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Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The office is provided for in the United States Constitution in the second section of the first article, which states:
"The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers..."

In practice, this amounts to the speaker's election from the sitting house members. The speaker is thus almost always elected along strictly partisan lines, and is thus a member of the House's majority party. (The Speaker need not, by the Constitutional provision stated above, be a member of the House, but to date has always been one.

The Speaker is considered a partisan officer, unlike the nonpartisan Speaker of such bodies as the House of Commons. While there is a majority leader in the House of Representatives, he is in fact the second highest officer of the majority, and the Speaker is in fact the functioning leader of the majority. However, it is customary for the Speaker not to vote, unless his vote is necessary to pass a bill. The current Speaker is Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois. He succeeded Newt Gingrich on January 6, 1999.

The Speaker is currently second in line to succeed to the US presidency in the case of death or resignation after the Vice President. (See United States Presidential line of succession.)

Table of contents
1 America's "Loyal Opposition"
2 America's Prime Minister?

America's "Loyal Opposition"

The speaker of the House is ceremonially the highest ranking legislative official in the United States government. He is generally a well-known national figure, and thus a human "face" on the legislative branch. Since the Speaker and the President are often from different parties, this can sometimes leads to situtations in which the two men appear at odds with each other. The speaker can thus come to be seen as the leader of the "opposition" and the symbol of his party, and the very personification of partisan opposition to the President's agenda. The American speaker is also a much more politically active figure than many of his counterparts in other countries, and though he has little formal power, throughout American history the speakership has evolved into one of the nation's key political positions.

America's Prime Minister?

In the late nineteenth century, in particular following the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the damage that was perceived to have done to the American presidency (already shaken by the assassination of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln) by Congressional actions to limit Executive branch powers, it was speculated by academics, foreign diplomats based in Washington, D.C. and even by leading members of the Senate that the United States would evolve from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government, with the Speaker becoming a de-facto prime minister, sidelining the President of the United States. The President would in turn evolve into a form of nominal chief executive head of state, in whom legal executive authority would continue to be nominally vested but whose role as policy maker and head of government would in effect move to the Speaker. See Prime Minister of the United States for more discussion on this topic.

Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789-present

  1. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg (Federalist-Pennsylvania) 1789-1791
  2. Jonathan Trumbull, Jr (Federalist-Connecticut) 1791-1793
  3. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg (Republican-Pennsylvania) 1793-1795
  4. Jonathan Dayton (Federalist-New Jersey) 1795-1799
  5. Theodore Sedgwick (Federalist-Massachusetts) 1799-1801
  6. Nathaniel Macon (Republican-North Carolina) 1801-1807
  7. Joseph Bradley Varnum (Republican-Massachusetts) 1807-1811
  8. Henry Clay (Republican-Kentucky) 1811-1814
  9. Langdon Cheves (Republican-South Carolina) 1814-1815
  10. Henry Clay (Republican-Kentucky) 1815-1820
  11. John W. Taylor (Republican-New York) 1820-1821
  12. Philip Pendleton Barbour (Republican-Virginia) 1821-1823
  13. Henry Clay (Republican-Kentucky) 1823-1825
  14. John W. Taylor (Republican-New York) 1825-1827
  15. Andrew Stevenson (Jacksonian-Virginia) 1827-1834
  16. John Bell (Whig-Tennessee) 1834-1835
  17. James Knox Polk (Democrat-Tennessee) 1835-1839
  18. Robert M.T. Hunter (Whig-Virginia) 1839-1841
  19. John White (Whig-Kentucky) 1841-1843
  20. John Winston Jones (Democrat-Virginia) 1843-1845
  21. John Wesley Davis (Democrat-Indiana) 1845-1847
  22. Robert Charles Winthrop (Whig-Massachusetts) 1847-1849
  23. Howell Cobb (Democrat-Georgia) 1849-1851
  24. Linn Boyd (Democrat-Kentucky) 1851-1855
  25. Nathaniel Prentice Banks (American/Republican-Massachusetts) 1856-1857
  26. James Lawrence Orr (Democrat-South Carolina) 1857-1859
  27. William Pennington (Republican-New Jersey) 1860-1861
  28. Galusha Aaron Grow (Republican-Pennsylvania 1861-1863
  29. Schuyler Colfax (Republican-Indiana) 1863-1869
  30. Theodore Medad Pomeroy (Republican-New York) 1869
  31. James Gillespie Blaine (Republican-Maine) 1869-1875
  32. Michael Crawford Kerr (Democrat-Indiana) 1875-1876
  33. Samuel Jackson Randall (Democrat-Pennsylvania) 1876-1881
  34. Joseph Warren Keifer (Republican-Ohio) 1881-1883
  35. John Griffin Carlisle (Democrat-Kentucky) 1883-1889
  36. Thomas Brackett Reed (Republican-Maine) 1889-1891
  37. Charles Frederick Crisp (Democrat-Georgia) 1891-1895
  38. Thomas Brackett Reed (Republican-Maine) 1895-1899
  39. David Bremner Henderson (Republican-Iowa) 1899-1903
  40. Joseph Gurney Cannon (Republican-Illinois) 1903-1911
  41. Champ Clark (Democrat-Missouri) 1911-1919
  42. Frederick Huntington Gillett (Republican-Massachusetts) 1919-1925
  43. Nicholas Longworth (Republican-Ohio) 1925-1931
  44. John Nance Garner (Democrat-Texas) 1931-1933
  45. Henry Thomas Rainey (Democrat-Illinois) 1933-1934
  46. Joseph Wellington Byrns (Democrat-Tennessee) 1935-1936
  47. William Brockman Bankhead (Democrat-Alabama) 1936-1940
  48. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (Democrat-Texas) 1940-1947
  49. Joseph William Martin, Jr (Republican-Massachusetts) 1947-1949
  50. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (Democrat-Texas) 1949-1953
  51. Joseph William Martin, Jr (Republican-Massachusetts) 1953-1955
  52. Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (Democrat-Texas) 1955-1961
  53. John William McCormack (Democrat-Massachusetts) 1961-1971
  54. Carl Albert (Democrat-Oklahoma) 1971-1977
  55. Tip O'Neill (Democrat-Massachusetts) 1977-1987
  56. Jim Wright (Democrat-Texas) 1987-1989
  57. Thomas Stephen Foley (Democrat-Washington) 1989-1995
  58. Newt Gingrich (Republican-Georgia) 1995-1999
  59. Dennis Hastert (Republican-Illinois) 1999-present

See also Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives