Friday, August 10, 2018

Chacon and Jensen on Constitutional Referenda in Antebellum US

Mario Chacon and Jeff l. Jensen, New York University Abu Dhabi, have posted Direct Democracy, Constitutional Reform, and Political Inequality in Post-Colonial America:
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.