Between National Character and an International Model: Parliaments in the Nineteenth Century
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Departing from the forgotten crisis of parliamentary government in the middle of the nineteenth century, this contribution argues that the species of ‘parliament’ did not really exist until that time. The parliaments were powerful and prestigious centres of cultural and political life in Britain and France. ‘Parliament’ was just the proper name of the British representative assembly, and when the French parliament declined after 1848, it seemed as if the days of parliamentary government had not just begun but were already over. At the end of the nineteenth century, the situation had changed dramatically. Most ‘civilized’ countries now had a parliament, which had developed into an exportable commodity with certain qualities and rules. Parliaments had become formal institutions which were judged by their capacity to represent the population and to produce laws that improved society.