Skip to main content
THE MACE OF THE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES
Tkn&lA 5. a
Few people in the United States know exactly what the
symbol of authority is and how much power it exerts during some
of the exciting meetings of our House of Representatives. It is
with the purpose of acquainting the interested people with some
of these astonishing facts, that the following account is written.
The symbol of authority, the mace, had its ancient origin
during the Roman period. A Roman Consul used an ax and bundle of
rods to flog and put to death unruly citizens. Later on, the
fasces were used in the Roman courts to restore peace. When the
Romans conquered Britain, they brought with them these fasces as
emblems of authority. Ever since then, the House of Commons haB
used the mace to preserve peace in the House.
The mace of the House of Representatives is as old as
our Government itself. Our first emblem was destroyed by fire and
since then a beautifully carved silver mace was reproduced from
the original. From a pedestal at the right of the Speaker's desk
the mace of the House of Representatives stands, so as to solemn-
ly warn everyone of the power that it represents.
THE MACE OF THE.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES
In the United States, there are only two visible sym-
bols of Federal Government authority, one is the flag and the
other is the mace of the House of Representatives. Why should a
symbol, such as a mace, constitute so much authority in a govern-
ment? Let us answer this question by turning back the pages of
history to the period of the Roman Empire.
OF ANCIENT ORIGIN
The mace is of ancient origin, deriving from the faeces
of the Romans. When the new Roman Republic was established, two
magistrates, called consuls, were elected annually and invested
with all the powers, except priestly functions, that had been
held by the king of the preceding Empire period. In public each
consul was attended by 12 servants, called lictors, each of whom
bore an ax bound in a bundle of rods, or fasces, the symbol of the
authority of the consul to flog and put to death. It is worth
while to observe that the present blackshirt Fascist party of
Mussolini borrowed its name from the ancient Roman fasces, denot-
ing stern discipline.
In the Roman Republic provincial magistrates, attended
by lictors bearing fasces, traveled about the country setting up
courts of justice where they tried public offenders and Imposed
penalties and punishments. When there was disorder in the courts
the fasces were brought forward to restore peace.
When the Romans conquered Britain they brought with
them the fasces as an emblem of authority. In later periods, the
great councils of the Anglo-Saxons slowly came into one general
body which became known as the House of Commons. The fasces
became the English mace which is in use at the present time.
As the House of Representatives of the United States
was modeled closely after the House of Commons by the f racers of
our Constitution, the use of the mace was borrowed from the Eng-
lish, who in turn had inherited it from the Romans.
MACE OF THE HOUSE OP REPRESENTATIVES
The mace in our House of Representatives is as old as
the Government itself, having been provided for in a resolution
adopted by the House during the First Congress in 1789- Ever
since It has served as the active symbol of authority of the
Sergeant at Arms, who preserves order on the floor of the House.
The first mace used by the House was destroyed by fire
when a British Army burned the Capitol in 1814. Thereafter a
mace of painted wood did service until 1841, when a fine carved
silver mace was reproduced from the original. This one consists
of a bundle of thirteen ebony rods, representing the original
thirteen states, bound together with a band of silver in imita-
tion of the fasces originally carried by Roman lictors. From the
center of this bundle of rods protrudes a silver globe surmounted
by an eagle with outspread wings.
INSTANCES OF USE OF MACE
When the House Is called to order each day, the mace
Is placed on a pedestal at the right of the Speaker's desk. When-
ever an individual Member becomes turbulent and seems beyond the
Speaker's control, the Sergeant at Arras lifts the mace and "pre-
sents" it "before the offending person. Order is promptly restored,
so great is the respect for the mace as a symbol of legislative
Good examples of the power displayed by the mace may be
shown hy the stories of one of our very wild representatives,
Charles L. Bartlett of Georgia. During the Fifty-fifth Congress,
this gentleman actually threw a volume of United States Statutes
at Representative James M. Brumm of Pennsylvania, hut further
trouble was averted by the intervention of the Sergeant at Arms
with the mace. Mr. Bartlett also figured in another stormy inci-
dent in the House during the Sixtieth Congress. Another Repre-
sentative was aggrieved at the failure of the Committee on Accounts
to provide an increase of compensation to a House employee, and
made some caustic remarks which Mr. Bartlett thought as meant for
himself. He rushed at the other Representative, brandishing a
knife, but was Intercepted by Members, and complete order was
restored by the Sergeant at Arms bringing forth the mace.
By studying the development of the mace from the ancient
days of Rome flown to the present time, It is easy to see why this
object has been chosen, along with our flag, as the symbol of
authority of the Federal Government of the United States.
Encylopaedia Britannica, 14th Edition.
Garetin, J.R., Irish State and Civic Maces , 1898.
Jewitt and Hope, Corporation Plate and Insignia of Office , 1895.
National Bank of Commerce of Norfolk, Virginia, Norfolk's Historic