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upper House which is not of equal authority to the lower House, yet still has some authority.
The evil of two co-equal houses of distinct natures is obvious: each house can stop all legislation, and yet some legislation may be necessary. At this moment we have the best instance of this which could be conceived: the upper house of our Victorian Constitution, representing the rich wool-growers, has disagreed with the lower Assembly, and most business is suspended; but for a most curious stratagem the machine of government would stand still. Most constitutions have committed this blunder; the two most remarkable republican institutions in the world commit it. In both the American and the Swiss Constitutions the upper house has as much authority as the second : it could produce the maximum of impediment, the dead-lock, if it liked; if it does not do so, it is owing not to the goodness of the legal Constitution, but to the discreetness of the members of the chamber. In both these Constitutions, this dangerous division is defended by a peculiar doctrine with which I have nothing to do now: it is said that there must be in a federal government some institution, some authority, some body possessing a veto, in which the separate states composing the confederation are all equal. I confess this doctrine has to me no self-evidence, and it is assumed but not proved: the State of Delaware is not equal in power or influence to the State of New York, and you cannot make it so by giving it an equal veto in an upper chamber. The history of such an institution is indeed most natural: a little state will like and must like to see some token, some memorial mark of its old independence preserved in the constitution by which that independence is extinguished; but it is one thing for an institution to be natural, and another for it to be expedient. If indeed it be that a federal government compels the erection of an upper chamber of conclusive and co-ordinate authority, it is one more in addition to the many other inherent defects of that kind of government; it may be necessary to have the blemish, but it is a blemish just as much.
There ought to be in every constitution an available authority somewhere; the sovereign power must be come-at-able: and the English have made it so. The House of Lords, at the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, was as unwilling to concur with the House of Commons as the upper chamber at Victoria to concur with the lower chamber; but it did concur. The Crown has the authority to create new peers, and the king of the day had promised the ministry of the day to create them; the House of Lords did not like the precedent, and they passed the bill. The power was not used, but its existence was as useful as its energy: just as the knowledge that his men can strike makes a master yield in order that they may not strike, so the knowledge that their House could be swamped at the will of the king-at the will of the people-made the Lords yield to the people.
From the Reform Act the function of the House of Lords has been altered in English history. Before that act it was, if not a directing chamber, at least a chamber of directors: the leading nobles, who had most influence in the Commons and swayed the Commons, sat there. Aristocratic influence was so powerful in the House of Commons that there never was any serious breach of unity; when the Houses quarreled, it was, as in the great Aylesbury case, about their respective privileges, and not about the national policy. The influence of the nobility was then so potent that it was not necessary to exert it. The English Constitution, though then on this point very different from what it now is, did not even then contain the blunder of the Victorian or of the Swiss Constitution: it had not two Houses of distinct origin, it had two Houses of common origin, -two Houses in which the predominant element was the same. The danger of discordance was obviated by a latent unity.
Since the Reform Act the House of Lords has become a revising and suspending House.) It
can alter bills; it can reject bills on which the House of Commons is not yet thoroughly in earnest, upon which the nation is not yet determined. Their veto is a sort of hypothetical veto: they say, We reject your bill for this once, or these twice, or even these thrice; but if you keep on sending it up, at last we won't reject it. The House has ceased to be one of latent directors, and has become one of temporary rejecters and palpable alterers.
It is the sole claim of the Duke of Wellington to the name of a statesman that he presided over this change. He wished to guide the Lords to their true position, and he did guide them. In 1846, in the crisis of the Corn Law struggle, and when it was a question whether the House of Lords should resist or yield, he wrote a very curious letter to the late Lord Derby :
“For many years — indeed, from the year 1830, when I retired from office – I have endeavored to manage the House of Lords upon the principle on which I conceive that the institution exists in the Constitution of the country, — that of conservatism. I have invariably objected to all violent and extreme measures; which is not exactly the mode of acquiring influence in a political party in England, particularly one in opposition to Government. I have invariably supported Government in Parliament upon important occasions, and have always exercised my personal influence to prevent the mischief of anything like a difference or division between the two Houses, - of which there are some remarkable instances, to which I will advert here, as they will tend to show you the nature of my management, and possibly in some degree account for the extraordinary power which I have for so many years exercised, without any apparent claim to it.
“Upon finding the difficulties in which the late King William was involved by a promise made to create peers (the number, I believe, indefinite), I determined myself, and I prevailed upon others (the number very large) to be absent from the House in the discussion of the first stages of the Reform Bill, after the negotiations had failed for the formation of a new administration. This course gave at the time great dissatisfaction to the party ; notwithstanding
that, I believe it saved the existence of the House of Lords at the time, and the Constitution of the country.
“Subsequently, throughout the period from 1835 to 1841, I prevailed upon the House of Lords to depart from many principles and systems which they as well as I had adopted and voted, on Irish tithes, Irish corporations, and other measures, — much to the vexation and annoyance of many. But I recollect one particular measure, the union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, in the early stages of which I had spoken in opposition to the measure, and had protested against it; and in the last stages of it I prevailed upon the House to agree to and pass it, in order to avoid the injury to the public interests of a dispute between the Houses upon a question of such importance.
" Then I supported the measures of the Government, and protected the servant of the Government, Captain Elliot, in China. All of which tended to weaken my influence with some of the party; others, possibly a majority, might have approved of the course which I took.
“ It was at the same time well known that from the commencement at least of Lord Melbourne's Government, I was in constant communication with it upon all military matters, whether occurring at home or abroad, at all events; but likewise upon many others.
“ All this tended, of course, to diminish my influence in the Conservative party, while it tended essentially to the ease and satisfaction of the Sovereign, and to the maintenance of good order. At length came the resignation of the Government by Sir Robert Peel in the month of December last, and the Queen desiring Lord John Russell to form an administration.
“On the 12th of December the Queen wrote to me the letter of which I inclose the copy and the copy of my answer of the same date; of which it appears that you have never seen copies, although I communicated them immediately to Sir Robert Peel.
“It was impossible for me to act otherwise than is indicated in my letter to the Queen. ,I am the servant of the Crown and people ; I have been paid and rewarded, and I consider myself retained, and that I can't do otherwise than serve as required, when I can do so without dishonor, - that is to say, as long as I have health and strength to enable me to serve: but it is obvious that there is, and there must be, an end of all connection and counsel between party and me. I might with consistency, and some may think that I ought to, have declined to belong to Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet on the night of the 20th of December. But my opinion is, that if I had, Sir Robert Peel's Government would not have been framed ; that we should have had and
in office next morning.
“But at all events, it is quite obvious that when that arrangement comes, which sooner or later must come, there will be an end to all influence on my part over the Conservative party, if I should be so indiscreet as to attempt to exercise any.
You will see, therefore, that the stage is quite clear for you, and that you need not apprehend the consequences of differing in opinion from me when you will enter upon it; as in truth I have, by my letter to the Queen of the 12th of December, put an end to the connection between the party and me, when the party will be in opposition to her Majesty's Government.
“My opinion is, that the great object of all is, that you should assume the station and exercise the influence which I have so long exercised in the House of Lords.
“The question is, How is that object to be attained ? by guiding their opinion and decision, or by following it ?
“You will see that I have endeavored to guide their opinion, and have succeeded upon some most remarkable occasions; but it has been by a good deal of management.
“Upon the important occasion and question now before the House, I propose to endeavor to induce them to avoid to involve the country in the additional difficulties of a difference of opinion, possibly a dispute, between the Houses, on a question in the decision of which it has been frequently asserted that their Lordships had a personal interest ; which assertion, however false as affecting each of them personally, could not be denied as affecting the proprietors of land in general.
“I am aware of the difficulty, but I don't despair of carrying the bill through.
“ You must be the best judge of the course which you ought to take, and of the course most likely to conciliate the confidence of the House of Lords. My opinion is, that you should advise the House to vote that which would tend most to public order and would be most beneficial to the immediate interests of the country.'
This is the mode in which the House of Lords came to be what it now is, a chamber with (in most cases) a veto of delay, with (in most cases) a power of revision, but with no other rights or powers. The question we have to answer is, The House of Lords being such, what is the use of the Lords ? The common notion evidently fails, that it is a
. bulwark against imminent revolution. As the Duke's
* Gleig's “Life of Wellington," Vol. iv., Chap. v. (Feb. 19, 1846).