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Robert's Rules Simplified
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Robert's Rules Simplified

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by Arthur T. Lewis, Henry M. Robert

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Who has the floor, and how do you make a motion? What keeps a meeting from collapsing into chaos? This bible of parliamentary procedures transforms complex rules of conduct into easy-to-understand basics. Anyone participating in club or civic meetings, seminars, or teleconferences will consult this invaluable guide time and time again.
"Where there is no law,


Who has the floor, and how do you make a motion? What keeps a meeting from collapsing into chaos? This bible of parliamentary procedures transforms complex rules of conduct into easy-to-understand basics. Anyone participating in club or civic meetings, seminars, or teleconferences will consult this invaluable guide time and time again.
"Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty," declared General Henry M. Robert. His 1896 book, Robert's Rules of Order, provided the remedy, with guidelines for orderly, smooth, and fairly conducted meetings. This edition of the famous rules began as a series of eighteen articles that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. It makes parliamentary procedures easier to understand by explaining the reasons behind them, boiling them down to a few memorable fundamentals that form the basis for a sound and practical working knowledge. Topics include by-laws, the right and wrong ways to postpone action, how to amend and substitute, delegating duties, keeping on track, taking a vote, uses and duties of committees, and much more. Numerous examples and a user-friendly format make this volume ideal for clear and quick reference.

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11367-8



Parliamentary Law is perhaps too often taken for granted by the members who enjoy its protection and use its privileges. Not understanding its reasons, they may think some of its provisions are difficult to comprehend. They settle down to make the best of it—as they do the weather. They vote when the vote is called for, and at other times are prone to keep silent.

Another type of member may be suspicious of parliamentary law. To such a one, its rules are a "bag of tricks" with which a few members can run things to suit themselves.

Both attitudes are mistaken. In order that parliamentary law may be properly used and not abused, every member should understand its fundamentals, and every member can understand them.

Parliamentary law is more perplexing than difficult. If it seems hard to follow, the student may be trying to remember rules rather than to understand reasons. In the words of Thomas B. Reed, famed former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives: "If the student has once fixed in his mind the idea that parliamentary law is not a series of arbitrary rules—but a plain, consistent system, founded on common sense, and sanctioned by the experience of mankind—he will have gone far toward understanding it."

If you have difficulty in remembering all the various motions—when they can be made, and when they are debatable—do not be discouraged. Begin with a few of the more commonly used motions. Endeavor to grasp the reason for them—why they came to exist, why they are in order at some times and not others, why they usually require a second, why some can be discussed and not others. You can leave less frequently presented problems to be solved with the aid of a manual of parliamentary law. In fact, such a foundational knowledge will make you more expert in using a handbook of rules.

Fundamentals are more readily remembered than the rules which are based on them. The average citizen may know but few of the laws written on the statute books of his community or state but, as a rule, he is familiar with the Ten Commandments, which lie at the base of civilized codes. A knowledge of the Ten Commandments, and obedience to them, will result in a right course of action in any problem of human relationship. Similarly, a knowledge of the fundamentals of parliamentary law will usually enable a member of an organization to proceed correctly.

The many rules of parliamentary law are really applications to different situations of a few fundamentals. All law is founded on justice, and parliamentary law is no exception. Its foundation is justice to all: the member, the minority, the majority, the absentee, the organization. The great underlying rule is the Golden Rule.

As this basic fact is grasped, the entire structure of parliamentary procedure becomes the practice of obedience, self-control, courtesy and patience. Parliamentary law then becomes a fascinating subject for study and practice, full of interest, easily grasped.

The fundamentals of common parliamentary law may be many or few, depending on how they are stated. The following 12 are generally inclusive, yet brief enough to be easily remembered. These fundamentals and the rules based on them govern all deliberative assemblies, except where they may conflict with special rules adopted by an organization as part of its by-laws:

Twelve Fundamentals of Common Parliamentary Law

1. The organization is paramount. To it belongs the power. Its interest and convenience supersede those of an individual member.

2. All members are equal. Each member has equal right to propose business, discuss it, and vote—rights which cannot be suspended or restricted save in the interest of the whole, and then only by a two-thirds vote.

3. One thing at a time. There can be but one main proposition before the assembly at one time. Only one member can have the floor at one time.

4. Full discussion before action. This applies to all main propositions and may be suspended only by a two-thirds vote.

5. Propositions rather than persons. The objective is the opinion and decision of the group upon the proposition, hence debate is impersonal.

6. Propositions may yield to privileges. Matters affecting the convenience or privileges of the assembly or an individual may interrupt consideration of a question.

7. No discussion for interruptions. Matters of sufficient urgency to interrupt discussion may not themselves be discussed.

8. No discussion for suspensions. Motions which have the effect of suspending a rule are not debatable.

9. No second time in the same form. To protect the assembly against waste of time, a question once decided may, as a general rule, not be presented again at the same meeting in the same form under similar circumstances unless a reconsideration is ordered.

10. The majority decides—usually. The majority decides all ordinary questions, but it requires more than a majority to limit a member's parliamentary rights to introduce and discuss questions and vote, or to suspend or modify (without notice) a rule of order previously adopted.

11. Two-thirds vote for extraordinary questions—such as motions to amend by-laws, to change or repeal (without notice) a motion previously adopted, to suspend the rules, or restrict the rights of members to introduce questions, discuss them and vote.

12. Silence gives consent. The right to vote must be exercised. Silence has the same effect as assent to the will of the prevailing side.

As succeeding chapters deal with parliamentary motions and the rules regarding them, reference to the above fundamentals will enable the student to see the reason for them. It will be seen that these fundamentals protect the individual against autocracy or minority rule; that the only restraint of the individual is in the interest of the whole; and that the supreme right of the group to transact its business in due order and with economy of time is fully safe-guarded.



One never knows when one may be called on to take part in a mass meeting or aid in forming a permanent organization. A logical first question, then, is "how to organize." The first steps are much the same whether organizing a mass meeting or a permanent society.

The call for the first meeting.The persons interested in having a mass meeting or in forming a new club, society, church, or other organization, should thoroughly discuss the preliminaries among themselves, and agree upon the place and time of meeting. They then notify others who also may be interested in joining with them and who are qualified. If it is to be a mass meeting, the notice may be published in the local newspaper. On the other hand, if it is preliminary to an organization with a restricted membership, the call would more probably be through personally delivered invitations. Robert says in his "Parliamentary Law": "The call may specify the class of persons invited and none other need be admitted."

The call to order. When those who respond to the call have gathered, one of the group steps forward and says, "The meeting will please come to order." Theoretically, this may be done by anyone present, but, in practice, by one agreed upon beforehand by those who arranged the meeting.

Choosing a chairman. The first duty of the group is to become organized as a meeting. The one who calls the meeting to order should proceed in either of two ways:

(1) He may say, "I move Mr. Blank act as chairman of this meeting." When this motion is seconded, the one who offered it puts the motion to a vote. If it is carried, the person selected as chairman steps forward and takes the chair.

(2) The one who calls the meeting to order may ask for nominations from the floor for one to act as chairman.

The latter method is more courteous and more democratic and is preferable if it does not jeopardize the interests of the gathering.

If these methods seem "cut and dried," realize that as yet there is no organization to be "paramount" (Fundamental No. 1), nor are there any "members" to have equal rights (Fundamental No. 2). There is but a group of individuals, and the best and most equitable method of getting under way must be left to the discretion of the individuals most concerned.

Selecting a secretary. There must be a record of proceedings and some one to keep it. The chairman just elected states the next order of business to be the selection of a secretary. With these two officers chosen, the meeting is now sufficiently organized to go forward.

Determining the object. In a mass meeting, the call for the meeting is read as soon as the chairman and secretary are installed. The call states the subject of discussion and the discussion is limited to that. Resolutions may be offered provided they pertain to the subject stated in the call. Unless there is general agreement as to common parliamentary law, it would be well to adopt some standard rules of order.

In a meeting to organize a permanent society, the object, which should be thoroughly discussed beforehand by those who arranged the meeting, should be presented for the consideration of those present, usually by the chairman. After discussion, resolutions may be offered embodying as nearly as possible the majority opinion of those present regarding the intention to organize and the purpose of the organization.

Arranging for the by-laws. The adoption of suitable by-laws is necessary before the permanent organization is accomplished. One of those present should move to appoint a committee to draft a set of by-laws (and a constitution if one is desired, or secure a charter, if the organization is to incorporate). This usually completes the business of the first meeting. Before adjourning, however, a motion should be adopted fixing the time and place at which to meet again. By thus making provision for another meeting, the preliminary session continues its existence and the same chairman and secretary continue to serve.

At the second meeting the chairman calls the meeting to order, directs the minutes to be read, and after these are approved, states the next order of business to be the report of the committee on by-laws.

Adopting the by-laws. The chairman of the committee on by-laws presents the by-laws and moves their adoption. The chairman of the meeting then requests them to be read section by section. After each section, opportunity is given for the meeting to make changes. After all necessary changes are made in the sections, the question is put to vote on adopting the by-laws as a whole. A majority vote is sufficient to adopt them.

Note, as will be emphasized later, that after by-laws are adopted, it takes a two-thirds vote with notice to change them (Fundamental No. 11). This is reason for being sure that they are as nearly satisfactory as possible before adopting them in the first place. The by-laws take effect as soon as adopted, unless the motion which adopts them states otherwise.

It is possible for a group which intends to pattern closely after another, to save time by adopting at the first meeting the by-laws of a similar organization, simply making the necessary changes in name, etc. It may then proceed immediately with the remainder of the steps necessary. This practice is not recommended except in rare cases. It is better to take a little more time and work out by-laws "tailored to fit."

Signing the by-laws. The persons who are present and who wish to become members of the organization then sign the by-laws. (If a constitution is adopted as well as by-laws, the constitution is signed.) A recess is taken for this purpose.

Election of officers. After signing the by-laws, those present are "members." The first business of the society, now fully organized, is the election of officers, as provided in the by-laws. Unless the by-laws state otherwise, the permanent officers take office as soon as they are elected.

With by-laws and permanent officers, the organization is complete and ready to transact business.

Incorporated organizations. If an organization is to hold property, it should incorporate. This may be done either in the process of forming or after the organization has been completed and by-laws adopted. The steps vary in different states, and a lawyer should be consulted to ascertain the exact procedure.

In an incorporated organization, the members at the time of incorporation sign the charter rather than the constitution or by-laws. From this comes the term "charter members," although by custom the term is used to describe all original members of an organization whether incorporated or not.

When an organization applies for and receives a charter after it has been previously formed as an unincorporated organization, it becomes a new organization in the eyes of the law and members must again be voted in, the by-laws adopted and officers elected, although, of course, all these may be the same as before.



The first chapter lists certain fundamentals of common parliamentary law. The rules of common parliamentary law, which are the result of universal experience, are also of universal application. By general usage they govern all deliberative assemblies.

Their universality, however, renders them inadequate, for all the needs of an organization. Some of them may not be consistent with the purpose of an organization. To supply this deficiency a permanent organization adopts special rules which are "tailored to measure," adapted to its own particular needs, and which apply to it alone. These rules are called by- laws. Compared with common parliamentary law, they constitute special parliamentary law.

It was the custom at one time to separate these special rules into two groups: the constitution and the by-laws. (The prefix "by" is derived from an ancient word meaning "town." A "bylaw" was a "town law" as distinguished from a state law, and so the less important special rules came to be called by-laws and the more important the constitution.) Originally, the rules in the constitution were more difficult to change. Nowadays, it is common practice to follow the same procedure in changing all special rules. Hence, there is no longer need for separation. It is simpler to place all special rules in one group called by-laws. Organizations incorporated under the laws of their respective states receive a charter from the state, which serves in place of the constitution.

The adoption of by-laws is the act that actually establishes an organization. The selection and wording of them deserve the most careful consideration. They should include only those provisions which a group deems essential to its continued existence and which are so important that they should not be changed without notice to members, and then only by a two-thirds vote. The by-laws are arranged in articles which are further subdivided into sections.

By-laws may be as simple or as extensive as the size and purpose of an organization require. A typical set would include:

Article I. Name.

Article II. Object.

Article III. Members.

Sect. 1. Qualifications of members.

Sect. 2. Election of members.

Sect. 3. Dues.

Article IV. Officers.

Sect. 1. List of officers.

Sect. 2. Duties of officers.

Sect. 3. Nominations and elections.

Article V. Meetings.

Sect. 1. Regular meetings.

Sect. 2. Special meetings.

Sect. 3. Annual meetings.

Sect. 4. Number required for quorum.

Article VI. The executive board.

Sect. 1. Duties.

Sect. 2. Meetings and quorum of board.

Article VII. Standing committees (how selected, duties, etc.)

Article VIII. Designation of parliamentary manual to govern in all cases not covered by by- laws.

Article IX. Provision for amendment of by-laws.

In organizations having both constitution and by-laws, the former would be restricted to the simplest and most essential of the above points, while the by-laws would amplify them and include any other rules which an organization deems necessary.

There is nothing to prevent a body from adopting any rule as part of its by-laws, even though contrary to accepted usage. It must not, however, be contrary to the laws of the nation or state. A rule thus adopted becomes binding and supersedes any rule of common parliamentary law on the same point which may be included in the parliamentary manual selected by the organization. Hence, great care should be exercised not to include in by- laws any rules on points already covered in common parliamentary law, unless a different procedure seems advisable.


Excerpted from ROBERT'S RULES SIMPLIFIED by ARTHUR T. LEWIS (Arthur Thomas), HENRY M. ROBERT. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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