Direct Democracy, Constitutional Reform, and Political Inequality in Post-Colonial America

35 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2018  

Mario Chacon

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi

Jeffrey L. Jensen

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi

Date Written: June 30, 2018

Abstract

The ratification of constitutional changes via referendum is an important mechanism for constraining the influence of elites, particularly when representative institutions are biased. While this constitutional mechanism is commonly employed, its use is far from universal. We investigate the determinants of mandatory constitutional referendums by examining the divergence between Northern and Southern U.S. states in the early 19th century. We first explore why states in both regions adopted constitutional conventions as the 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 a norm of discretionary referendums as a mechanism for protecting slave interests. We support our argument with both qualitative and quantitative evidence, including an analysis of votes from various Southern conventions in 1861 on whether to condition secession from the Union on receiving popular ratification.

Keywords: Constitutional Reform, US Political Development, Legislative Malapportionment

JEL Classification: H77, P48

Suggested Citation

Chacon, Mario L and Jensen, Jeffrey, Direct Democracy, Constitutional Reform, and Political Inequality in Post-Colonial America (June 30, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3210423 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3210423

Mario L Chacon (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

HOME PAGE: http://mariochacon.com

Jeffrey Jensen

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

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