- AQA, Edexcel, OCR
Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Bicameralism is defined as the division of a legislative body into two houses, an upper and lower house. This structure can be found in many legislatures across the world.
Bicameralism can be contrasted with Unicameralism in which there is only one chamber of a legislative assembly.
Bicameralism can be defined further with the introduction of balance. A balanced bicameral system is one whereby legislative power is divided equally between each house. This is the case in the US.
On the other hand however, unbalanced bicameral legislatures exist, whereby legislative power is weighted towards one house over the other. This is the case in the United Kingdom, with the House of Commons holding greater legislative power over the House of Lords.
In the United States, the bicameral nature of the United States arose at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. When drafting the constitution, there was a disagreement between what type of legislative chamber the new US should have. Two plans were put forward as suggestions for the legislative assembly. Edmund Randolph proposed a bicameral legislature in which one house would be elected by popular vote and the other appointed. Each state would send members to the legislature is proportion to its population. This became known as the Virginia Plan.
However whilst this plan was favoured by the states with large populations, states with smaller populations thought a unicameral legislature was better, in which all states would be represented equally. This plan was known as the New Jersey Plan.
In order to resolve this the Connecticut delegation to the convention, suggested a bicameral legislature with one house assembled according to population of the states, and one where all states are equal. This is known as the Connecticut Compromise, or Great Compromise.
It is as a result of this, that today the US has the House of Representatives and the Senate.