Thomas Brackett Reed
(1839 - 1902)
Thomas B. Reed was one of Maine's political giants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in Portland, he graduated Bowdoin College in 1860, and went on to study law. His Portland law practice introduced him to politics; he served in the Maine legislature as a district representative and a senator, and later served as Maine's Attorney General for three years. His popularity statewide rose, and he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876, a position he kept for twenty-two consecutive years. During that time, he served as the Republican Speaker of the House. Reed had already won a reputation as a formidable debater, and as Speaker, his rhetorical skills and sharp wit shone. He became known as Czar Reed for his autocratic governance of the House.

One of his greatest contributions to government was his reform of the House rules. The minority party had developed a strategy of remaining silent during roll call on the day of a vote, in order to prevent the necessary quorum of 165, and to make it impossible for legislation to pass. Reed demanded that everyone present be counted, declaring at one point when a Democratic representative refused to answer to his name during roll call, "The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?" The controversial "Reed Rules," as they were called, abolished the gridlock that had frozen the House, and allowed Republicans to pass a more ambitious legislation program than had been passed since the Civil War. Reed was an adamant anti-imperialist, and resigned from the House in 1899, when the U.S. began to discuss the annexation of Hawaii. He resumed his law practice in New York City, and died three years later. His reformation of the House rules remains his legacy.

Source: Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XV. Ed. Allen Johnson. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons. 1929. Image courtesy Maine Historical Society.

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