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6. Legislatures: Laying Down the Law, Readings
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources




Readings Unit 6

The Readings for Democracy in America unit 6 are available here for download as a PDF file. You'll need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available free for download from adobe.com.

Download Unit 6 Readings, Legislatures: Laying Down the Law

  • Introduction—Legislatures: Laying Down the Law

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: “Legislative Powers of the Federal Government”

  • Locke, Legislatures

  • Federalist Papers: “Federalist No. 26”

  • Beveridge, “Remarks Before the Senate Concerning the U.S. Occupation of the Philippines”


  1. Why did Tocqueville write that only young countries have rational constitutions?

  2. What did Locke believe was the most significant reason that people joined society?

  3. According to “Federalist No. 26,” why were Americans generally against a standing army during times of peace?

  4. Why did Senator Beveridge believe that America should colonize the Philippines?

Introduction—Legislatures: Laying Down the Law

“In the United States, then, that numerous and turbulent multitude does not exist who, regarding the law as their natural enemy, look upon it with fear and distrust,” Tocqueville reported. “It is impossible, on the contrary, not to perceive that all classes display the utmost reliance upon the legislation of their country and are attached to it by a kind of parental affection” (257). This chapter presents writings by legislatures and about legislatures. A legislature—whether local, state, or national—is a representative assembly with the power to create law for the society represented in the assembly and is typically the central and most powerful institution within representative governments.

In spite of their appearance of great age, legislatures are a surprisingly recent development. The assemblies of Greece and Rome, though in many ways the models of contemporary legislatures, were not themselves, properly speaking, legislatures since citizens, instead of representatives, sat in person in the assembly. Such assemblies still exist, to some degree, in Switzerland (Landsgemeinded). The British Parliament was the first legislature to become prominent. Originally, members were not elected to seats but instead they were selected members of groupings, or estates, with political power—clergy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie. The French States-General was similar and had a separate body for each estate. The typical contemporary bicameral system arose from these systems in which estates were represented in different legislative bodies, with the nobility and clergy typically positioned in the upper house and the bourgeoisies in the lower. The Congress of the United States and the American state legislatures (except, since 1937, Nebraska) are bicameral. Currently, however, the two houses do not reflect difference of social estate and citizens elect members of both houses.

The readings collected here explore the intellectual foundations of legislative power as offered by John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and “Federalist No. 26.” Senator Beveridge’s speech before the Senate illustrates the ways and means of American involvement in the Philippines, which further illustrates some of the issues of race, equality, and American foreign policy dealt with in other chapters. Do Americans continue to show affection for these institutions, as Tocqueville saw, and have these institutions shown great affection for Americans?


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