Happy Birthday, General Henry Martyn Robert!

Jim Slaughter

Jim Slaughter

Today (May 2) is the 176th birthday of the author of the original Robert’s Rules of Order, Henry Martyn Robert.  He was born May 2, 1837, in Robertville, South Carolina.

Henry Martyn Robert and Roberts Rules of Order History

The current edition of the book, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition), would be hardly recognizable to Robert.  His 1876 Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies was 176 pages long.  Robert’s vision was to create a “very brief pocket manual, so cheap that every member of a church or society could own a copy, and so arranged as to enable one quickly to find when any particular motion could be made” (as quoted in The Great Peacemaker by Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters International).  In contrast, the 11th Edition weighs in at 716 pages!  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as more recent editions include procedural aspects not dreamt of by Robert—including sections on voting by mail, machine, proxy, and even electronic meetings.  Newer Robert’s also take into consideration informal procedures for smaller boards where there are not more than about a dozen members present, which includes most governmental bodies and the boards of directors for many nonprofits and community associations (homeowner and condominium associations).

Students of parliamentary procedure are often surprised to learn that were many competitors to Roberts Rules of Order in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. (See Parliamentary Procedure Books (American Pre-1925) for a few.) However, the orderliness of the book, its logic, and Robert’s good marketing sense made it a stand-out. Excellent authorship teams since Robert have kept the book alive, unlike many other good parliamentary manuals of the last century. Even current competitors to Robert’s are indebted to the book and its subsequent editions, as most explain why they diverge from Robert’s or are written for smaller or specific organizations.

So thanks, General Henry M. Robert!  And happy birthday!