Events

Constituent Instructions and the Evolution of Representation in America, 1778-1900

Spring 2018 Colloquium Series

As part of our Spring 2018 Colloquium Series, University of Missouri Professor of Political Science and Kinder Institute Affiliate Faculty Member Peverill Squire will give a talk on his recent research into the evolution of representation in America, from the Colonial Era through the 20th century (see abstract below). The talk will take place at 3:30 PM on Friday, February 9, in Jesse Hall 410.

Abstract

Our current understanding of the role of constituent instructions in American political history is largely framed by two studies published in the 1950s, one by political scientist William Riker and the other by historian Clement Eaton. Focused on instructions issued to U.S. senators by their state legislatures, particularly those in the South, these studies concluded that by 1860 constituent instructions ceased to be important. Using two unique datasets I have gathered on “actionable communications”—instructions or requests for state or congressional lawmakers to take specific policy actions—I demonstrate the real story of constituent instructions differs from the prevailing wisdom in four significant ways. First, the scope of constituent instructions was broader than just those issued to U.S. senators by state legislators. Second, there were more instructions issued, and issued over a longer period of time, than commonly thought. Third, instructions were not just a Southern phenomenon. Finally, the nature of the instructions themselves has been misconstrued. Taken together, these findings can be used to show that the fundamental nature of the representational relationship in America evolved over the nineteenth century from one that more directly connected the represented to the representatives to one intermediated by local representative bodies, political parties and interest groups.

 

Peverill Squire is Professor of Political Science and holds the Hicks and Martha Griffiths Chair in American Political Institutions. He received his A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California-Berkeley. In recent years he has authored The Rise of the Representative: Lawmakers and Constituents in Colonial America (2017); The Evolution of American Legislatures: Colonies, Territories and States, 1619-2009 (2012); co-authored State Legislatures Today: Politics under the Domes (second edition, 2015); Why States Matter (2013); 101 Chambers: Congress, State Legislatures, and the Future of Legislative Studies (2005); and Who Runs for the Legislature? (2001); and co-edited Legislatures: Comparative Perspectives on Representative Assemblies (2002). Professor Squire’s research centers on American politics with an emphasis on legislatures, and for many years, he served as the senior editor of Legislative Studies Quarterly. He regularly teaches undergraduate courses on American state government and American legislatures and graduate courses on legislative institutions, the evolution of American legislatures, and American state politics.