"Honor, justice and humanity call upon us to hold, and to transmit to our posterity, that liberty which we received from our ancestors. It is not our duty to leave wealth to our children. But it is our duty to leave liberty to them."
Representative John Dickinson, 1774
The House of Representatives is the largest and oldest statewide organization in Pennsylvania, public or private. From the First Legislative District in Erie to the 203rd in Philadelphia, each member serves approximately 59,000 constituents.
The House requires a constitutional majority of 102 votes from the 203 member body for the passage of a bill. In the House, approximately 3,000 bills are introduced per session. Members consider what is best for the constituents whom they represent. However, such a large majority tests the political agility of the membership.
The House of Representatives is rooted in the doctrine of democracy. A session in the House is a living representation of this doctrine. It is exhilarating and at times exasperating.
Democratic members are seated on the left of the chamber, facing the Speaker, and Republicans are seated on the right -- a parliamentary grouping adopted from the early French National Assembly. Leadership on both sides of the aisle work to keep caucuses unified, and to achieve the goals of their legislative agenda.
Contemporary technology enables House members to handle their responsibilities with greater efficiency and expediency. Two electronic voting tally boards were installed in the House in 1961. Each member casts his or her vote by pressing one button on a small box attached to each member's desk. The green button registers an "aye" vote and the red button registers a "nay" vote. A green or red light appears, respectively, next to each member's name on the electronic voting board.
A member's vote is visible to all other members as well as to any visitors in the gallery. Every word, vote and action on the House floor is recorded in the House Jorunal and is available to the public for inspection. This is also true of the Senate. However, votes in the Senate are cast and recorded verbally.
The Pennsylvania House first met as the Provincial Assembly on December 4, 1682, at Upland, near Chester, 40 days after William Penn arrived in the colony. After three years, the Provincial Assembly initiated greater independence from the colonial authorities. It insisted upon the right to control its own affairs, qualify members and initiate legislation. The Provincial Assembly became the foundation upon which organized representative government in America was built.
The ratification of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 created the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as we know it today. Its first session was held in 1791.
In its opening session, the Provincial Assembly appointed the first Speaker. The office of the Speaker is the oldest elected statewide position in Pennsylvania. The Speaker literally speaks for the people and is beholden to no executive authority but the law. The Speaker serves all members and upholds the orderly conduct of business, protecting the parliamentary rights of every elected Representative.
The speakership is a constitutionally mandated office, elected by the full membership. The House cannot convene without a Speaker. The Speaker presides over the session, appoints committee chairpersons and refers bills to committee. The Speaker can sponsor legislation himself, vote on all bills, and on rare occasions may turn the podium over to a Speaker Pro Tempore in order to occupy his desk on the floor and participate in debate.
The Mace is a symbol of authority, peace and order. In the House, the Speaker is preceded by the Mace Bearer. After escorting the Speaker to the rostrum, the Mace is placed in a pedestal to the right of the Speaker, there to remain until adjournment. This demonstrates the respect which our House of Representatives has for its own heritage and its own law -- it is a guarantee that those who govern are also governed.
The autonomy of the Pennsylvania House, under Speakers such as David Lloyd, Andrew Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, was fashioned after that of the British Parliament and served as the model for American legislative and congressional government.|
The Pennsylvania House has participated in several significant events throughout the history of Pennsylvania and the United States, particularly during the founding of the nation. The Pennsylvania House initiated plans and supported the construction of Independence Hall, one of the most important buildings in our history. In addition, it hosted the meetings and conferences during which two principle documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, were written.
The Senate of Pennsylvania was founded by the House as a co-legislative body, and the House drafted the Bill of Rights for the Commonwealth which later served as a model for the United States Bill of Rights.
The Pennsylvania House built the nation's first frontier road and 175 years later, the first modern turnpike. In addition, the House initiated the nation's first public school system, state mental hospitals, the nation's first Supreme Court and the country's first matching grant program for public improvement.
"I have the happiness of knowing that it is a rising and not a setting sun," said delegate Benjamin Franklin upon seeing the chair made in 1779 by Representative John Folwell, an expert cabinetmaker from Bucks County. As the Speaker's Chair, it was also used by General George Washington while presiding over the Constitutional Convention. The inkwell, made in 1752, and the chair are both on display in Independence Hall.
When the General Assembly celebrated the Capitol's 75th anniversary in 1981, it was clear that the building and its art needed extensive repair and regular maintenance. The House created the Capitol Preservation Committee in 1982. In cooperation with the Department of General Services, the committee supervises the restoration of all the art work, stained-glass windows, public spaces, and offices. This House leadership office was one of several offices which underwent various restoration projects.