Like the common law of this country, which is based on that of England, the Rules of Order in our deliberative assemblies, are mainly derived from those of the mother country. Our national Congress, (with many modifications, however,) have adopted all the rules for conducting business in Parliament, applicable to our republican institutions and form of government, and, in the absence of any special laws of order, those laid down in Jefferson's Manual, which are a digest of those of the British Legislature, are considered good authority. Our State Legislatures copy, in general, the principal rules of order adopted in Congress. The States, however, differ, very essentially, in many particulars, although in all, the rules of the two houses of Congress may be considered as the basis of their several forms of proceeding.
For Societies, Boards of Managers, Town Meetings, and the business meetings of local institutions in general, no fixed rules have ever been prepared and laid down in this country, and hence a great want of uniformity in the arrangement and mode of conducting the details of business, is apparent among us. Presiding officers, with some knowledge of legislative rules, find no difficulty in managing a meeting, because they bring this knowledge to bear; but those deficient in this particular, labor under great difficulty, and are constantly liable to serious embarrassment, especially should there be any among those over whom they preside, disposed to be troublesome or captious.
The mode of conducting a business meeting for a Society, and the rules necessary for its government, are, in themselves, entirely simple and easily comprehended; but as they are not clearly expressed in any Legislative Manual, some study is necessary before they can be properly understood, and promptly and efficiently applied. And while it is scarcely possible that any individual, possessing ordinary experience and good common sense, will be at a loss in satisfactorily directing the business of a meeting, yet, it is evident, that with some knowledge of the legislative mode of propounding and deciding questions of order, greater facility will be possessed by the Chairman, and a degree of regularity, propriety and dignity, given to the doings of a meeting, not to be hoped for under less favorable circumstances.
Uniformity of proceeding can never be obtained while every presiding officer is allowed to decide questions of order according to his own will, or on the mere ground of temporary expediency. Invariably the object of a meeting is, or should be, to obtain a free, full and unbiassed expression of opinion; and to secure this, the rights and privileges of both officers and members, majorities and minorities, must be properly guarded. Rules of order have been found necessary to promote these ends, and hence their adoption in all deliberative assemblies. Without such rules, the influence of a presiding officer, which is very great, or the pertinacity of a popular member or members, in advocating a favorite scheme, might wholly frustrate the real object of a meeting, and render its proceedings altogether nugatory. Fixed fundamental rules are therefore essentially necessary, as well to carry out the true purposes of a meeting, as to protect the rights of every member.
The deficiency heretofore felt in this particular, it is now, with much diffidence, proposed to supply in this publication. The rules for conducting business here laid down, are based upon those in use in legislative bodies, with such suggestions, modifications and alterations, as appear to be necessary to make them applicable to the purposes intended. The leading objects are- to relieve presiding officers from embarrassment, to give greater facility in the transaction of business, to economize time, and to produce uniformity and impartiality in the government of societies and meetings - and if these should be in any degree promoted, the design of this work will be fully accomplished.