The term itself likely stems from the commonplace practice of subordinate employees or officials being deputized and given the authority to sign the name of their superior or employer. In situations where this superior official's signature may frequently be required for routine paperwork, a literal rubber stamp is used, with a likeness of their hand-written signature. In essence, the term is meant to convey an endorsement without careful thought or personal investment in the outcome, especially since it is usually expected as the stamper's duty to do so. In the situation where a dictator's legislature is a "rubber stamp", the orders they are meant to endorse are formalities they are expected to legitimize, and are usually done to create the superficial appearance of legislative and dictatorial harmony rather than because they have actual power.
Historian Edward S. Ellis called this type of legislature a toy parliament, with specific reference to Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II's Turkish parliament, created in 1876 with the sole purpose of appeasing the European powers. This is true even in some modern states. In the People's Republic of China, the nearly 3,000-member-strong National People's Congress is ostensibly "the most powerful organ of state", but de facto "it is little more than a rubber stamp for party decisions."
During the reign of Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden (1751–71), the Riksdag of the Estates had the power to sign binding documents with a literal name stamp, sometimes against the will of the king who by law was an absolute monarch.
Conversely, in a constitutional monarchy, the monarch is typically a "rubber stamp" to an elected parliament, even if he or she legally possesses considerable reserve powers or disagrees with the parliament's decisions. In parliamentary republics such as India and Ireland, the President is often described as a rubber stamp.