At the close of the Middle Ages, every effort which had been made in the direction of representative government upon the continent of Europe had come to an end. From that time down to the French Revolution, the English parliamentary system survived as the solitary representative of what is generally known as popular government. Since the overturning in 1789 nearly all the states of continental Europe have organized national assemblies after the model of the English Parliament, in a spirit of conscious imitation. As Sir Henry Maine has stated it, “The British political model was followed by France, by Spain and Portugal, and by Holland and Belgium combined in the kingdom of the Netherlands; and, after a long interval, by Germany, Italy, and Austria.” But the typical English national assembly, embodying what is generally known as the bicameral or two-chamber system, was not copied into the continental European constitutions until it had first been reproduced and popularized by the founders of the federal republic of the United States. When the colonial commonwealths in America severed the tie of political dependence which bound them to the mother country, and rose to the full stature of sovereign States, they, with a single exception, organized their several legislatures after the ancient model as it existed in the insular system. The framers of the Federal Constitution of 1787, forsaking the original idea of a federal assembly consisting of a single chamber, adopted the English system of two chambers in the form in which that system had, reappeared in the several States. The adaptation of this dual system to the complicated interests of a federal republic gave rise to difficulties in the Federal Convention which at one time seemed to be insurmountable. All who are familiar with the history of the convention know that, upon a resolution offered by Virginia, the fact was settled, as a starting-point, that, however the respective branches of the new legislature might be organized, it should consist of two houses instead of one. As to the composition of the houses themselves, the question which first arose was whether or no the lower house should be organized upon a popular basis, after the model of the English House of Commons. After a debate, in which such men as Gerry, Sherman, Martin, and the Pinckneys expressed grave distrust of the wisdom of the people, the convention was induced by Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and others to decide that the members of the lower house should be chosen directly by popular election. When this difficulty was removed, the convention was free to grapple with the supreme question before it, — the question whether or no the States in their corporate capacity were to be represented in the new assembly. If the “Virginia plan,” which recognized population as the only basis of representation, was to prevail, the smaller States—which, under the Articles of Confederation, were entitled to an equal vote—would be placed at the mercy of their more populous associates. At this stage of the proceedings, as a counter blast to the Virginia scheme, the smaller States, under the lead of William Patterson, brought before the convention the “New Jersey plan,” which proposed nothing more than a reformation of the Articles of Confederation. When angry and protracted debate between the opposing parties had brought the convention to the verge of dissolution, Sherman and Ellsworth suggested the famous “Connecticut Compromise,” which proposed that the national principle contended for by the greater States should prevail in the organization of the lower house, and that the federal principle claimed by the smaller States should prevail in the organization of the upper house, or Senate, in whose constitution the elective principle was to take the place of hereditary right. Thus modified by republican and federal ideas, the English bicameral system, in the form in which it had reappeared in the several States, passed into the Constitution of the United States.
The facts which have so far been epitomized as to the adaptation of the English bicameral system to the complicated wants of our federal republic are generally understood. What is not generally understood is this: At the time the adaptation was made, the relations which existed between the English Executive and the Parliament were radically different from what they have since become. At that moment cabinet government in England did not exist. As Mr. Bryce has recently observed, “In 1787, when the constitutional convention met at Philadelphia, the cabinet system of government was in England still immature. It was so immature that its true nature had not been perceived.” During the reigns of the first two Georges the foundations of the modern ministerial system were firmly laid, but in the presence of the imperious will of George III. its growth was checked; for a time it passed into eclipse. In the midst of this eclipse the Federal Convention met. The fathers had, therefore, no opportunity to view the working of the English Constitution in its later form; they had no opportunity to witness that perfect accord and cohesion which now exist in England between the cabinet, who represent the dominant party, and the majority of that party in the House of Commons. As the English model was the acknowledged standard for imitation, it was naturally copied in the form in which it then presented itself to the gaze of the convention. In the teeth of the prevailing prejudice against monarchy, it was no easy task to devise an acceptable scheme through which the federal President should be clothed with the constitutional attributes of an English king. Yet that result was substantially accomplished. And here let the fact be emphasized, that the kingship whose constitutional attributes the framers reproduced was not the shadowy kingship of to-day, which reigns, but does not govern. “The figure they had before them was not a generalized English king nor an abstract constitutional monarch; it was no anticipation of Queen Victoria, but George III. himself, whom they took for their model. Fifty years earlier or a hundred years later, the English king would have struck them in quite a different light.”