Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ASSEMBLY (IN U. S. HISTORY), the name generally given to the legislative department of the governments of the different states. It is now in all the states composed of two bodies, which act as a check upon each other; in Pennsylvania, 1776-90, and in Vermont, 1777-1836, there was but one house, called the house of representatives. In all the states, the upper house is called the senate, and in most of them the lower is called the house of representatives; in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, the lower house is called the house of delegates; in a few states (see below) it is called the assembly, and in North Carolina, until 1868, it was called the house of commons. The two bodies, the senate and the house of representatives (or delegates), are together called the legislative assembly in Oregon; the general court in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; the legislature in Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas; and the general assembly in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. The lower house is itself called the assembly in California, Florida, Nevada, New York, and Wisconsin, and the general assembly in New Jersey; and in these states the two bodies are together called the legislature. The states have usually held steadily to the original names given to their legislative bodies, except that in New Jersey the name of the upper house was changed from legislative council to senate in 1844 (see COUNCIL,) and that Mississippi in 1832, and Florida in 1868, changed the collective name from general assembly to legislature. As a collective title (in 1881), therefore, general assembly is used in twenty-three states; legislature by twelve states; general court by two states, and legislative assembly by one state; but in all the states, legislature is very often used as equivalent to the official title.


—The legislative functions of the American assemblies are exercised upon such subjects as pertain exclusively to the interests of their particular states, but are checked and controlled, 1, by the limitations which the people at large have imposed in the constitution of the United States; 2, by the limitations which the people of each state have imposed in the state constitutions (see CONSTITUTIONS, STATE;) 3, by the veto of the governor (see VETO;) and 4, by a very few general principles, such as the invalidity of irrepealable legislation, and the right of property to protection, which the courts have established. In other respects the various assemblies have complete legislative powers, and are very tenacious of their rights and privileges; but all the latter state constitutions show a strong disposition on the part of the people to increase the limitations upon the legislative power by prohibiting special legislation, the grant of special privileges to corporations, or money to sectarian institutions, etc., (see CALIFORNIA, ILLINOIS, NEW JERSEY; CONSTITUTIONS, STATE.) Their political importance, however, has been fully maintained by their right to choose United States senators (see CONGRESS,) by their right to pass upon amendments to the constitution, and by their power, which is often and unjustifiably exercised in all the states and by all parties, so to district the state as to affect seriously the state's representation in the lower house of congress (see GERRYMANDER.) In addition to this, the opponents of the growth of federal power have unsuccessfully endeavored to establish the right of a state legislature to declare void an act of congress (see NULLIFICATION, KENTUCKY RESOLUTIONS,) and to instruct the United States senators of the state how to vote upon bills pending in congress (see INSTRUCTION, RIGHT OF).


—In all the assemblies the machinery of legislation is very much the same, following closely the provisions of Jefferson's "Manual." Each house has its own officers, rules and esprit de corps. and as the two houses generally differ in the times of election of the members, or in the extent of their constituencies, they are often under control of opposite parties and commonly furnish a fairly efficient check upon improvident or evil legislation. Where this check fails, the veto power of the governor, or, in the last resort, the power of the people, exerted in the election of new members or by amending the state constitution, has usually been sufficient. (For the direct action of the federal upon the state governments, (see INSURRECTION, II).)


—See Poore's Federal and State Constitutions; Cooley's Constitutional Limitations; Story's Commentaries, § 1252; Jefferson's Manual, and authorities cited under articles above referred to.


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