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"Father of the Senate"

Photo of Senator Henry Anthony
Henry Anthony (R-RI)

The extended Senate community of members, spouses, and staff is customarily likened to a family. Special deference is accorded to the elders of this unique family. Preeminent among these elders are committee chairs and ranking members, and the Senate president pro tempore. Formally and in countless casual ways, the president pro tempore emerged during the 20th century as the Senate's guiding father-figure. The constitutionally mandated official who presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, the president pro tempore since 1947 has been third in line of presidential succession behind the vice president and Speaker of the House. As the chamber's presiding officer, the president pro tempore is authorized to perform certain duties including signing legislation before it is sent to the president, ruling on points of order, and enforcing decorum in the Senate Chamber. The natural development of a Senate "father" follows an Anglo-American tradition rooted in the practices of the United Kingdom's House of Commons.  That chamber confers the formal title of "Father of the House" upon its most senior member, who presides at the election of a Speaker and on occasions "where historical perspective may be required."

In previous generations of senators, members have recognized as Senate "fathers" those individuals who became fervent defenders of the body's constitutional prerogatives and were well versed in the institution's history and customs. These paternal figures tended to emerge naturally from one era to the next. Two prominent 19th-century Senate "fathers" were Rhode Island's Henry Anthony and Massachusetts' George Hoar. In 1903, Senator Hoar summarized this role in describing Senator Anthony–whom the Senate had elected president pro tempore on 17 occasions.

He had come to be the depository of [the Senate's] traditions, customs and unwritten rules. . . . He seemed somehow the intimate friend of every man in the Senate, on both sides. Every one of his colleagues poured out his heart to him. It seemed that no eulogy or funeral was complete unless Anthony had taken part in it, because he was reckoned [as a protecting] friend of the man who was dead.

In the mid-20th century, Senators Robert Taft of Ohio and Richard Russell of Georgia wore this mantle.

Baker, Richard A. The New Members' Guide to Traditions of the United States Senate. (Washington, GPO, 2006. S.Pub. 109-25), 5.

 
  

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About Senate traditions with the Guide to Senate Tradtions index page.