Home News 1793-2023: An Overview of Contested Speaker elections

1793-2023: An Overview of Contested Speaker elections


The ongoing battle for the office of Speaker of the House crossed another historical milestone today as Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy came up short once again in the 11th round. The election for speaker has not gone past 1 ballot in the last 100 years, and ballots have not reached into double digits since the Civil War.

Despite the political melodrama, contested elections for speaker are not unprecedented in American history — fully ⅓ of the first 30 Congresses did not select their Speaker of the House on the first ballot, although the majority of these contests were settled in the 2nd or 3rd round. Only four lasted into the double digits, and only two took more ballots than the election of 2023. In 1819, the Speaker was decided on the 22nd ballot, and in 1821, the contest was decided in the 12th round.

Courtesy of History.house.gov

In this period of American history, the parties were less ideological and more coalitions of various interests, and party apparatuses were by necessity more decentralized, so some division and last minute leadership struggles were much more likely — battles within our early parties for control of the gavel were not earth shattering events.

Tensions in Congress became…

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