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Questions postponed to different times, but not then taken up, shall, when considered, be taken up in the order of the times to which they were postponed. It is not proper to postpone to a time beyond the present session, except to the day of the next session, when it comes up with unfinished business. This motion allows limited debate, but not on the merits of the pending matter, excepting as far as is necessary to enable the meeting to determine the propriety of the postponement.
The motion to postpone to a certain day is amendable. Thus it may be amended by the substitution of a different day or time. It has been held that the better way is to allow the day to be a blank which may be filled in the usual manner, beginning with the longest time. If the motion is decided affirmatively, the subject to which it is applied is removed from before the body, with all its appendages and incidents. The previous question can be applied to it without affecting any other pending motion.
The motion to Post
4. Indefinite Postponement. pone Indefinitely is not used for the purpose of placing the subject before the house where it can be taken up at pleasure any moment, but it is intended to suppress a question altogether, without coming to a direct vote upon it, and in such a manner that it cannot be renewed. It is a postponement or adjournment of the question, without fixing a day for its resumption; and, as an indefinite adjournment is equivalent to a dissolution, so, if this motion is carried, its effect is to quash the proposition entirely by removing it from consideration for that session.
It differs from the question of consideration in several important particulars. Thus the question of consideration cannot be moved after debate on the main question has begun, for it is an objection to consideration, while the motion to postpone indefinitely may be moved after discussion has proceeded. The objection to consideration is not debatable, but the motion for indefinite postponement opens up to debate the entire question it proposes
to postpone indefinitely, for the reason that it may mean the death of the proposition.
The motion to postpone indefinitely cannot be made when an amendment or any other motion than the main question is pending. If the amendment or other motion has been acted upon, then indefinite postponement would be in order. "It cannot be made while any motion except the original or main question is pending, but it can be made after an amendment has been acted upon."Roberts.
The motion to postpone indefinitely cannot be amended, and if the previous question is ordered when this motion is pending, the previous question applies only to it.
5. The Previous Question. The motion for the Previous Question is often misunderstood, because the phrase is so apt to mislead or confuse, and the phrase has, in a parliamentary sense, lost its original application.
The motion for the previous question is understood to have originated in the English Parliament in 1604. It could be moved only when a proposition was before the house, and then the previous question bore upon the main question. In such a case the question previous to everything else, and previous especially to putting the main question, was whether the house would or would not take a vote on the main question, and so, when a member called for the previous question, the presiding officer would say: "The previous question is called for. Shall the main question be put?"
The hope of the mover was that the vote would be in the negative, and, if the motion for the previous question secured a negative vote, it meant that the house decided that the main question should not be put to vote, and so it was set aside and the house proceeded to something else.
So the original use of the motion for the previous question was the suppression of a main question. Thus it was introduced into the British House of Commons centuries ago "for the purpose of suppressing subjects of a delicate nature relating to high personages." At first, the form
of the question was, "Shall the question be put?” and a negative vote suppressed the main question for the whole session. Afterward the form was changed to, "Shall the main question be now put?" and a negative vote on this suppressed the main question for that day only. The previous question is still used for this purpose in the British Parliament.
But as it was possible that the vote might be in the affirmative, that would be equivalent to an order of the house that the main question "be put," or that it "be now put," or, in other words, that it be put to vote. The effect of an affirmative vote, therefore, would be to cut off further debate, and at once to put the main question to vote.
Here can be seen the origin of the use of the previous question for the purpose of cutting off debate and compelling an immediate vote on the main question, and out of this has grown the American practice as to the previous question. Under the old English practice the mover of the previous question called for it in order to avoid a vote on the main question, while under the more modern American practice the motion is made to compel an immediate vote on the main question. So that the American usage makes the question equivalent to "Shall the vote now be taken without further debate?" or "Shall the discussion now cease?" and the demand for the previous question is equivalent to a motion that the debate cease and the vote be immediately taken.
Someone in due form says, "I move the previous question," or "I call for the previous question." In some bodies there must be a specified number of members to second the motion for the previous question. In Congress it used to require five, but now, in the United States House of Representatives, a majority of the members present is required. This is to avoid the yeas and nays. In ordinary societies one second was and is sufficient, and this is good parliamentary practice to-day.
The old form of proceeding was first the call for the
previous question, then the seconding of the call, and, thirdly, the vote upon the ordering of the main question. The more recent practice is, when the previous question has been demanded by any member, to immediately take the vote upon the question, "Shall the main question be now put?" "But one vote is now required to accomplish what formerly required two, i. e., one vote to second the demand for the previous question and another to order the main question, an unnecessary proceeding, as debate and amendment were precluded by a second" (Digest of the United States House of Representatives).
The motion being seconded, the chairman must promptly put the question in this form: "Shall the main question be now put?" This question is undebatable, and the vote must be taken at once. If the motion is lost, the debate continues as if the previous question had not been moved. If the motion prevails, then the discussion must cease and the question at once be put to vote. The only exception is where the pending measure has come from a committee, when, in such a case, the member reporting it is entitled to the floor to close the debate, even after the previous question has been ordered.
"According to former practice, the previous question brought the House to a direct vote on the main question; that is, to agree to the main proposition, to the exclusion of all amendments and incidental motions; but on the 14th of January, 1840, it was changed to embrace, first pending amendments, and then the main proposition" (Digest of the United States House of Representatives). "It is now in order to move the previous question on a motion or series of motions allowable under the rules, and it may be called upon a section or sections of a pending bill, or only on an amendment or amendments pending" (Digest of the United States House of Representatives).
The adoption of the previous question compels a vote only on the pending question, excepting when the pending motion is an amendment or a motion to commit, when the effect of the previous question extends also to the question
which it is proposed to amend or commit. Then all these questions are put to vote in their order and without debate. It may happen that before the previous question is exhausted a vote on one of these questions might be reconsidered, and, in such a case, through the continuing force of the previous question, there can be no debate upon the motion reconsidered. Incidental questions of order, arising after the motion is made, must be decided without debate.
The previous question can be called for simply on, or be limited to, a pending amendment. This closes debate on the amendment only, and, after the amendment has been acted upon, the main question is again open to debate and amendment. In such a case the form of the question may be, "Shall the amendment be now put to the question?" or "Shall the amendment be now put?" The same motion may likewise be limited to an amendment to an amendment. In that case the mover must specify in his motion when he presents it that the call for the previous question is on the amendment or the amendment to the amendment. Otherwise the call for the previous question covers the main question and the questions that pertain to it.
Robert deems it allowable for a member to submit a resolution and, at the same time, move the previous question thereon. But other good authorities pronounce it an unparliamentary and abusive proceeding to introduce a proposition and, at the same time, move the previous question, and Judge Cushing recommends that in such cases no notice be taken of the motion for the previous question.
The previous question can be applied to the motion to postpone to a certain day without affecting any other motions that may be pending.
There has been some disposition to modify the form of putting the previous question, and, "In the modern practice of the House of Representatives the previous question is put as follows: 'The gentleman from