Robert's Rules

The author of the famous manual of parliamentary procedure was an Army Engineer

U.S. Army Brigadier General Henry M. Robert’s name found its way into history books for his distinguished military career—but he became a household name for an unlikely reason: He wrote a book about how to run meetings.

Before working his way up the Army ranks and rising to unlikely fame as an author, Henry M. Robert played a crucial role at San Juan Island's American Camp. Robert arrived on San Juan Island on August 23, 1859. Then a second lieutenant, the U.S. Army Engineer Corps tasked him with designing and overseeing the construction of a fortification—or redoubt—just east of camp at which to position naval guns. The work was tough; troops labored under the hot August sun with only picks and shovels, prompting some noncommissioned officers to threaten mutiny.

Despite faltering morale, the project, later dubbed "Robert's Redoubt," garnered high praise for its architect. U.S. Army engineer William Peck wrote in 1859 of the under-construction project: "...It presents a steep precipice, and its guns when mounted, will command the prairie slope to the bay, the view on the canal side, as well as the slopes from the high headlands, some mile and a half distant. The work is just beginning... A few more days and the redoubt will make a very formidable appearance." Even the British were impressed by Robert's design, which took advantage of the site's geography to bolster strategic advantage for even a small force of men.

No shots were ever fired in the San Juan Pig War—except, of course, the one that killed the pig—so the redoubt never served its intended purpose. However, it remains among the best-preserved earthen redoubts of its era.  

In his diary, Peck described 22-year-old Robert as "sickly." Yet, the lieutenant would leave San Juan Island for a long career as an Army engineer, retiring in 1903 as a brigadier general. His notoriety would skyrocket when—humiliated by a chaotic experience leading a meeting—he set out to document and standardize parliamentary procedures. The resulting book, now called "Robert's Rules of Order" remains the standard for official meetings small and large across the world.