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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
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 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 The power of the American Lonate to stop great means is at most susherine Conning ultimately from the Lame soare as the HD Repo it could netton be af manance writtothe latter
12 THE HOUSE OF LORDS. tür cart990s in earnest, on any sulgeot concerning which 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
The U.S. Sumpte & H. ef Repo. porobeblo, much more nearly idento enl in their origin the the house of Lords & Commons refore the Reform Act, The Chrushle as that time is on I 100
THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, H
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 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 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 last 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 Govern