Bicameral Legislature: Definition. Bicameral system, or bicameralism, a system of government in which the legislature comprises two houses.
The Framers derived much of the language for the Constitution from British examples, and the bicameral system was in some respects similar to the British Parliament. John Dickinson, for example, likened the Senate to the House of Lords. Hamilton spoke at length of the liberty of the British system of government, and other delegates, such as Charles Pinckney of South Carolina and Edmund Randolph, echoed this sentiment. The eminent scholar Forrest McDonald wrote, “Whatever their political philosophies, most (though by no means all) of the delegates sought to pattern the United States Constitution, as closely as circumstances would permit, after the English constitution.”1 This is not to suggest that the United States Constitution in its final form was purely a copy of the British constitution; it had to be adapted to American circumstances and conditions, but there was nothing in it that an Englishman would find alien to his own political traditions, save for the absence of a monarch.
The final draft received the approval of the Convention on 17 September 1787. The Constitution was not “official” on that date. Not one state had ratified it, and there was strong opposition to it. Even Edmund Randolph, who presented the Virginia Plan, refused to sign the document because it lacked a bill of rights. The states, as sovereign, independent political entities, still had to say yes or no. This is the most important and forgotten component of American constitutional history. The Framers were not as important as the ratifies. We can celebrate the genius of the Framers, but they still had to persuade the state ratification conventions that the new document maintained the “spirit of ’76.”
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