English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556-1832

English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556-1832

English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556-1832

English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556-1832

Excerpt

This is a study of the position of the House of Lords and proposals for its reform or abolition or limitation of its powers that have been made in modern times in the light of prevailing theories of the nature and characteristics of the English government. Except for the interlude of the Puritan Revolution, in which a great variety of proposals affecting the House of Lords appeared, their number before 1832 was surprisingly limited. The thesis of this study is that a major reason why so few political reformers questioned the position of the House of Lords before 1832 was their acceptance of the prevailing constitutional theory of mixed government and the role assigned to the House of Lords in its maintenance.

This classical theory of the English constitution, as it may be called, arose in Tudor England and by the end of the seventeenth century had achieved a supremacy never widely questioned until after 1832. With the passage of the Great Reform Bill, however, a new system of government, based on the recognized predominance of the House of Commons, began its evolution; and to this change constitutional theory would adjust. Thus the theory of mixed government would end, but not before it had effectually precluded the growth of democratic criticism of the House of Lords for almost 175 years! How the classical theory could shield the House of Lords so long and so completely can best be understood by an explanation of its major tenets.

According to these tenets the English government represented a combination, blending, and balancing of the three main types of government that political theorists derived from Aristotle -- monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; and to this combination English thinkers attributed the peculiar excellence of their government. Monarchy was generally defined as the . . .

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