Imágenes de páginas

worked badly is one which the Convention for want of a precedent, was obliged to devise for itself."

The book deals with so many subjects, and with all so well that it would be impossible to review it with any thoroughness in the limits of a single Article. We turn, therefore, to its treatment of one matter, as to which the author was peculiarly fitted to observe and judge, from his familiarity with British parliamentary institutions.

In his chapters on the Senate and "The House at Work," he gives the best picture of the actual methods of legislation at Washington which has yet been sketched, and to these are afterwards added a clear and full description of our State legislatures.

Our plan of equal State representation in the Senate he pronounces the best of any of the methods now in use, in constitutional governments, for giving a distinct as well as natural character to the upper house of the legislative assembly.

"Italy," he says, "has a Senate composed of persons nominated by the Crown. The Prussian House of Lords is partly nominated, partly hereditary, partly elective. The Spanish Senators are partly hereditary, partly official, partly elective. In the Germanic Empire, the Federal Council consists of delegates of the several kingdoms and principalities. France appoints her senators by indirect election. In England the members of the House of Lords now sit by hereditary right; and those who propose to reconstruct that ancient body are at their wits end to discover some plan by which it may be strengthened, and made practically useful, without such a direct election as that by which members are chosen to the House of Commons. The American plan, which is older than any of those in use on the European continent, is also better, because it is not only simple, but natural, i. e., grounded on and consonant with the political conditions of America.”

The provision in favor of senators of a six years' term has given them, he thinks, a great advantage over members of the house in facilitating their chances of re-election, and the fact that their terms end in such a way that two-thirds of the Senate has always been at least four years in office has created “a

set of traditions and a corporate spirit, which have tended to form habits of dignity and self-respect."

Perhaps in speaking of this result as an incidental one, he hardly gives sufficient consideration to the fact that the Senate is an eternal body, which never dies. It is the same Senate to-day, that existed a hundred years ago. Each House of Representatives begins as a new organization, and adopts new rules. The rules of the Senate remain the same from session to session, without any form of re-adoption. This continuity of existence necessarily produces a sentiment of solidarity, which has a marked effect on their modes of proceeding.

For a quarter of a century, and until driven to it by increasing numbers, the Senate had no standing committees, and it is due to this, in part, no doubt, that no joint standing committees have ever been constituted by the two houses, according to the familiar plan in many of our States. The Senate met, at first, as a "congress of ambassadors," representing the Congress of the Confederation much more nearly than did the lower house. It represented a different constituency, and it might well look at many public questions in a different way.

If, therefore, a petition is to be sent in to Congress a separate paper must be addressed to each House. If a measure is proposed, it must be advocated or opposed before different committees, one of which often reports in its favor, and the other against it. The time of the promoters or opponents of a bill is rather wastefully expended, in such double hearings; but as the least legislation is commonly the best, the public may not suffer much loss in the end.

The general aspect of the Senate in session, says Mr. Bryce, is not so much that "of a popular assembly as of a diplomatic congress." It "seldom wears that air of listless vacuity and superannuated indolence, which the House of Lords presents on all but a few nights of every session." . . . . "As respects ability, the Senate cannot be profitably compared with the English House of Lords, because that assembly consists of some twenty eminent men and as many ordinary men attending regularly, with a multitude of undistinguished persons who, though members, are only occasional visitors, and take no real share in the deliberations."

The almost defiant tone of criticism with which the merits and composition of the upper house of Parliament are discussed throughout this work by a member of the lower house, will surprise no one who has watched the amazing change of public opinion in England in regard to this subject within the past twenty years. A peer is still prized in a drawing-room, or as chairman of a public meeting, but as a factor in politics he counts for little. The expediency of abolishing the House of Lords is freely discussed by leading men on the platform, and plain words are used. Particularly is this true since the enormous expansion of the suffrage under the operation of the Redistribution Act. England has become almost a democracy. She is still attached to the Crown, because it is the least powerful form of the Executive known in modern governments; because in short, in the past it was great, in the present it is harmless. But the lords retain an awkward residuum of power. They in no sense represent the people of England. They do, in part, represent the Church of England, but the Church of England has ceased to be the church of the English. Disestablishment has been found possible for Ireland: it is more than possible for the England of the coming century. If there are still serious obstacles in the way, the House of Lords with its bench of bishops is the greatest of them. Out of a membership of over five hundred, all but twenty are "undistinguished persons." Such a body cannot permanently endure as part of a system of popular government.

In our House of Representatives Mr. Bryce finds little to remind him of the chamber of which he is himself a member. "Resemblances, of course, there are. But an English parliamentarian who observes the American House at work is more impressed by the points of contrast than by those of similarity. The life and spirit of the two bodies are wholly different." Instead of ranges of benches on which members lounge with their hats on, with no table even, except for the use of the leaders of either party, and but a few narrow seats for spectators, he finds an immense school-room full of desks, begirt with galleries which would seat the entire population of an average Connecticut town. "The raising and dropping of desk lids, the scratching of pens, the clapping of hands to call the pages, keen

little boys who race along the gangways, the pattering of many feet, the hum of talking on the floor and in the galleries, make up a din over which the Speaker with the sharp taps of his hammer, or the orators, straining shrill throats, find it hard to make themselves audible." "Less favorable conditions for oratory cannot be imagined, and one is not surprised to be told that debate was more animated and practical in the much smaller room which the House formerly occupied. Not only is the present room so big that only a powerful and well-trained voice can fill it, but the desks and chairs make a speaker feel as if he were addressing furniture rather than men, while of the members few seem to listen to the speeches." ... "As a theatre or school, either of political eloquence or political wisdom, the House has been inferior not only to the Senate but to most European assemblies." . . . In all assemblies one must expect abundance of unreality and pretence. Many speeches absolutely addressed to the gallery, many bills meant to be circulated, but not to be seriously proceeded with. However, the House seems to indulge itself more freely in this direction than any other chamber of equal rank. Its galleries are large, holding 2500 persons. But it talks and votes, I will not say to the galleries, for the galleries cannot hear it, but as if every section of American opinion was present in the room. It adopts unanimously resolutions which perhaps no single member in his heart approves of, but which no one cares to object to, because it seems not worth while to do so." "American statesmen keep their pockets full of the loose cash of empty compliments and pompous phrases, and become so accustomed to scatter it among the crowd, that they are surprised when a complimentary resolution or electioneering bill, intended to humor some section of opinion at home, is taken seriously abroad. The House is particularly apt to err in this way, because, having no responsibility in foreign policy, and little sense of its own dignity, it applies to international affairs the habit of election meetings."

[ocr errors]

An American would be apt to qualify such criticisms by referring to the caution with which the House has often treated questions of diplomacy, when its action upon them might cast a reflection on the State Department, or embarrass pending

negotiations. When the House is in accord politically with the President, this may often be observed. At the recent session of Congress, for instance, the Senate passed a joint resolution, denouncing any project of a foreign government to exercise control over the Panama canal, but the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reported on the resolution adversely, upon the ground that it extended the Monroe doctrine beyond its proper limits; and it failed of adoption.

The average business capacity of the American Congressman he thinks equal to that of the members of the House of Commons. There are fewer great lights, but there are almost none "of two classes, hitherto well represented in the British Parliament, the rich, dull parvenu, who has brought himself into public life, and the perhaps equally unlettered young sporting or fashionable man who, neither knowing nor caring anything about politics, has come in for a county or (before 1885) a small borough, on the strength of his family estates. Few Congressmen sink to so low an intellectual level as these two sets of persons, for Congressmen have almost certainly made their way by energy and smartness, picking up a knowledge of men and things all the time.' . . . As regards manners, they are not polished because they have not lived among polished people, yet neither are they rude, for to get on in American politics one must be civil and pleasant."

The want of a recognized leader and whip for each party, he thinks would cause inevitable confusion and misrule, were it not that "parties are few in the United States, and their cohesion tight. There are usually two only, so nearly equal in strength that the majority cannot afford to dissolve into groups like those of France." The House would, indeed, be little but a mob, were it not for the American system of Committees, under which, when any report comes up for action, "the chairman of the particular committee is treated as a leader pro hac vice, and members who know nothing of the matter, are apt to be guided by his speech, or his advice, given privately."

In Parliament a bill is discussed and its fate perhaps decided in its earlier stages, but Congress rarely pays attention to any until it comes up on the report of a committee, to which it has

« AnteriorContinuar »