When Edward I called his Model Parliament in 1295, all the different classes of people summoned to attend met in one single assembly. But afterwards they broke into three groups of “estates” Nobles, Clergy and Commons to hear separately the King’s plea for money and “to make such response as they individually chose.” Gradually, however, practical considerations led to a different arrangement.
The greater barons and the greater clergy, who were feudal lords and landholders too, had many interests in common and they began associating together in one body. The lesser clergy found attendance at Parliament very irksome. Moreover, they were jealous of their clerical privileges and preferred to make their money grants in their “Convocations.” They soon ceased to attend Parliament altogether.
Similarly, the knights, after a good deal of wavering, found their interests identical with the burgesses and finally united with them for all purposes. The result was the division of Parliament into two chambers; in one sat the peers, Temporal and Spiritual, in the other representative Knights of the Shire and the representative Townsmen.
How and when exactly this arrangement came about, nobody knows. It was accidental and the result of social and economic circumstances. By the close of the reign of Edward III this bicameral organisation seems to have been fully established. Thenceforward the distinction between the two Houses became political.
The next country to develop strong legislative bodies was the United States of America. Regarding the desirability of creating a national legislature consisting of two chambers, there was little difference of opinion among the members of the Philadelphia Convention.
The foremost reason which prompted bicameralism was the spirit of great compromise without which, perhaps, the union would not have come into being. The hitherto sovereign and independent States would not agree to the new administrative set-up, unless their old status was preserved in one branch of the legislature and where they could be represented as constituent political units.
On the other hand, the larger States would not agree to a plan of the new constitution unless they were given adequate representation in proportion to their numerical strength. There were economic reasons too.
The North, the more populous part of the country, was commercial in interest, whereas the South, the sparsely populated part, was agricultural. The division of legislature into two Houses based on two different principles of representation was in part influenced by these considerations in order to balance and harmonise the two distinct economic interests in the national government.
To these considerations may be added yet another, and it is as important today as before. The Fathers of the Constitution had entertained the fear of majority rule, and they desired to set up a Senate as a conservative check on the turbulence of democracy. And if it could prove an effective check on the radicalism of the popular House, then, it should not be a mere duplication of the latter both in its composition and powers.
The propertied class had found another reason for creation of the Senate. Their feeling was that the rule of the majority offered acute dangers, the chief of which was the possible “exploitation of the propertied classes by those less favourably situated.”
Although it was thought that these dangers could be met largely through the adoption of the representative type of government, still it was felt that certain additional safeguards were desirable.
Such safeguards, it was believed, “should be secured by providing for a bicameral legislative system, one of whose chambers would be more directly representative of property interests and be, thus, in a position to protect such interests.”
But the historical circumstances which led to the adoption of bicameralism in the United States did not set a stage for its universal adoption. In fact, in the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries unicameralism was generally favoured.
Benjamin Franklin was its enthusiastic advocate in the United States and it was largely under his influence that the legislature of Pennsylvania, under its first Constitution, was made unicameral.
In Britain, at the same time, Bentham advocated a single-chamber legislature. In France, reckless belief in popular sovereignty overcame the theories of Montesquieu and Delolme, which suggested a bicameral system of commons and lords.
The ideology of Rousseau was accepted and the Constituent Assembly conceded to the argument that sovereignty was indivisible and the nation was sovereign, and hence that its representative body could not but be one. A single-chamber legislature was provided in the Constitutions of 1791 and 1793.
Public opinion, however, soon went in favour of bicameralism and the countries which had previously adopted unicameralism abandoned it for the bicameral system. In Pennsylvania one chamber continued until 1800, when it was replaced by “two chambers.
In France, two chambers were created in 1795, which remained in existence until 1884, when France again reverted to unicameralism. But this was just for a brief interval. Other States, like Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Naples, and many others, all abandoned it after trial for the double-chamber system.
In a few countries, for example, Norway and Israel, the legislature even now is organised as a unicameral body. Commonly, however, a legislature is composed of two Houses and it is a bicameral body.