Speaker Thomas B. Reed, by John Singer Sargent, 1891
Seizing the Power to Act
"... a slow-moving giant hulk of a barge ... a form dressed completely in black, out of whose collar rose an enormous round, clean-shaven baby face." A ghost haunting the House? No, that's how a colleague described Representative Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine.
Reed revered the House, dismissing the Senate as "a place where good Representatives go when they die." During the 1880s, he complained about the inability of any House majority to act. But as Speaker, Reed foiled long-established delaying tactics by calmly ruling against members trying to stall the proceedings. Members feared Reed's quick, acid tongue in debate. His rulings once provoked a near riot on the floor, but his efforts made the Speaker once again the House's moving force and allowed the House to act.
"In my opinion there never has been a more perfectly equipped leader in any parliamentary body at any period."
— Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, recalling House Speaker Thomas Reed, 1910
Unhappy with his work, Sargent confessed, "I could have made a better picture with a much less remarkable man."