Robert’s Rules of Order

Robert’s Rules of Order in the United States

Roberts Rules of Order

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In 1876, U.S. General Henry M. Robert set out to bring the rules of the American Congress to members of ordinary societies with the publication of Pocket Manual of Rules of Order. It sold half a million copies before this revision of 1915 and made Robert’s name synonymous with the orderly rule of reason in deliberative societies.

A work on parliamentary law is needed, based, in its general principles, upon the rules and practice of Congress, but adapted, in its details, to the use of ordinary societies. Such a work should give not only the methods of organizing and conducting meetings, the duties of officers, and names of ordinary motions, but also a systematic statement in reference to each motion, as to its object and effect; whether it can be amended or debated; if debatable, the extent to which it opens the main question to debate; the circumstances under which it can be made, and what other motions can be made while it is pending. Robert’s Rules of Order (published in 1876, slight additions being made in 1893) was prepared with a hope of supplying the above information in a condensed and systematic form, each rule being complete in itself, or giving references to every section that in any way qualifies it, so that a stranger to the work can refer to any special subject with safety.

The fact that during these thirty-nine years a half million copies of these Rules have been published would indicate that there is a demand for a work of this kind. But the constant inquiries from all sections of the country for information concerning proceedings in deliberative assemblies that is not contained in Rules of Order, seems to demand a revision and enlargement of the manual. To meet this want, the work has been thoroughly revised and enlarged, and, to avoid confusion with the old Rules, is published under the title of “Robert’s Rules of Order Revised.”


The object of Rules of Order is to assist an assembly to accomplish in the best possible manner the work for which it was designed. To do this it is necessary to restrain the individual somewhat, as the right of an individual, in any community, to do what he pleases, is incompatible with the interests of the whole. Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty. Experience has shown the importance of definiteness in the law; and in this country, where customs are so slightly established and the published manuals of parliamentary practice so conflicting, no society should attempt to conduct business without having adopted some work upon the subject as the authority in all cases not covered by its own special rules.

While it is important that an assembly has good rules, it is more important that it be not without some rules to govern its proceedings. It is much more important, for instance, that an assembly has a rule determining the rank of the motion to postpone indefinitely, than that it gives this motion the highest rank of all subsidiary motions except to lay on the table, as in the U. S. Senate; or gives it the lowest rank, as in the U. S. House of Representatives; or gives it equal rank with the previous question, to postpone definitely, and to commit, so that if one is pending none of the others may be moved, as under the old parliamentary law. This has been well expressed by one of the greatest of English writers on parliamentary law: “Whether these forms be in all cases the most rational or not is really not of so great importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business, not subject to the caprice of the chairman or captiousness of the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.”

Main source: Henry M. Robert (1837–1923). Robert’s Rules of Order Revised. Preface.

Contents of the Brief Edition

Part I: Why Have Rules?
Chapter 1: The “Why and Wherefore” of Meeting Rules

Part II: So You’re Going to a Meeting
Chapter 2: What Happens at a Meeting?
Chapter 3: How Decisions Are Made at a Meeting: Handling Motions
Chapter 4: Debate
Chapter 5: Amendments
Chapter 6: Postponing and Referring to a Committee
Chapter 7: How Can a Group Change Its Mind?

Part III: Voting and Elections
Chapter 8: Voting
Chapter 9: Nominations and Elections

Part IV: Bylaws and Other Rules and How to Use Them
Chapter 10: What Are the Basic Types of Rules?
Chapter 11: How Are Rules Enforced and How Are They Suspended?

Part V: Beyond the Basics
Chapter 12: Looking Up the Rules: How to Use Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised
Chapter 13: Frequently Asked Questions
Chapter 14: A Summary of Motions

Part VI: So You’ve Been Elected (or Appointed) …
Chapter 15: President or Vice-President
Chapter 16: Secretary
Chapter 17: Treasurer
Chapter 18: Board Member
Chapter 19: Committee Chairman or Member
Chapter 20: Convention Delegate or Alternate

Robert’s Rules of Order: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Robert’s Rules of Order. This part provides references, in relation to Robert’s Rules of Order, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Robert’s Rules of Order by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Robert’s Rules of Order and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Robert’s Rules of Order or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Robert’s Rules of Order and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Robert’s Rules of Order. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Robert’s Rules of Order should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Robert’s Rules of Order when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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