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an hour which they could not have transacted in a day, or could not have transacted at all. When some foolish peer, who disliked his domination, sneered at his birth, he had words to meet the case: he said it was better for any one to owe his place to his own exertions than to owe it to descent, to being the “accident of an accident." But such a House as this could not be pleasant to great noblemen. They could not like to be second in their own assembly (and yet that was their position from age to age) to a lawyer who was of yesterday,—whom everybody could remember without briefs who had talked for “hire,”—who had “hungered after six-and-eightpence.” Great peers did not gain glory from the House; on the contrary, they lost glory when they were in the House. They devised two expedients to get out of this difficulty: they invented proxies which enabled them to vote without being present,—without being offended by vigour and invective,-without being vexed by ridicule, -without leaving the rural mansion or the town palace where they were demigods. And what was more effectual still, they used their influence in the House of Commons instead of the House of Lords. In that indirect manner a rural potentate, who half returned two county members, and wholly returned two borough members,—who perhaps gave seats to members of the government, who possibly seated the leader of the Opposition,-became a much greater man than by sitting on his own bench, in his own House, hearing a chancellor talk. The House of Lords was a second-rate force, even when the peers were a firstrate force, because the greatest peers, those who had the
greatest social importance, did not care for their own House, or like it, but gained great part of their political power by a hidden but potent influence in the competing House.
When we cease to look at the House of Lords under its dignified aspect, and come to regard it under its strictly useful aspect, we find the literary theory of the English Constitution wholly wrong, as usual. This theory says that the House of Lords is a co-ordinate estate of the realm, of equal rank with the House of Commons; that it is the aristocratic branch, just as the Commons is the popular branch; and that by the principle of our Constitution the aristocratic branch has equal authority with the popular branch. So utterly false is this doctrine that it is a remarkable peculiarity, a capital excellence of the British Constitution, that it contains a sort of 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 in stitutions 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 coordinate 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 quarrelled, 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 becoine 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 rejectors 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 CornLaw 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 endeavoured 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