Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/17

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
13
Testimony of Antiquity — Testimony of Modern Times.

I.— IS A SECOND LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER OF ANY KIND DESIRABLE?

Testimony of antiquity.There has never been any very serious difference of opinion as to the answer which should be given to this question. It is true that some closet philosophers have affirmed that the existence of a Second Chamber is unnecessary for, and even injurious to, Constitutional Government. But the common sense of mankind has preferred to be guided by experience in the matter, and has decided with tolerable unanimity in the opposite direction. In the Republics and Constitutional States of ancient Greece, among the Ionians, Æolians, and Dorians alike, at Athens, at Thebes, and at Sparta, we find during their best epochs the government divided between the Boule or Gerousia, which corresponded with the Roman Senate, and the Agora, or popular assembly. In those cases in which the Boule was in course of time overthrown by revolution, the free institutions of the State did not long survive its fall. In the palmiest days of the old Roman Republic political power was divided between the Senate and the Comitia, or assemblies of the people; and it was the weakening of the power of the Senate which opened the way for the overthrow of the Republic by the Cæsars, and for the despotism of the later Emperors. In the early barbaric stage of the Frankish and German tribes, who have ultimately developed into the modern nations of Western Europe, we do not expect to find any very matured political institutions. Before they subdued the Roman Empire, and were themselves subdued by its civilising influences, their government was of a simple and informal character. Yet we learn from the historian Tacitus that even then not only the king or the chief of the tribe, but also a council, composed of a select body of his followers, shared with the general assembly of the tribe the control over public affairs.

Testimony of modern times.The general adhesion which in modern times has ultimately been given to the principle of a two-chambered legislature cannot be better described than in the words of Professor Lieber. Imprisoned in his youth, and expelled from the schools in Prussia on account of his democratic opinions, he cannot be accused of any aristocratic tendencies:—