Robert and his Rules of Order

Once again, the US Postal Service has denied a petition to feature on a stamp the visage of Gen. Henry Martyn Robert. We have stamps honoring Wonder Woman and other individuals who do not exist, but we cannot honor the man who wrote Robert’s Rules of Order, a treatise used around the world, from church committee meetings to national parliaments, that, in many ways, makes participatory government and collective decision-making possible. I know none of us like meetings, but still, we should salute what this man accomplished. The linked article gives some background on Gen. Robert and how he came up with his rules:

As Robert the grandson tells the story, the elder Robert was living in New Bedford, Mass., in 1863 and was asked to preside over a meeting to consider the defense of the city during the Civil War.

He didn’t know beans about it [presiding over a meeting], and he found it very embarrassing,” Robert III said. “He made up his mind that if he got out of it alive, he would learn something about the subject.”

Learning something about parliamentary procedure involved reading a few books and making some notes, which he carried in his wallet for about four years.

When he moved to San Francisco, he encountered a city where prostitution was rife and Chinese laborers brought in to build the railroad were exploited, even chased by dogs for sport. Robert, a Baptist lay leader, was offended.

He joined the YMCA and several newly formed religious groups dedicated to relieving the plight of exploited souls, but he found that the city’s motley population had discordant notions about how to conduct meetings. San Francisco needed rules.

When Robert came out with the first version of his rules of order in 1876, he had trouble finding a publisher. Who’d want to read such a book? So he printed up 4,000 copies himself. Since then, Robert III says, it has sold 5 million copies.

I suspect that the very committee that turned down his stamp did so after receiving a motion that was properly seconded, with all in favor saying “aye,” and all opposed by the same sign.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fwsonnek

    Awesome post.

    Robert’s Rule of Order represents truly the gold standard for public discourse.

    It guards the individual’s voice, and balances that against the needs of the group.

    It masterfully therefore promotes all that is good about a republican form of government and curbs all that is evil about democracy.

    In my reflection on my own vocation, I see what is all good reflected in what Robert was trying to accomplish.

    The holy part of our vocation and where God hides Himself is without fail in the humble eyeglazing details that do the opposite of exalting my ego.

    Mothers who care for their young are truly blessed in their vocation here.

    Thanks for this post. It will be my point of reflection for the week I think.

  • fwsonnek

    Awesome post.

    Robert’s Rule of Order represents truly the gold standard for public discourse.

    It guards the individual’s voice, and balances that against the needs of the group.

    It masterfully therefore promotes all that is good about a republican form of government and curbs all that is evil about democracy.

    In my reflection on my own vocation, I see what is all good reflected in what Robert was trying to accomplish.

    The holy part of our vocation and where God hides Himself is without fail in the humble eyeglazing details that do the opposite of exalting my ego.

    Mothers who care for their young are truly blessed in their vocation here.

    Thanks for this post. It will be my point of reflection for the week I think.

  • Pingback: All in favor, say “aye” « Casting Out Nines

  • Pingback: All in favor, say “aye” « Casting Out Nines


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