The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the largest and oldest statewide organization in the Commonwealth, public or private. 

From the First Legislative District in Erie to the 203rd District in Philadelphia, each member serves approximately 59,000 constituents.

Background Information
Shaping The Nation

Background Information

- The House requires a constitutional majority of 102 votes from the 203-member body for the passage of a bill. 

- Approximately 3,000 bills are introduced during each two-year session. 

- Members consider what is best for the constituents they represent. The House of Representatives is rooted in the doctrine of democracy. 

- Members of the Democratic party are seated on the left of the chamber, facing the Speaker, and members of the Republican Party are seated on the right
-- a parliamentary grouping adopted from the early French National Assembly. 

- Contemporary technology enables House members to vote quickly. 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" (yes) vote and the red button registers a "nay" (no) vote. A green or red light appears, respectively, next to each member's name on the electronic voting board to signify how he or she voted. 

- 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 Journal and is available to the public for inspection. 

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The Pennsylvania House first met as the Provincial Assembly on Dec. 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 it operates 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 autonomy of the Pennsylvania House was fashioned after that of the British Parliament and served as the model for American legislative and congressional government. 

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Shaping The Nation

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 the county’s history. 

- In addition, it hosted the meetings and conferences during which two principal 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.

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Many men who have played significant parts in the role of the development of the country and the Commonwealth have served as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. 

Andrew Hamilton
(1729-1732 and 1734-1738)
Was a leading Philadelphia attorney who helped design and personally financed the construction of Independence Hall. As Speaker, Hamilton hired young Benjamin Franklin as chief clerk of the Assembly. Hamilton was among the founders of Lancaster, Pa., and he was Speaker in 1729, when Lancaster became the Commonwealth’s fourth county.

Benjamin Franklin
A printer and editor who turned to politics, is the Commonwealth’s most famous Speaker. Following his service to the Commonwealth, he went on to be a member of the Continental Congress and president of the Constitutional Convention of 1776.

Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg
Served in the Pennsylvania and Virginia House of Representatives and in the first and third sessions of the U.S. Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in the 1793 and 1796 elections.

Thomas Mifflin
Was the first Speaker later elected governor of Pennsylvania, where he served for three terms – from 1790 to 1799. Mifflin was appointed by Gen. George Washington as his aide-de-camp and later as quartermaster general of the Continental Army, brigadier general and finally, a major general

K. Leroy Irvis
(1977-1978 and 1983-1988)
Was the first Speaker of African-American heritage in the United States. During his three decades of public service, he sponsored more than 875 bills, and a record 264 became law. Irvis has been honored with the naming of an office building in the Capitol Complex.

Matthew J. Ryan
(1981-82 and 1995-2003)
An attorney, served in the House for 40 consecutive years, the second-longest tenure of any member of the Pennsylvania House. His 32 years as an elected legislative leader is unequalled in the history of the Republican Party. He died in office in 2003, and was the first person in the history of the present Capitol Building to lie in state in the Capitol’s rotunda. A building in the Capitol Complex is named in honor of him.

More information about these or other Speakers (PDF) 

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