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The last time a House speaker vote went to multiple ballots? It was 100 years ago, for a Mass. Republican.

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C) talked to a colleague as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) worked behind him, as the House of Representatives casted their votes for Speaker of the House, on the first day of the 118th Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building.Win McNamee/Getty

While all eyes in Washington, D.C., were on Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy’s work Tuesday to shore up support in his bid to be elected House speaker, it’s worth noting that the high-stakes battle has a historical precedent — with a Massachusetts connection.

The last time a vote for speaker went to multiple ballots was in 1923, when a bloc of Republicans refused to reelect Representative Frederick Huntington Gillett, a patrician Massachusetts Republican, according to the US House archives.

Gillett didn’t emerge victorious until the ninth ballot, with a tally of 215 votes that was the lowest total of any speaker since the House reached its modern size, according to the Washington Post.


Gillett, a Westfield native, served in the House of Representatives from 1893 to 1925 and in the US Senate from 1925 until 1931, according to the House archives.

During the speaker’s battle in 1923, a group of progressive Republicans forced Gillett to endure nine floor votes before he was declared the victor, Garrison Nelson, an emeritus professor of of law, politics, and political behavior at the University of Vermont, wrote in a Globe opinion piece in 2018.

On the first ballot, Nelson wrote, fellow Republicans cast 197 votes for Gillett; 17 votes for Henry Cooper of Wisconsin; 5 votes for Martin Madden of Illinois; with 4 voting present, denying Gillett the 210 votes of the 418 present members he needed for victory. Opposition remained steady until the ninth ballot, when all 17 of Cooper’s voters and 3 of Madden’s gave Gillett a 215-197 victory, according to Nelson.

Gillett, who served as an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts and as a state representative before his tenure in Congress, died in 1935 in Springfield, according to the House archival site.


On Tuesday, several historical and legal experts took to Twitter to discuss Gillett’s marathon battle for the speakership in 1923, as McCarthy and his allies worked furiously to corral the necessary votes.

McCarthy fell short in the first round of voting, making him the first House speaker nominee in 100 years to do so. He also failed to win on the second and third ballots before the House adjourned Tuesday evening.

Speaker of the House Frederick H. Gillett.HUM Images/UIG via Getty Images

“Historic Footnote to today’s Speaker vote: The last time Congress needed more than one vote to pick a speaker was 1923,” tweeted Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe on Tuesday. “Republicans went 9 rounds to pick Frederick Huntington Gillet. The longest speaker showdown was in 1855, lasting 2 months and requiring 133 rounds of votes.”

That long-forgotten voting marathon also had a Massachusetts tie.

A Waltham native, Massachusetts Representative Nathaniel Prentice Banks, ultimately prevailed in that 1855 donnybrook, according to the House archival website.

“The last time there was more than one ballot for Speaker was 1923, when it took 9 ballots to make Frederick Gillet Speaker,” tweeted Brian W. Schoeneman, a former GOP elections official in Virginia. “There have only been 14 multiple ballot Speaker elections in history. Today’s going to be pretty interesting.”

Material from The Washington Post was included in this report. Jeremiah Manion of the Globe Staff also contributed.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.