« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
They were alike miserable, and all ended in similar disgrace.*
Many speculative writers and theoretical politicians, about the time of the commencement of the French revolution, were struck with the simplicity of a legislature with a single assembly, and concluded that more than one house was useless and expensive. This led the elder President Adams to write and publish his great work, entitled, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States," in which he vindicates, with much learning and ability, the value and necessity of the division of the legislature into two branches, and of the distribution of the different powers of the government into distinct departments. He reviewed the history, and examined the construction, of all mixed and free governments which had ever existed, from the earliest records of time, in order to deduce with more certainty and force his great practical truth, that single assemblies, without check or balance, or a government with all authority collected into one centre, according to the notion of M. Turgot, were visionary, violent, intriguing, corrupt, and tyrannical dominations of majorities over minorities, and uniformly and rapidly terminating their career in a profligate despotism.
This visionary notion of a single house of the legislature was carried into the constitution which the French National Assembly adopted in 1791. The very nature of things, said the intemperate and crude politicians of that assembly, was adverse to every division of the legislative body; and that, as the nation which was represented was one, so the representative body ought to be one also. The will of the nation was indivisible, and so ought to be the voice which pronounced it. If there were two chambers, with a veto upon the acts of each other, in some cases they would be reduced to perfect inaction. By such reasoning, the national assembly of France, consisting of upwards of one thousand mem
a Adams' Defence of the American Constitution, vol. 3. 502.
bers, after a short and tumultuous debate, almost unanimously voted to reject the proposition of an upper house. The same false and vicious principle continued for some time longer to prevail with the theorists of that country; and a single house was likewise established in the plan of government published by the French convention in 1793. The instability and violent measures of that convention, which continued for some years to fill all Europe with astonishment and horror, tended to display, in a most forcible and affecting light, the miseries of a single unchecked body of men, clothed with all the legislative powers of the state. It is very possible that the French nation might have been hurried into the excesses of a revolution, even under a better organization of their government; but if the proposition of M. Lally Tolendal to constitute a senate, or upper house, to be composed of members chosen for life, had prevailed, the constitution would have had much more stability, and would probably have been much better able to preserve the nation in order and tranquillity. Their own sufferings taught the French people to listen to that oracle of wisdom, the experience of other countries and ages, and which for some years they had utterly disregarded, amidst the hurry and the violence of those passions by which they were inflamed. No people, said M. Boissy d'Angles, in 1795, can testify to the world with more truth and sincerity than Frenchmen can do, the dangers inherent in a single legislative assembly, and the point to which factions may mislead an assembly without reins or counterpoise. We accordingly find that in the next constitution, which arose in 1797, there was a division of the legislature, and a council of ancients was introduced, to give stability and moderation to the government; and this idea of two houses was never afterwards abandoned.
(2.) The Senate of the United States is composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof,
a N. A. Reg. for 1791. Hist. p. 49.
b Art. 1. sec. 3.
for six years, and each senator has one vote. The senate at present consists of forty-eight members, representing the twenty-four states of the union. In this part of the constitution we readily perceive the features of the old confederation. Each state has its equal voice and equal weight in the senate, without any regard to disparity of population, wealth, or dimensions. This arrangement must have been the result of that spirit of amity and mutual concession, which was rendered indispensable by the peculiarity of our political condition. It is grounded on the idea of sovereignty in the states; and every independent community, as we have already seen, is equal by the laws of nations, and has a perfect right to dictate its own terms, before it enters into a social compact. On the principle of consolidation of the states, this organization would have been inadmissible, for in that case each state would have been merged in one single and entire government. At the time the articles of confederation were preparing, it was attempted to allow the states an influence and power in Congress in a ratio to their numbers and wealth; but the idea of separate and independent states was at that day so strongly cherished, that the proposition met with no success.b
The election of the senate by the state legislatures, is also a recognition of their separate and independent existence, and renders them absolutely essential to the operation of the national government. There were difficulties, some years ago, as to the true construction of the constitution in the choice of senators. They were to be chosen by the legislatures, and the legislature was to prescribe the times, places, and manner, of holding elections for senators, and Congress are authorized to make and alter such regulations, except as to the place. As the legislature may prescribe the manner, it has been considered and settled, in New-York, that the legislature may prescribe that they shall be chosen
a Lecture 2. p. 21.. VOL. I.
b Journals of Congress, vol. 3. p. 416 c Art. 1. sec. 4.
by joint vote or ballot of the two houses, in case the two houses cannot separately concur in a choice, and then the weight of the senate is dissipated and lost in the more numerous vote of the assembly. This construction has become too convenient, and has been too long settled by the recognition of senators so elected, to be now disturbed; though I should think, if the question was a new one, that when the constitution directed that the senators should be chosen by the legislature, it meant not the members of the legislature per capita, but the legislature in the true technical sense, being the two houses acting in their separate and organized capacities, with the ordinary constitutional right of negative on each other's proceedings. This was a contemporary exposition of the clause in question, and was particularly maintained in the well known letters of the Federal Farmer, who surveyed the constitution with a jealous and scrutinizing eye.
The small number, and long duration of the senate, were intended to render them a safeguard against the influence of those paroxysms of heat and passion, which prevail occasionally in the most enlighted communities, and enter into the deliberation of popular assemblies. In this point of view, a firm and independent senate is justly regarded as an anchor of safety amidst the storms of political faction; and for want of such a stable body, the republics of Athens and Florence were overturned, by the fury of commotions, which the senates of Sparta and Rome might have been able to withstand. The characteristical qualities of the senate, in the intendment of the constitution, are wisdom and stability. The legal presumption is, that the senate will entertain more enlarged views of public policy, will feel a higher and juster sense of national character, and a greater regard for stability in the administration of the government. These qualities, it is true, may, in most cases, be equally found in the other branch of the legislature, but
a Letter 12.
the constitutional structure of the house is not equally calculated to produce them; for, as the house of representatives comes more immediately from the people, and the members hold their seats for a much shorter time, they are presumed to partake, with a quicker sensibility, of the prevailing temper and irritable disposition of the times, and to be in much more danger of adopting measures with precipitation, and of changing them with levity. A mutable legislation is attended with a formidable train of mischiefs. to the community. It weakens the force, and increases the intricacy of the laws, hurts credit, lessens the value of property, and it is an infirmity very incident to republican establishments, and has been a constant source of anxiety and concern to their most enlightened admirers. A disposition to multiply and change laws, upon the spur of the occasion, and to be making constant and restless experiments with the statute code, seems to be the natural disease of popular assemblies. In order, therefore, to counteract such a dangerous propensity, and to maintain a due portion of confidence in the government, and to insure its safety and character at home and abroad, it is requisite that another body of men, coming likewise from the people, and equally responsible for their conduct, but resting on a more permanent basis, and constituted with stronger inducements to moderation in debate, and to tenacity of purpose, should be placed as a check upon the intemperance of the more popular department.
The senate have been, from the first formation of the government, divided into three classes; and the rotation of the classes was originally determined by lot, and the seats of one class are vacated at the expiration of the second year, and one third of the senate are chosen every second year. This provision was borrowed from a similar one in some of the state constitutions, of which Virginia gave the first example: and it is admirably calculated, on the one hand, to in
a Federalist, vol. 2. No. 62.
b Art. 1. sec. 3.