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History and Meaning of the Whip System in Politics

Mary Anthony
The job of the party leader is being the face of the party, but the actual job of overlooking the party members on legislative votes, performing day-to-day political tasks, and ensuring discipline within the party is performed by the invisible 'whip' man.
A whipline is issued by the party whip, daily, when the House is in session, and it outlines upcoming bills and tracks party members who are unavailable to vote during that day.
The term 'whip' conjures up images of punishment inflicted by animal trainers on animals, but in the political sense, it is the highest form of responsibility. A 'party whip' (earlier they were known as 'assistant party leader') is not only a tough disciplinarian, behind the scene, but also a guardian with a thankless job within political circles.
The jobs of these political employees is to enable the members to observe the party protocol as well as keep them focused on the party goals.
In the U.S., the majority party whip holds the supreme position in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, minority whips are appointed by the party holding less seats in one or both houses of Congress.
Majority and minority whips often use assistant whips, like deputy whips, to help cover different geographic regions, and they are known as regional whips or zone whips. Although whips are most ordinarily referred to Congress, many state legislatures also appoint whips.
In the House, they rank immediately below the Speaker; whereas in the Senate, they rank second in hierarchy to the majority party leader. There is no formal educational qualification required to be a majority whip, any member of Congress can be one, most whips are lawyers.
Their term length in the office ranges from two to ten years. Apart from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, India, and New Zealand also appoint party whips.


'Party Whip' is a political term used for a party official who presides over the working of the party discipline and enforces the majority votes out of its members for a legislative bill according to the party policies.


'whipper in' was used for the person who was responsible for keeping the foxhounds restrained and focused during a hunt. In the political scene, it attained importance through the House of Commons during the late 1700s.
This term wasn't adopted in the United States until 1897, when it was first coined by the Republicans and then the Democrats adopted the same in 1901. Senate Democrats appointed their first official whip in 1913, whereas Senate Republicans in 1915.


In 1897, 'Republican Speaker Thomas Reed' first adopted the term in the U.S. House of Representatives, when he appointed Representative 'James A. Tawney' as a party whip to keep tabs on the party members. The Democrats appointed 'Oscar W. Underwood' in 1899 as their first whip.
The first official senate whip for the Democrats was 'James Hamilton Lewis' in 1913 likewise for the Republicans it was 'James W. Wadsworth' 1915. Currently, 'Steve Scalise' holds the position of the 114th Republican whip, whereas 'Steny Hoyer' holds the same position for the Democrats.


★ The primary aim of a party whip is to cross-examine the number of votes for and against a piece of legislation. A thorough whipping is necessary to get the exact number of votes available for a particular bill to be passed in the senate by counting the number for members present during the session.
They negotiate and build the support of the members who are not sure about their stand in the procedure.
★ They serve as liaisons between the members and the party leadership, which helps in molding the legislation that members actually show up to the floor. They keep the members updated by sending out a daily schedule of votes and information on how long a given legislative session will last.
★ They ensure that all members of their parties are present when important bills are to be voted upon. When a vote appears to be close, the whips contact absent members of their party and seek their advise about the vote. They tip on the "Weekly Whip" and the "Daily Whip", which detail by week and day, respectively, the legislation on the House floor.
In addition to the Weekly Whip and the Daily Whip, they also broadcast the House calendar, which lists the days of the year that the House of Repre.
★ They also alert the party leaders to shifting congressional opinions and, occasionally, to distribute information on pending amendments or bills. They also usually attend important leadership meetings, including conferences with the President.
Although hidden from the public eye, the post of party whip sometimes becomes a means of advancement to a higher congressional party office.