History of the House of Representatives

By George B. Galloway | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirteen
THE ROLE OF THE REPRESENTATIVE

THE MODERN SYSTEM of political representation as we know it in the United States today is a product of the evolutionary development of the national state which dates back to seventeenth-century England. The English Parliament had developed during the fourteenth century as a bicameral institution and had gradually acquired legislative power through its control over the purse, making its grant of funds to the king depend upon the redress of grievances. By the end of the fifteenth century the consent of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons was recognized as necessary in the enactment of legislation. The seventeenth century witnessed the classic English statements of the right of the people through their chosen representatives to control the form and policy of government.


ENGLISH IDEAS IN COLONIAL TIMES

By colonial times two ideas had developed in England regarding the proper role of the representative in relation to his constituents. One was the delegation theory, the idea that a member of Parliament was an agent of his constituency that had elected him, bound to obey its wishes. This idea was held by the Levellers during the Commonwealth period ( 1640-1660) and by the English Radicals in the late eighteenth century ( 1769-1800). It influenced the writings of political theorists like Harrington, Sydney, and Locke and the policies of colonial political leaders such as William Penn and Roger Williams. One of the major items in the radical program was the right of electors to instruct their members of Parliament. A clear statement of this concept was made by Henry Cruger, a Radical who

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