WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Robert's Rules: The Man Who Sought Order From Chaos

Play associated audio
D.C. tour guide Tim Krepp says Henry Martyn Robert forever changed the way we moderate group discussions and meetings.
Rebecca Sheir
D.C. tour guide Tim Krepp says Henry Martyn Robert forever changed the way we moderate group discussions and meetings.

This fall brings the 11th edition of Robert's Rules of Order: the most widely used manual of parliamentary procedure in the United States.

Brig. Gen. Henry Martyn Robert, an Army engineering officer, wrote the original rules after his lackluster performance moderating a church meeting in the late 19th century. After that embarrassing incident, he vowed he'd never attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.

But as he traveled the country, he found virtual parliamentary anarchy, with vastly differing ideas of correct procedure. Tim Krepp, a local tour guide/historian and author of the blog, DC Like a Local, says the rules were Robert's attempt to bring order out of chaos - especially in the post-Civil War era, where mobility was becoming more common, and people from one state would often travel to another, and attend meetings there.

"He starts a thought in his mind of there needs to be a form, a way of doing this," Krepp says. "More important than just having it written down, it has to be commonly agreed upon by everyone, anywhere you go. So if you go to California, or you go to Texas, or you go to Kansas, you'll have the same set of basic debate rules."

Though Robert modeled his rules on those used by the U.S. House of Representatives, he never intended them to be used in national and state legislatures. Rather, as Krepp points out, "It's meant to be used for you and me when we have a community meeting."

Krepp thinks it's interesting -- and fitting -- that Robert was an engineer, rather than a lawyer or politician.

"He has a different perspective," Krepp says, "He breaks [parliamentary procedure] down to its lowest possible units and rebuilds it as a perfect system in his mind."

And that system stays with us today, bringing order to potential chaos across the country. The 11th edition was published this September by Da Capo Press, and co-authored by several of Robert's descendants, including his grandson, Henry M. Robert III.


[Music: "Breaking All The Rules" by Peter Frampton from Breaking All The Rules]

NPR

Writer James Alan McPherson, Winner Of Pulitzer, MacArthur And Guggenheim, Dies At 72

McPherson, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has died at 72. His work explored the intersection of white and black lives with deftness, subtlety and wry humor.
NPR

QUIZ: How Much Do You Know About Presidents And Food?

It's week two of the party conventions, and all these speeches are making us hungry. So we made a quiz to test your savvy about presidents and our favorite topic, food.
NPR

WATCH: Albright Says It's 'Almost Too Hard To Express' Excitement Over Clinton

"I think she is brilliant and ... she's not a diva at all. She works very hard," Albright told NPR's Rachel Martin.
NPR

Police Use Fingertip Replicas To Unlock A Murder Victim's Phone

Michigan State University engineers tried 3-D-printed fingertips and special conductive replicas of the victim's fingerprints to crack the biometric lock on his Samsung Galaxy phone.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.