paved the way for the Speakership of Joseph Gurney Cannon.

Presidential aspirations and departure from Congress

Official portrait of Thomas B.
Reed tried to obtain the Republican nomination for President in 1896, but Ohio Governor McKinley's campaign manager, Mark Hanna, blocked his efforts.

In 1898 Reed supported McKinley in efforts to head off war with Spain. When McKinley switched to support for the war, Reed disagreed. He resigned from Congress in 1900 to enter private law practice.

On a nostalgic trip to Washington in 1902 he had a sudden heart attack and died; Henry Cabot Lodge eulogized him as "a good hater, who detested shams, humbugs and pretense above all else." He was buried in Evergreen Cemeterymarker in Portland, Mainemarker.


The coastal town of Reed, Oregon, was named after him.

His home town of Portland, Maine, erected a statue of him at the corner of Western Promenade and Pine St in a ceremony on August 31st, 1910.


  1. Bob Welch. "Of cranes with trees and bands on knees". Register-Guard. 16 Dec 2007. Accessed 21 April 2009.
  2. Robert Klotz. "Portland Locations with National Political Significance". Portland Political Trail. Accessed 21 April.


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