bicameral system

Also found in: Dictionary.
Related to bicameral system: Unicameral System

bicameral system

(bīkăm`ərəl), governmental system dividing the legislative function between two chambers, an "upper," such as the U.S. Senate and the British House of Lords, and a "lower," such as the U.S. House of Representatives and the British House of Commons. Where bicameral legislatures exist, the two chambers are based on different principles of representation in addition to possessing separate functions. Although the term bicameral was coined by Jeremy BenthamBentham, Jeremy,
1748–1832, English philosopher, jurist, political theorist, and founder of utilitarianism. Educated at Oxford, he was trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced; he devoted himself to the scientific analysis of morals and
..... Click the link for more information.
 as recently as 1832, division of the legislative branch of government according to function and composition is of long standing.

The division of the English ParliamentParliament,
legislative assembly of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Over the centuries it has become more than a legislative body; it is the sovereign power of Great Britain, whereas the monarch remains sovereign in name only.
..... Click the link for more information.
 into separate houses of Lords and Commons in the 14th cent. may have arisen simply for the sake of convenience in transacting business; however, this division came to represent the historic cleavage of interest between nobles and commoners, with the balance of power, especially after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the gradual development of cabinet government in the 18th cent., shifting more and more to the commoners. The powers of the House of Lords were drastically reduced by the Parliament acts of 1911 and 1949, and though the house continues to debate and vote on bills, its function has become essentially advisory.

The British colonies in North America gradually adopted the bicameral system; the upper chamber, whether elective or appointive, came to represent the colony as a whole, while delegates to the lower house were attached to particular constituencies. According to modern scholars, the adoption of the same system for the Congress of the United StatesCongress of the United States,
the legislative branch of the federal government, instituted (1789) by Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, which prescribes its membership and defines its powers.
..... Click the link for more information.
 reflected colonial practice, British example, and the widespread differences in property qualification for suffrage and office-holding purposes current at the time. In France some 18th-century theorists, such as Montesquieu, favored a bicameral legislature based on the British example, but the "natural rights" philosophers, such as Rousseau, opposed such a system. France experimented with various forms of legislature during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods but thereafter, despite numerous constitutional changes, retained a bicameral system. After World War I the unicameral legislative system made headway in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of the British dominions. The only U.S. state to have a unicameral legislature is Nebraska, which adopted it in 1934.


See D. Schaffter, The Bicameral System in Practice (1929); J. A. Corry, Elements of Democratic Government (4th ed. rev. 1964); S. H. Beer, Patterns of Government (3d ed. 1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bicameral System


in state law, the structure of a legislative body that consists of two parts (chambers). The supreme representative body in the USSR, the Supreme Soviet, has two chambers: the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. The bicameral structure of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR expresses the multinational character of the Soviet state and ensures representation of the common interests of all the working people of the USSR, as well as the specific national interests of all the nation’s peoples. Both chambers are formed democratically by direct elections, and they have equal rights: they are elected at the same time and for the same terms, they have equal rights of legislative initiative, and laws are considered adopted only after they have been approved by both chambers.

In capitalist countries both federal and unitary states have bicameral parliaments. The bicameral system first arose in England in the 14th century as a compromise between the commercial bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. After granting the franchise to the so-called Third Estate, whose representatives met in the elected lower chamber, the aristocracy created an upper chamber as a bulwark of its power. The upper chamber was not democratically elected and could delay the adoption of legislative acts that had been approved by the lower chamber. The bicameral system was retained after the bourgeoisie had established its power, and the upper chamber continued to act as a brake on the decisions of the lower chamber.

In the capitalist states different rules govern the formation of the two chambers. As a rule, the lower chamber is elected by the people in accordance with election laws, and the members of the upper chamber are either appointed by the head of state or chosen by indirect elections. In federal states the upper chamber is usually elected from the federal units (Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany and states in the USA). The number of deputies may be the same for each unit, or it may be proportional to the population of each unit. Deputies to the upper chamber must satisfy higher property, age, and other qualifications.

As a rule, the two chambers do not have equal rights: the upper chamber is usually granted broader powers. The US Senate, for instance, has the exclusive right to confirm appointments to some important government posts and to ratify international treaties. (The consent of the House of Representatives is not required in these cases.)


Parlamenty. Moscow,1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Early Canadians preferred a bicameral system because they believed it avoided the creation of hasty and harsh legislation, ensured deliberation in government, and was best able to promote the interests of democracy.
"The objective of this bill is to strengthen and sustain the national legislature and to make it more effective and efficient being a bicameral system of the government, in order to run the services and then the oversight role among others," Thomas Kudu, head of parliamentary information committee told reporters after the sitting.
The first change is introduction of a unicameral system after more than three decades with a bicameral system. While the short-lived 2012 constitution had restored some authority and legislative powers to the upper house, renaming it the Shura Council, for most of Egyptian history the bicameral system was not of great benefit, with a weak upper house that was more consultative than legislative.
Other reform proposals include: 1) a complete overhaul of the Constitution put forward by the libertarian Pro-Reforma movement in 2006, which would abolish income tax and create a bicameral system similar to the United Kingdom's parliament; 2) a partial reform of a number of articles regarding the justice system, proposed by three major academic institutions--the Universidad Rafael Landrvar (URL), the state-funded Universidad de San Carlos (USAC), and the Asociacion de Investigaciones y Estudios Sociales (ASIES); 3) a reform that would reinstate the death penalty and elect governors and judicial authorities through universal suffrage, put forward by LIDER, the country's main opposition force, during the 2011 elections.
"The National Action Charter, which was approved by a sweeping 98.4%, will always remain a defining moment in the history of this country", he vowed, adding that the historic covenant re-established constitutional life through the bicameral system. "The National Action Charter is a national milestone which dwarfs all doubts being cast on the will of Bahrainis who endorse it by a resounding majority", he said, adding that Bahrain has launched successive dialogue initiatives and passed the constitutional amendments in 2012.
The other conditions for a future settlement spelled out in the joint declaration include a bizonal administrative structure and a bicameral system with the Greek and Turkish Cypriots having each a parliament of their own.
Pakistan has a bicameral system of legislature, whose members are elected through the ballot box.
In reflecting on the concept of bicameralism itself, perhaps it is important to highlight that the institutions which form part of a bicameral system trace their origins to the medieval period when Kings would consult with trusted and respected members of different sections in society.
But there is something very wrong when you get such small groups of people that can bring in [primary legislation] without the check and balance that we've had, having the bicameral system."
Morocco has a bicameral system which consists of the Chamber of Counselors, which includes members elected indirectly by local councils, professional organizations, and labor syndicates and the Chamber of Representatives (or lower house), whose members are elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term.
The Parliament, which comprises the president and the two houses, Lok Sabha (House of People) and Rajya Sabha (council of states), within the framework of a bicameral system, is the supreme legislative body in India.
We certainly need to keep a bicameral system of government as it is a way of checking legislation and any perceived excesses or errors in the business of the House of Commons.