Published April 1972 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd The Senate's "Whipping Post" "I am glad that Robert C. Byrd has at last gotten what he deserved-the whipping post." This comes from a letter received in my office shortly after I had won the Senate Majority Whip's race early last year. But it may be indicative, as are many letters from students, of an interest in the history and duties of the office of Whip. The office of Whip is a British institution; it is found in most commonwealth countries which have based their parliament on that of the United Kingdom. The term "Whip" has two distinct parliamentary meanings in England. It refers both to a party official, as in the United States Senate, and to a written document. Whips were first used in 1621, when notices, known as "circular letters," were sent to the King's friends in the House of Commons. Turning to the Whip as a party official, Edmund Burke, the great English statesman, is considered the first to have used the term to denote a party leader when, during a debate, he described how ministries had sent for their friends to the north-and even to Paris-"whipping them in." Burke was referring to the "whipper-in," a huntsman who kept the hounds from straying during a fox hunt. Party whips did not exist in the United States Senate in the early days, even though our national legislature followed many legislative practices of the English parliament. The first Senate Democratic Whip, J. Hamilton Lewis of Illinois, was elected in 1913; the first Republican Whip, James Wadsworth, N.Y., in 1915. Since 1913, there have been 14 Democratic Whips and 11 Republican Whips. Each Whip is elected by the respective party caucus on the opening day of each new Congress. The responsibilities of the Majority Whip are: to assist the Majority Leader in carrying out the policies formulated by the Democratic Policy Committee; to be on the Floor at all times when the Senate is in session; to insist on enforcement of the Senate rules regarding order and decorum; to keep the legislation moving; and to keep party members informed of the legislative program and the scheduling of votes. Although the post of Whip is not, indeed, a “whipping post," it is an exacting, demanding, often difficult, always challenging position of great responsibility-not only within the party and parliamentary machinery, but also in the legislative process.