In this article, we examine participation in floor debates by U.S. House Speakers in the First through Twenty-sixth Congresses (1789–1841). Consistent with the often-stated view that Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky transformed the office of Speaker by using the prerogatives of the office more expansively than other early Speakers, Clay stands out among the Speakers of this period for the frequency and length in which he engaged in House debates. However, we also find that Speakers were regularly participating in floor debates over a decade before Clay held the office and that the five Speakers who succeeded Clay did not regularly participate in debate. Although Clay was not the first Speaker to participate regularly in floor debate, we propose that he transformed the office by effectively using all of the leadership tools available to the Speaker, demonstrating to his House colleagues the benefits of having the Speakership function as the central leadership institution for the chamber.


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pp. 51-74
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