Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 1 > Issue 2

Institutional Foundations of the American Revolution: Legislative Politics in Colonial North America

Nicholas G. Napolio, Department of Political Science, University of Southern California, USA, , Jordan Carr Peterson, School of Public and International Affairs, North Carolina State University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Nicholas G. Napolio and Jordan Carr Peterson (2021), "Institutional Foundations of the American Revolution: Legislative Politics in Colonial North America", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 1: No. 2, pp 235-257.

Publication Date: 03 Aug 2021
© 2021 N. G. Napolio and J. C. Peterson
Legislatures,  American political development,  political history,  lawmaking
Legislative politicspolitical institutionsAmerican political developmentideal point estimation


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In this article:
The Road to Revolution and the Absence of Legislative Solutions 
Colonial Assemblies and the Pre-revolutionary Policy Process 
The Data: Colonial Roll Call Records 
Evaluating the Historical Narrative 


Historians locate the origins of the American Revolution in an acute displeasure with colonial governing arrangements after the Crown and Parliament pursued a regime of taxation and commercial restrictions following the Seven Years' War despite colonial contributions to the British victory over France. We consider this narrative afresh by bringing modern tools of social scientific research to archival data from the eighteenth century. After digitizing roll call votes for three colonial assemblies, we estimate ideal points for 456 colonial legislators using 1,535 votes from 1743 to 1775. The estimation procedure uncovers a Loyalist–Patriot dimension that explains a substantial proportion of colonial roll call decisions. We validate our estimates by comparing them with primary and secondary sources on the preferences of assemblymen not expressed via roll calls. We find that legislators exhibited remarkable ideological heterogeneity along the Loyalist–Patriot dimension from 1743 onward; that Loyalist policy representation in provincial assemblies increased during the Seven Years' War; and that Loyalists maintained agenda control from the beginning of the conflict with France through the end of the colonial period, suggesting that colonial assemblies were not suitably equipped to advance the ultimate desire among Patriots for political self-determination. Existing colonial institutions were insufficient to meet the growing popularity of ideas of self-determination in British North America.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 1, Issue 2 Special Issue - Frontiers in HPE: Articles Overview
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