Direct Democracy, Constitutional Reform, and Political Inequality in Post-Colonial America
46 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2018 Last revised: 28 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 2019
The ratification of constitutional changes via referendum is an important mechanism for constraining the influence of elites, particularly when representative institutions are captured. While this electoral device is commonly employed cross-nationally, its use is far from universal. We investigate the uneven adoption of mandatory referendums by examining the divergence between Northern and Southern U.S. states in the post-independence period. We first explore why states in both regions adopted constitutional conventions as the primary mechanism for making revisions to fundamental law, but why only Northern states adopted the additional requirement of ratifying via referendum. We argue that due to distortions in state-level representation, Southern elites adopted the discretionary referendum as a mechanism to bypass the statewide electorate when issues divide voters along slave-dependency lines. We demonstrate the link between biases to apportionment and opposition to mandatory referendums using a novel dataset of roll calls from various Southern state conventions in the 19th century, including the secession conventions of 1860-61.
Keywords: Constitutional Reform, US Political Development, Legislative Malapportionment
JEL Classification: H77, P48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation