Page images

tion to the general rule, has served on this committee for nine out of the last ten years; of the others, during the last six years, one 'has served three years, four have served two years, and twenty-six have served a single year each. In 1869, only one of the ten members who composed the committees had sat in 1868, and in 1868 only one out of the seven members of the House Committee had served in it in 1867.

So also the Committee on Railroads, upon which devolves the most laborious work of each session, — a work in which a knowledge of traditions, and of the results arrived at in previous years, is of essential importance. This is a committee composed of members of both branches. Not one member of the committee of 1869 had been a member of the committee of 1868, and only two members of 1868 had been members of that of 1867. In six years, thirty^ix different gentlemen have sat upon the committee; of these, three have sat three years, six have sat two years, and twenty-seven have passed through a novitiate.

Such a record requires no comment, as it is simply difficult to see how, in such a condition of affairs, the business of each session is brought to a close at all. Such a waste of time, of labor, and of experience, would be intolerable in any except a rapidly growing and greatly prospering community. Meanwhile, as long as such a system lasts, legislation cannot be of a high order.

One last argument in favor of the longer term of senatorial service remains to be stated. Over-legislation is now one of the banes of this continent: there is almost never a time when the statute book is not undergoing manipulation. One result of this, is the ever-increasing length of the legislative sessions: and, in Massachusetts, this evil has peculiarly made itself felt. Each session of the legislature is the longest on record, and at each session there is more work to be done, and less knowledge of how to do it. Under these influences, the length of sessions has increased from eightyfive days, which was not considered a short session in 1845, to one hundred and thirty-eight days in the clumsy KnowNothing organization of 1855, and at last to one hundred and sixty-four days in 1869. This abuse, too, must find a partial remedy in the greater' permanence of one of the legislative bodies. A legislature, wholly new, is a most cumbersome body to set itself in motion. It cannot begin where its predecessor left off; it cannot learn by its own experience. Each year, under a system of general elections for both branches, weeks of idleness and formal sessions are imposed on the legislature, and the best season of the year is consumed, while work is preparing in the committee-rooms. As a consequence, legislation is more and more crowded into the last days of every session. This need not be the case where the Senate is the more permanent body. The work prepared, or remaining over, in its committees, would occupy the earlier and fresher days of the session, until the committees of the other branch had prepared their measures ; and the economy of time, labor, and experience thus effected, would go far to moderate, if not to remedy, what is now rapidly becoming an intolerable nuisance.

Every danger suggested by Madison, as likely to result from a disregard of correct principles, has now been illustrated, from the recent history of a single State. At present many oth^r States are suffering similar evils, arising from the same deviation, without appreciating the fact that they are jealously preserving a form, after having carelessly abolished a substance. If, then, the expediency of founding the separate chambers on distinct constituencies may be considered as established, it only remains to consider how this can best be done. In America there are, practically, but two bases of distinction, —that of territory, best illustrated in the organization of the Federal Senate, and that of time. The State senates might represent counties, without regard to population, but this arrangement would hardly recommend itself to a generation as strongly inclined as the present to the district and population bases for all representation; neither does this system, while providing a check, also in itself provide that element of permanence, the need of which is so greatly felt. There only remains, then, the distinction of time ; while one body represents the first thought the other should represent the second thought, of one and the same people. Here is a real distinction, which causes the two chambers to fulfil their functions as checks upon each other, and, at the same time, secures the much desired element of permanence.

In what form can this element of distinction best be incorporated into a constitution? The methods devised have been various. The great majority of States have settled down on biennial elections for both branches, but only including one-half of the Senate at each election. Others, as Winconsin and California, have fixed on two years as the term for the Senate and one for the House; and yet other States, as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have fixed on three years for the Senate and one for the House. However clumsy these systems may be, and they are far from perfect, in New England alone is the old system of both general and annual elections still preserved in the face of all experience both at home and abroad.

One obvious objection suggests itself to the system more commonly in use out of New England. Both senators and representives are elected as a rule in single districts, but only a certain proportion of the senators are chosen at any one election. As a consequence, any single locality votes for a senator only once in a specified number of elections. Practically, at each election onehalf or two-thirds of the community is disfranchised, or rather the influence which should be distributed through two or three elections is ^concentrated in one. This is a serious objection, for it is desirable that each citizen should feel, at every election, that he himself exercises an appreciable influence on the constitution of the Senate as well as of the House. This can only be effected in one way, — by increasing the size of senatorial districts, and giving to each district a number of senators equal to the number of elections contained in the senatorial term of service. For instance, in a State where elections are annual, and the Senate consists of thirty members, to be elected for a term of three years, the State would be divided into ten senatorial districts, each of which would elect one senator at every annual election.

It is indeed by no means improbable that this system — the system of annual elections with a triennial Senate — may be the best system which could be devised for a State constitution. Annual may well be preferred to biennial elections, on the ground that frequent elections are very useful in the regulation of domestic affairs. It is proper that a free people should have very immediate control over their local concerns, and should hold their representatives responsible by elections recurring as frequently as the exigencies of the public service will allow. Experience has long shown that the public exigencies will admit of annual elections, provided they do not partake of the nature of revolutions, which are always to be avoidod. A triennial senate is the least safeguard against this danger which has yet been devised. As twice seen within fifteen years in Massachusetts, a senate elected for two years only would be an insufficient protection against any popular paroxysm. This would have been the case in 1855 and again in 1868; — in both of these years secret organizations made what is known as " a clean sweep," and by controlling the one-half of the Senate elected in these years had the term been biennial, would, through the friends they already numbered in the half holding over, have obtained absolute control of the government. Had two-thirds of the Senate held over, however, this could not have been the case, — another year of probation would have been necessary; and where for two years consecutively the majority of the community is of the same mind, its judgment must be taken as the settled will of the whole, and it then becomes but proper that it should pbtain political control. Experience, however, clearly teaches that a less period than two years cannot be considered as conclusive on this point. It would be well, therefore, if the long-vexed question of separate legislative chambers could be definitely settled on this basis of division. It would also be well if Massachusetts, leading the way for those who have hitherto followed her example, by accepting what may now be considered as an established principle of constitutional framework, would amend her own time-honored and mutilated constitution, and restore to it the fundamental principle of the distinct constituencies of the separate chambers. This would be effected by the adoption of the following as a substitute for a portion of the twenty-second amendment to her constitution as it now stands ; —

"The Senate shall consist of senators, elected by the

legal voters of the Commonwealth for three years, in the manner following.

"The General Court shall, at its first session after the adoption of this amendment as a part of the constitution of this Commonwealth, and at its several first sessions after each next special enumeration, divide the Commonwealth into districts of

adjacent territory, each district to contain, as nearly as may be, an equal number of legal voters, according to the enumeration aforesaid. Each district shall at the annual election next succeeding the first division aforesaid elect three senators for the terms of one, two, and three years respectively. Thereafter one senator shall be elected at the regular annual election in each and every senatorial district, to serve for the term of three years next ensuing said election; and, if vacancies happen by resignation or otherwise, the persons elected to fill such vacancies shall be elected for the unexpired term only."



What are the " Alabama claims "? If the case of the United States of America v. Great Britain were now before some tribunal of competent jurisdiction, what are the precise claims that we should make, on what grounds should we urge them, and what award should we reasonably and fairly expect from an impartial and intelligent arbitrator? The failure of the recent attempt at negotiation having set the whole subject once more afloat, it is well to consider where we stand, and what is the next thing to be done. No one can suppose that a claim so large in amount, and so well founded in justice, can be waived or abandoned on our part.

It is very frequently said, that, in the present condition of the case, there is no occasion for us to do any thing at all; and this suggestion is usually received with great favor, as if it embodied a large amount of practical wisdom. We are usually told that our claim is one that will "keep "; that England has established a precedent that we can follow hereafter with much advantage to ourselves, and much inconvenience to her ; that, in effect, we have put her under heavy bonds to keep the peace, and be of good behavior towards all the world; that, if ever she should venture into a war with any other power, we can cover the ocean with Alabamas, and fearfully retaliate upon her the wrong that she has done us. This is equivalent to saying that the question between the two nations, which has already produced so much exasperation on both sides, and which involves such large pecuniary interests, is never to be settled at all; that we are sullenly to wait an indefinite, and perhaps a very long, time, for "something to turn up," as Mr. Micawber would say, which shall give us an opportunity, not for indemnity, but for revenge, and that in the mean time the actual sufferers by the depredations complained of— the merchants whose property was burnt, and the insurers who have paid losses — are to be left to the full enjoyment of the right of petition for relief from the national treasury. But this expectant system, though received with some applause when first suggested, is not likely on the whole to be satisfactory to the country. None but the head centre

« PreviousContinue »