Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX: the frame of government: president and senate - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XIX: the frame of government: president and senate - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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the frame of government: president and senate
The Constitution of the French Republic is a Rigid one, distinguished from other laws by the fact that it is not changeable by ordinary legislation, but only by a special method to be hereafter described. In this it differs from the constitutions of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, for in all these countries the laws which regulate the structure and powers of government are not marked off from other statutes. It is not, however, set forth in a single instrument like the Rigid or Written Constitutions of the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, but is contained in three Constitutional Laws.
One of these (Feb. 1875), assuming the President of the Republic as an official then existing under a law of 1873, enacts the method of electing him and his functions, and the mode of amending the Constitution. Two others of 1875 (one since partially repealed) deal with the legislature and the relations of the public powers, while two amending laws of 1884 introduce certain changes. The result of these enactments taken together is to create a legislature consisting of two Houses, a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies, who have the power (a) of electing, in joint session of both Houses, by an absolute majority, the President of the Republic, and (b) of changing the Constitutional Laws, not by the ordinary action of the legislature in each Chamber, but when sitting together in one body as a National Assembly. To enable them so to meet, each Chamber must have separately, either on its own motion or at the request of the President, declared, by an absolute majority, the need for a revision of those laws.1 A later Constitutional Law (1884) provides that “the principle of the government cannot be the object of a proposal of revision.” 1
The provisions of the Constitution need not be set out in detail here, since they will appear in the description (to be hereafter given) of the Executive and Legislative organs. It is only matters relating to the structure and functions of the government that are dealt with in the Constitutional Laws. There are no broad declaration of political principles, such as appeared in the many earlier Constitutions of France,2 no restrictions on the action of the legislature, nothing like what Americans call a Bill of Rights, guaranteeing those elementary and inherent rights of the individual which no power in the State is permitted to infringe. Taken together, these Constitutional Laws constitute the shortest and simplest, the most practical and the least rhetorical, instrument of government that has ever been enacted in France. Moreover — and this is a point of special interest to those who insist upon the sovereignty of the People — the National Assembly which passed these enactments in 1875 had received no mandate or commission from the French electorate to do so. It had been elected hastily, during the continuance of the war of 1870–71, in order to create an authority legally capable of making peace with Germany. As there did not then exist any authority competent to prescribe a suffrage for the election, recourse was had to the suffrage established during the Second Republic (1848–1852) which had been overthrown by Louis Napoleon. Neither this Assembly of 1871 nor any subsequent legislature has ever submitted for approval by a vote of the people the Constitutional Laws of 1875, and the question of so submitting them has been seldom raised, no one knowing what the result of a submission might be.
These features of the existing Constitution were due to those political conditions of 1875 which have been already described. In the one-chambered Legislature of that time the deputies who favoured a monarchical government and who had been hurriedly elected under the pressure of a terrible war, held a majority, but they were divided into three groups, Legitimists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists, corresponding to the three monarchies that had ruled in France; and each of these groups distrusted the others. Thus while the Republicans, though divided internally, were able to work together for some sort of republic, whatever character might subsequently be given to it, the Monarchist groups, each attached to one of several persons whose claims seemed irreconcilable, failed at the most critical moments to combine, and so drifted into a Republic which none of them desired. No party in the Chamber was strong enough to get all that it wanted: each had to consent to a compromise which it meant to be purely provisional. The more advanced Republicans acquiesced in a conservative Republic because they expected to change it in a radical direction. The Monarchists acquiesced in a seven-year Presidency, called a Republic, because they hoped thereafter to turn the President into a King or an Emperor.
The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years by the two Chambers of the legislature meeting in joint session.1 He is re-eligible for any number of terms. He is the head of the Executive Government, and has therewith:
The duty of executing the laws and power of proclaiming a state of siege.
The supreme control of the Army and Navy.
The conduct of foreign policy, through his right of negotiating treaties. Some of these, however, require legislative sanction, and he cannot declare war without the consent of the Legislature.
The power of appointing to all civil and military posts.
The power to pardon offences.
The function of representing the nation at all public ceremonies, and of presiding over them.
The right, concurrently with members of the Chambers, of proposing laws.
The power, with the consent of the Senate, of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies.
The power to summon the Chambers to meet in extraordinary session, and invite them to proceed, in joint session, to a revision of the Constitutional Laws.
The right of addressing messages to the Chambers. He cannot address them in person. Thiers had done so, but the Assembly, fearing the influence of his oratory, forbade this, and the prohibition has not been removed.
The power to adjourn the Chambers for a month, but not more than twice within the same session.
The power to require the Chambers to deliberate afresh upon a law they have passed. He has no veto.
All these powers, except of course those of a ceremonial nature, are exercised by or through his ministers, by one of whom every one of his acts must be countersigned. He is personally irresponsible and not legally removable by a vote of the Chambers, though they can practically make it difficult for him to retain office. But the Chamber of Deputies may accuse him of high treason, in which case he would be tried by the Senate, and would, if convicted, be deposed from office. Responsibility for executive acts done rests with his ministers, and it is to the Chambers, not to him, that they are responsible.
The position of the President in France is therefore entirely unlike that of the President of the United States. As the latter's title to power comes direct from the people who have elected him, he is independent of the legislature, and able to resist it. His ministers are his servants, responsible to and dismissible by him, and not responsible to Congress. Neither does the President of the Swiss Confederation come into comparison, for he is merely the Chairman of an Executive Council of seven ministers, with no more power than his colleagues. The real parallel is to be found in the Constitutional king of such countries as Italy, Britain, Holland, or Norway. In these countries the King reigns but does not govern, being the titular head of the State in whose name executive acts are done, while it is his ministers who are in fact responsible for them to the sovereign legislature. The French President is thus a monarch elected for seven years, but a monarch who has great dignity with slight responsibility and hardly any personal power. Of several rights vested in him little use has been made. Messages are rarely sent, not even at the opening and closing of a Parliamentary session. Only once has the Chamber been dissolved before the end of its natural term. The right of proroguing for a month has never been exercised, nor has that of calling on the Chambers to reconsider a Bill.
Two functions, however, there are, one of which he must fulfil without the intervention of his ministers, and the other of which has to be exercised upon the ministers themselves. The first is the selection of the person who is to be commissioned to form a ministry. When a Cabinet is defeated in the legislature and resigns, it is the President's duty to invite a leading deputy or senator to form a new administration. Custom prescribes that the President should first consult the President of the Senate and the President of the Chamber, because the aim in view is to secure a Prime Minister whom the legislature will be likely to support, and the chairmen of the two Houses are the persons best qualified to advise him on that subject. Heads of “groups,” as well as other politicians of less mark, frequently call upon him to proffer their advice, but he need not regard it.
As regards the composition of the ministry his rights are less clear. There is nothing to prevent him from advising the person whom he selects to be President of the Council (Prime Minister) as to the men who are more or less fit, or unfit, to be invited to join the Cabinet; but, on the other hand, there is nothing to oblige the incoming Prime Minister to follow the advice given. As a rule, the President interferes very little, and he is certainly not held responsible for the structure of the ministry. The procedure is much the same as that followed in similar cases in England, where the Sovereign usually confines himself to sending for the statesman whom he asks to form the Government, though it sometimes happens that he expresses a wish that some particular person should be included. The matter is simpler in England, where there have been, till recently, only two great parties, so that when a ministry containing the leaders of one of these has been overset, the choice of the Crown naturally falls on the leader (or one among the leaders) of the other; whereas in France there are in the Chamber many parties or groups, sometimes of nearly equal strength, and none commanding a majority of the whole body.
The other function of the President is that of advising his ministers in their conduct of public business. Being legally entitled to call for information as to all that passes in every public department, and especially in that of foreign affairs, he is able to advise, and has opportunities of expressing to his ministers his view on any subject. He thus holds a position between that of the British King, who reigns but does not govern, and that of the American President, who governs as well as reigns, but only for four years. There are two kinds of Ministerial meetings. One is the Cabinet Council (Conseil de Cabinet) held usually once a week, with the Prime Minister in the chair, to consider questions of current policy. It is like a British Cabinet. The other is the Council of Ministers (Conseil des Ministres), usually held twice or thrice a week with the President of the Republic in the chair. In it large political questions, including (besides matters purely formal) the measures needed to carry out the decisions of the Cabinet Council, are debated and determined. It is like an American Cabinet, save that in the latter the President can do what he likes, his Ministers being merely his confidential advisers.
What is the exact amount of power or influence which a French President exerts is an arcanum imperii which constitutional usage forbids either him or his ministers to disclose. The personal character of a President, his intellectual gifts, experience, and force of will make a difference in each particular case. Walter Bagehot, the most penetrating of British constitutional writers, indicated sixty years ago the value which the criticisms and counsels of a capable and experienced Sovereign, standing high above the strife of parties, might possess for his ministers. These counsels are in England not often given, and not always followed when given,— they carry of course no legal weight — but an instance is still remembered when they proved valuable.1 One can well believe that the advice of the President might be similarly useful in France, but there are two important differences. In France the President has always been a party leader, and may conceivably become one again; and the position he occupies, being less exalted in rank than that of a hereditary monarch, does not command so much formal deference. Advice from the President might therefore be less well received, and any influence exerted by him might be resented, not only by his ministers (who are said to be sometimes jealous even to the point of withholding information) but by the Chambers to which they are responsible. On the other hand, the President is sure to possess wide political experience, and is likely to be in general accord with his Cabinet, since he probably belongs to some section of the Left or Left Centre, as have all ministries since 1879. The Cabinet is usually what is called a Cabinet de concentration, i.e. one composed of the leading men drawn from various Left “groups,” so that the co-operation between “groups” which Cabinets naturally aim at securing can be profitably assisted and prolonged by the influence of the President, judiciously exerted to avert breaches by which the Cabinet might fall. Taking all these things together, one may say that the Executive plays a useful and indeed indispensable part. Presidents prudently efface themselves in domestic matters, and, though believed to have occasionally proved helpful in questions of foreign relations, they have, so far as concerns the public, kept silence even from good words.
The election of a President, being in the hands of the Chambers and not of the people, and seldom having first-rate political importance, is usually carried through quickly and quietly, and excites no great interest in the nation at large. It is sometimes settled in a preliminary gathering of the “groups” belonging to the Left (a name used to denote the more “advanced” parties), which thus becomes what Americans call a “congressional caucus.” Every Frenchman, except members of families that have reigned, is eligible for the Presidency, but the persons chosen have, since Marshal Mac-Mahon, been all Parliamentary leaders and most of them former Prime Ministers, so their characters are well known to those who exercise the choice.1 All have been men of high personal character, stained by no scandal. One only, Jules Grévy, was re-elected, but he resigned early in his second term in consequence of the malpractices of his son-in-law. Another (Casimir Périer) resigned in resentment at the vituperative attacks made by a section of the press on him and on the administration of the public services, against which (as he thought) the Chambers did not sufficiently protect him. Ten years later he expressed, in a letter to a newspaper upon a question which had arisen in the Senate regarding the powers of the Presidency, the view that the President of the Republic had no power which he could exert freely and personally except that of presiding at solemnités nationales. This notwithstanding, the dignity of the office is such that politicians of the first rank gladly accept it.
The constant recurrence in France of public ceremonial occasions of all kinds, and the value set upon the appearance of the Head of the State on such occasions, especially in the provinces, give him plenty to do, and enable him to feel that he is rendering real service to the country. That service is specially valuable when he happens to possess the dignity and affability which make his presence impressive or winning. He is an indispensable part of the constitutional machinery, for he represents the unity of the nation and the permanence of the executive power. In the words of Tocqueville, spoken long before the emergence of the Third Republic, “la grande ombre du peuple plane sur lui.”
There are those in France who would like to turn the Presidency to fuller practical account as a motive force. It ought, they hold, to be real as well as ornamental, a power which could do something to guide the people and do much to restrain the legislature. This school of thinkers appeals to the principle, recognized in every French Constitution, of the separation of the legislative and executive powers, arguing that the predominance, which they call despotism, now exerted by the legislature violates that principle, producing weakness and instability in the conduct of affairs. The opposition this view encounters springs from the distrust and fear of an Executive Head which, long deep-rooted in the French mind, became intense during the rule of Louis Napoleon, who had abused his Presidential office to effect the coup d'état of December 1851. How, moreover, could the exercise of personal power by the President be reconciled with the provision of the Constitution which requires all his acts to be countersigned by a minister? An irremovable and irresponsible President cannot impose upon his ministers responsibility for acts which are his and not theirs, any more than they can lay on him the blame for acts which are theirs and not his. It is not merely because he is not chosen directly by the people that a French President has less authority than his American analogue, but rather because the Constitution-makers desired an executive figurehead which, standing in exalted dignity above the ebbs and flows of democratic sentiment, should not enjoy a power that might tempt him to overthrow democracy itself. Responsibility to the people cannot well be divided: it must rest either, as in England, with the Ministry, or, as in the United States, with the Executive Head.
Nevertheless, as will presently appear, discontent with the inconstancy and excitability of the Chamber of Deputies has created a wish, frequently asserting itself, to have a strong Executive and entrust him with a veto power. Those who call for a revision of the Constitution have this chiefly in their mind. That a President should be encouraged to advise his ministers more than he is known to do, and that they should give more heed to his advice, would not satisfy this party, which desires something much nearer to the American than to the British system, and holds that such a President, especially if elected by the people, would be well suited to a democratic country.
The provisions which determine the structure and powers of the Senate were originally included in the Constitution of 1875; but a Constitutional amendment of 1884 took them out of the category of “Constitutional Laws” and placed them in that of those “Organic Laws” which can be altered in the same manner as all other laws by the ordinary action of the two Chambers. This does not in effect make them more easily changed, because when the two Houses agree to proceed together, as a National Assembly, to a revision of the Constitutional Laws, the Senate, having only three hundred members against the six hundred of the Chamber of Deputies, is liable to be outvoted, whereas when other laws come up to it in the regular course, it has a full power of rejection, and is unlikely, being interested in its own prerogatives, to accept proposals which would reduce them.
By the Organic Law of December 9, 1884 (which is still in force), the Senate consisted of 300 members elected in the eighty-six departments of France, in Algeria, in the Territory of Belfort, and in the Colonies, by Electoral Colleges, whose members have all been elected by universal suffrage. To these there have been added 14 for Alsace-Lorraine, making 314 senators in all. The Colleges consist of:
(a) The Deputies of the department.
(b) The members of the General Council of the department (Conseil Général).
(c) The members of the District Council (Conseils d'Ar-rondissement) within each department.
(d) Delegates chosen by the communes within each department, the larger communes being represented by a larger, the smaller by a smaller number of delegates.1
The Commune of Paris has 30 delegates, some few other large cities 24, while the large majority of the rural communes, often very small, have one each. Even so, the disproportion of delegates to population is startling. A great city like Lyons or Lille, for instance, may have no more delegates than a number of petty rural communes with a far smaller population. It therefore does not represent the people on a basis strictly proportioned to population, though it approaches that basis much more nearly than do the American and Australian Senates, where every State, large or small, is equally represented. The reason for this deviation from democratic principle was the desire to give to the Electoral Colleges that conservative character which was expected to belong to the rural and especially the agricultural population; and the laws of 1884 reduced this rural predominance chiefly by assigning a larger number of delegates to the small towns, in order to give a stronger representation to the bourgeois element which now dominates them, while the rural commune is in some regions under the influence of the local landowner.
In the voting of the Electoral College of each department a majority of all the votes cast is required at the first two ballots for the election of a Senator, but on the third ballot a plurality cast for a candidate is sufficient. Voting is obligatory. The expenses of the delegates who have to travel to the capital of the department for the voting are paid out of public funds (if asked for, as they always are), and are estimated to cost, at each triennial election, about 900,000 francs (£36,000, $180,000).
The number of Senators returned from each department varies from two to ten, according to population, the Algerian departments and the Colonies having only one each. A Senator's term of office is nine years. The Senate is a permanent body, never dissolved as a whole, but renewed by one-third every third year, the departments being arranged in three sets, each set holding an election at one of the three fixed dates. Eligibility for the Senate begins at the age of forty. No other qualification, not even that of residence, is required; but in practice a person is not likely to be chosen unless he be connected with the department, either by origin or by residence.
The legislative powers of the Senate are equal to those of the Chamber of Deputies except as regards financial Bills. These must originate in the Chamber, but when they reach the Senate it can amend them by way of rejecting or reducing items in taxation or appropriation. Whether it can also increase the expenditure proposed except by reinstating items which, proposed by the Ministry, the Chambers had struck out, is matter of controversy. It has sometimes done so, but the Chamber usually protests, and the Senate, knowing its case to be weak, usually yields.
It has also two special powers. One is to give or with-hold its consent to a dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies by the President before the legal time for the election of a new Chamber has arrived. This power has been exercised only once, in 1877. The other is to sit as a High Court of Justice when summoned to do so by the President of the Republic, for the trial of grave offences against the State. It has sat twice for this purpose. No special functions in connection with foreign affairs or with appointments (such as belong to the Senate of the United States) have been assigned to it.
The Senate in its actual Working. — When the Constitution was being formed, the more advanced Republicans preferred a single chamber system, such as had existed in the short-lived Second Republic of 1848–1852. But the Monarchist sections, and most of the moderate Republicans, insisted on having a body calculated to give stability, and would hardly have accepted universal suffrage without the check of another Chamber. Gambetta, eager to have a republic at once, acquiesced. Thus, after long discussions, in which nearly every possible way of creating an Upper House was considered, the example of the United States caused the election of three-fourths of the Senators to be vested in local authorities, while the selection of the remaining fourth was assigned to the National Assembly, which was to nominate them before it disappeared, subsequent vacancies among the nominees being left to be filled up by the Senate itself. This fourth were to sit for life. Indirect election, though suggested by the wish to have a comparatively conservative Assembly, was justified as giving a representation of the people not merely by numbers but by local social groups, each of which had a common interest and so a collective opinion. The idea was in so far a good one that it brought in many men of personal distinction, who gave lustre to the body in the eyes of the nation and helped to form in its members habits of decorum and gravity as well as to set a high intellectual standard in its debates. Of these nominated Senators and their co-opted successors the last died in 1918. The extinction of the class in 1884 was due, not to any complaints made against them, but to democratic theory, which disapproved of life tenure and demanded a popular, even if indirect, election. The present system works smoothly and is criticized by those only who object to Second Chambers altogether. Not much public interest is aroused either in the choice of delegates — the Maire is usually chosen in rural communes — or in the voting when it takes place in the Electoral Colleges. Although the delegates of the smaller communes still constitute almost everywhere a large majority in these Colleges, it is not they but usually the deputies and members of the Conseil Général who put forward and carry candidates. Nearly all the electing delegates belong to the so-called bourgeois class, i.e. they are neither nobles of ancient lineage nor working-men. Voting goes mostly on party lines, yet local connections and local influence count for much. The same local party committees which we shall find concerned with elections to the Chamber are at work here also. Bribery is rare, but it is alleged that the influence of the Prefect tells upon the delegates of the communes, which have (as will be seen presently) much to expect from his favour, the Prefect being usually the instrument through which the central administration works its will. The bulk of the Senators have of late years been professional men, chiefly physicians and lawyers, with a few agriculturists. The higher walks of commerce, landed property, and industry are not largely represented. Few men begin their political career in the Senate. Many have been deputies, who seek in their advancing years an easier life than falls to the lot of one who has to court a quadrennial re-election; many have been leading members of the Conseil Général or possibly of the Conseil d'Arron-dissement. Thus nearly all come in with some measure of political training. The character of the Senators differs from that of the deputies chiefly in the fact that they are older, have had a longer experience, and are on the average rather better off. They keep in a touch with their constituencies which need not be quite so close as that of the Deputy, since he sits for four years only, the Senator for nine.
Most of the numerous parties into which French politicians are divided are represented in the Senate, but the extremes at both ends, Monarchists and Socialists, are relatively weaker than in the Chamber, for there are few departments in which either of those parties could carry an Electoral College. So also the smaller “groups “or subdivisions of the chief parties, which we shall find in the Chamber are less well marked — some indeed scarcely exist — in the Senate. Partisanship is less pronounced, the temperature lower, outbursts of passion unusual. The General character of opinion, which used to be Conservative Republican or what the French call “Left Centre,” has become, since the end of last century, more anti-clerical and Generally Radical, but Radical in a strongly Republican rather than in a Socialist sense. Averse to constitutional change, not directly amenable to popular pressure, disposed to support authority and to maintain a continuity in policy, it examines proposals by the light of experience and good sense rather than by their conformity to democratic theory. Its members, mostly bourgeois, and largely rural bourgeois, represent and value respectability. Being often men of local consequence, they know their departments well, but are less occupied than the deputies with local patronage, so that their labours are lighter. They are also somewhat more independent of party ties and party leadership. Few are re-elected more than once. Occupying apartments in the fine old palace of the Luxembourg, more than two miles distant from the Palais Bourbon where the Chamber is lodged, they see less of its members than the Lords see of the Commons in London or the Senators see of the Representatives in Washington.
The relations of the Senate to the Chamber are determined by its powers, which are weaker in fact than they seem on paper. Subordination in the realm of finance debars it from controlling the Executive, though it has twice caused the fall of ministries, in one instance, however, because the ministry wished to fall, as the Chamber did not rally to its support. Since it is only in the second degree the creation of universal suffrage, its claim to express the will of the people is less strong. Thus, while feeling the natural and inevitable jealousy of a Second Chamber towards a First Chamber, it recognizes its own inferiority and seldom challenges its rival to a duel. Not venturing to stem the current that runs strongly towards democracy, it has accepted a position inferior to that for which it was designed. But though it has less force, it has more finesse. Its expert parliamentarians, many of whom are familiar with the Chamber in its ways and its weaknesses, know when the latter can be successfully resisted, and choose their battle-ground with skill. When the Chamber seems seriously interested in a Bill, or when the ministry intimate that they are resolved to press it, having public opinion behind them, the Senate gives way, curbing its own repugnance. When, on the other hand, it thinks that the Chamber will be absorbed by other objects, or has passed the Bill only in deference to momentary clamour, it quietly shelves the measure, or proceeds to amend it in a leisurely way, returning it to the deputies after their zeal has cooled down and popular interest has subsided. Thus many bad bills are slowly killed, sometimes after having gone twice or thrice backwards and forwards between the Houses. These tactics are least successful in the case of financial proposals, because the Chamber, perhaps of set purpose, frequently from its methods of business, which are alternately dilatory and precipitate, often keeps back the Budget of the year till the latest possible moment, so as to leave the Senate no time for consideration and amendment unless it assumes the responsibility of driving the Ministry to a provisional levy of taxation needing to be subsequently confirmed. This habit of ousting the Senate from the financial control which the Constitution meant to entrust to it is the more regrettable because finance is a subject which the Senate understands. The reports of its Commissions on the Budget are always careful and usually sound, but they have little effect in checking either the extravagance or the fiscal errors of the deputies.
Ordinary Bills seldom originate in the Senate, whose best work is done in the way of revising, both in substance and in form, measures brought to it from the Chamber. It is so assiduous and competent in this function that the Chamber is said to pass not a few demagogic Bills in the hope that the Senate will eliminate their worst features. Its dislike of State-Socialism has sometimes induced it to discourage legislation designed to improve the conditions of labour. It hated, but it feared to reject, the Bill for the purchase by the State of the Western Railway, and long stood out against an income-tax, the bête noir of capitalists and of the richer class Generally.
The only method provided for settling controversies between the Senate and the Chamber is that of a conference between two “Commissions,” one appointed by each House, these two bodies debating together but voting separately. If this method, seldom resorted to, fails to bring about agreement or to effect a compromise which each Chamber ratines by its vote, nothing further can be done, for there exists no Referendum for ascertaining the opinion of the people. Should the Chamber persist in its own view, that view will be likely to prevail, especially if there be evidence that the popular House has the people behind it.
Though it is from among the deputies that most members of French Cabinets come, there are usually three or four taken from the Senate, and these distinguished men, perhaps Prime Ministers. Veterans of renown seek its less troubled and turbid waters. Instead of the atmosphere of strife in which the larger House lives, and which makes its debates exciting, there reigns in the Senate a sedate and sometimes almost languid tranquillity befitting the comparatively advanced age of its members.1 Some critics say it has the obsolete air of a theatre de la rive gauche, or describe it by terms corresponding to the American “side show,” because it wants the vivacity of the Chamber, and draws far less of the attention of the nation. Nevertheless the position of a Senator is coveted, and his authority considerable. The level of the discussions is well maintained, not only as respects matter but also in the form and diction of the speeches. Brilliant oratory has been rare, but no other legislative body has in modern times shown a higher average standard of ability and knowledge among its members.
Devotees of the doctrine of absolute popular sovereignty through universal suffrage still demand the abolition of the Senate. It incurs some unpopularity by stifling, or cutting down, Bills which the Chamber lightly passes at the bidding of some section of opinion, and so comes to be denounced as reactionary. But it excites no very general hostility, and is indeed valued by most thoughtful men. It had once the honour of saving the Republic. When in 1888 General Bou-langer and his partisans were trying to force a general election of the Chamber likely to result in giving him the support he needed for his grasp at power, the refusal which it became known would proceed from the Senate to any request for a dissolution checkmated the scheme.1 This service gave the Upper Chamber a claim, not yet forgotten, to the support of good Republicans. Appearances indicate that it will hold its ground; and this appears to be the hope of the most reflective minds in nearly every party. Gambetta, who had rather reluctantly accepted it in 1875, said some years later that a bicameral system was a “principe constitutif de tout gouvernement parlementaire, et encore, malgre les errements anterieurs, principe constitutif de tout gouvernement demo-cratique.” Stable in its composition and habits, it forms a counterpoise to the haste and volatility of the more popular Chamber. Its half-century of life has not entirely fulfilled the hopes of those who created it, for the faults of what the French call Parliamentarism have been only mitigated and not restrained. Of the intellectual lights that adorned its earlier years none are left now burning, and those who have replaced them seem less brilliant. There are some who think it might have shown more courage in resisting the rash action of the Chamber, and made itself more representative of the sober and cautious elements in the nation. But the astute statesmen who lead the Senate may be credited with knowing their own business. They prefer the power of frequently securing delay and obtaining compromises to the risks which a bolder attitude of opposition would involve. A stage is provided from which a man kept out of the popular Chamber by his temperament, or advancing years, or aversion to the methods by which constituencies are captured and held, may address his fellow-citizens, establish a reputation, and serve the people not only by improving the quality of legislation but by discussing large issues with less risk of ruining his prospects than might deter a deputy from trying to stem the tide of temporary passion. Thus most even of persons opposed in theory to a bicameral scheme, as well as all of those who would like the Senate to show more boldness, are agreed in holding that it has justified its existence. Things would have been worse without it.
The procedure for amending the Constitution has been used twice only.
I.e. that the presiding officer of an Assembly in which such a proposal is made cannot allow it to be discussed there. This law, though only negative, may be considered to be a provision of the Constitution meant to convey a solemn warning to any legislature invited to consider the abolition of the republican form of government. Were a legislature so disposed, it would of course begin by striking this provision out of the Constitution, and would then proceed to abolish the Republic just as if the provision had never existed. See as to a similar expedient in some ancient Greek republics, the Author's Studies in History and Jurisprudence, Essay III., pp. 205-207, of vol. i. of English Edition.
See Chap. V. in Part I.
The description which follows of the structure and functions of the organs of Government in France has been made somewhat full because the French system may probably be imitated in the new republics which are now (1919) springing up in Europe, the new constitutional monarchies which were formerly in fashion having been discredited by the behaviour of the recently deposed kings who (or whose predecessors) had been given to rather than chosen by Greece and Bulgaria.
On the occasion of a despatch addressed in 1861 to the United States Government regarding the Trent affair.
Here may be noted another contrast with the United States, where out of the Presidents chosen since Lincoln only four had sat in either House of Congress.
The Commune is in France the unit of local government in town as in country. It is a municipality presided over by a Mayor (Maire) whatever its size, from great Paris down to a hamlet in an Alpine valley.
The average age of Senators is sixty-three.
It subsequently, as a High Court of Justice, found him guilty of high treason, he having fled from France.