What Else Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?

The Sergeant at Arms is perhaps most famous for being the guy at the State of the Union Address who shouts “Mister (or Madam) Speaker, the President of the United States!” But what does the Sergeant at Arms do the rest of the year?

The Sergeant at Arms traces its roots all the way back to the Roman Empire, where senior officers of state chose 12 patricians to act as bodyguards and serve police functions. These men had very few limits on their powers to arrest or use violence; they answered to no legal authority but their own master. King Phillip II of France borrowed this idea and formed a small, special corps of men, armed with decorated battle maces, to guard him when he traveled the Holy Land during the Crusades. The notion of a small cadre of police/guards found its way from France to England, via the Norman lords, as did the French name for the guards, sergent, from the Latin servientum (“servant, one who serves”).

In 1279, King Edward I of England formed a group of 20 men to act as the first royal bodyguard in England, Anglicizing the French sergent and naming them the Sergeants at Arms. The sergeants served various other functions for their king and counted among their responsibilities the arrest of traitors and the collection of debts. A little over a century later, the House of Commons received its own Sergeant at Arms* and since then, these officers have almost always been associated with legislative bodies.

Both houses of the United States Congress adopted the office of Sergeant at Arms in 1798. In the House of Representatives, the Sergeant at Arms’ chief task is maintaining order and decorum on the floor of the chamber. To that end, he is authorized to “display” the silver and ebony Mace of the United States House of Representatives – a visual reminder of Congress’ authority – as a warning to behave and use the mace in the aisles of the House Chamber to “subdue” disorderly conduct. Congress has also used the Sergeant at Arms as something of a bounty hunter/hall monitor in the past, dispatching him to retrieve absent representatives and bring them to House sessions, sometimes even escort them directly to their seat in the chamber.

The Sergeant at Arms’ role in the security of the House is reviewing and implementing security measures related to the Capitol and House Office Buildings. His office secures, limits access to, and performs sweeps of the House Floor and Gallery, oversees and secures the Visitors Desk and Parking Garage and administrates the distribution of all representatives’ and staff’s identification badges.

* There’s some debate over how Parliament got its own Sergeant at Arms. One theory holds that the appointment was a scheme concocted by the King to extend his power over the legislature. Another suggests that the officer was requested so that the legislators could enforce parliamentary privilege and have the Sergeant exercise royal authority through the instructions of the Speaker. Yet another says that since Parliament met at the King’s home, the Palace at Westminster, in its early days, His Majesty originally loaned some Sergeants out as door-keepers to the Parliamentary meetings.


Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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