Currently in its tenth edition and published under the name Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (and often referred to using the initialism RONR) it is the most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States, according to the National Association of Parliamentarians, a professional association of approximately 4,000 members which provides education and accreditation certifications for parliamentarians.
History and origins
The first edition of the book, whose full title was Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, was published in February 1876 by then U.S. Army Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert (1837–1923) with the short title Robert’s Rules of Order placed on its cover. The procedures prescribed by the book were loosely modeled after those used in the United States House of Representatives, with such adaptations as Robert saw fit for use in ordinary societies. The author’s interest in parliamentary procedure began in 1863 when he was chosen to preside over a church meeting and, although he accepted the task, felt that he did not have the necessary knowledge of proper procedure. In his later work as an active member of several organizations, he discovered that members from different areas of the country had very different views regarding what the proper parliamentary rules were, and these conflicting views hampered the organizations in their work. He eventually became convinced of the need for a new manual on the subject, one which would enable many organizations to adopt the same set of rules.
The book is designed for use in ordinary societies rather than legislative assemblies, and it is the most commonly adopted parliamentary authority among societies in the United States. The book claims to be a “codification of the present-day general parliamentary law (omitting provisions having no application outside legislative bodies).” This statement does not imply any approbation on the part of the courts, and the “general parliamentary law” is related neither to statutory legal requirements nor to common-law precedent derived from court judgments. Being widely accepted, and being based for the most part on long-standing traditions of parliamentary procedure, however, the current edition of the book is a reliable reference. Nevertheless, the provisions of any particular manual are not, as a general matter, legally binding upon an assembly that has not formally adopted it as its parliamentary authority; any such manual can at best be cited as “persuasive.” In addition, a number of changes have been made to recent editions, such as provisions dealing with videoconferences, teleconferences, and email, which now makes these editions more than merely codifications of the “present-day general parliamentary law” as existed at the time Robert was originally writing.