Choosing the Framers: Lotteries in Constituent Assemblies

Alexandra Cirone (Cornell)
Brenda Can Coppenolle (Leiden)

Abstract : A constitution is the foundation of any democracy, and its text shapes the path of democratic development. But who chooses the framers of such a document? To resolve this issue, elites in both France (1789) and Denmark (1848) adopted a lottery-based procedure to choose the members of their respective constituent assemblies. They divided their chambers into groups by lottery, and then these groups chose the constitution drafters. Such procedures were put in place out of a distrust for potentially subversive political factions or influential elites, and with the idea that partial randomization prevents corruption and ensures the representation of a cross section of politicians. Yet how did this affect the composition and ultimate development of these constituent assemblies? To answer this question, we analyze in detail the effects of partial randomization in France in 1789, and Denmark in 1848. We assembled a micro-level data set of the lottery based procedures, biographies of elite politicians and their parties, and legislative activity from both 18th century France and 19th century Denmark archival records. We first check the randomization, and demonstrate that these partial lotteries were, in fact, truly random. We then demonstrate that this lottery-based procedure prevented the concentration of political blocs into any one committee, particularly the radical and pro-democratic left, and therefore prevented co-optation of the constituent assemblies. It also ensured the framers of the constitution were less likely to be older and aristocratic. Finally, we use an instrument variable approach to show how selection of a wider set of elites affected the ultimate constitution text, and the design of this new democracy.

When State Building Backfires: Elite Divisions and Collective Action in Rebellion

Emily A. Sellars (Yale University)
Francisco Garfias (UCSD)

Abstract : We examine the complementary roles of state weakness, elite divisions, and popular grievances on rebellion. We argue that state-building efforts increase division between local and national elites, which undermines provincial peacekeeping efforts and provides an opening for popular rebellion. For a given level of grievance, revolts from below are therefore more likely to be attempted and more likely to spread in areas where local elites harbor grievances over earlier state-building efforts. We provide support for the theory using subnational data on rebellion, tax centralization, and drought from the late 17th-century to the Mexican War of Independence. We show that droughts led to peasant uprisings throughout the late colonial period, but it was not until the weakening of national institutions following the fall of the Bourbon dynasty in 1808 that these uprisings grew into a large-scale insurgency. Insurgent mobilization during the Independence War was more likely in drought-affected areas that had higher exposure to the Bourbon centralization of tax collection, which reduced the rents available to the local elite and thus elite loyalty to the government.

Franchise Expansion, Bureaucratic Resistance, and Fiscal Capacity in Colonial India

Pavithra Suryanarayan (Johns Hopkins University)

Abstract : This paper argues that political elites may weaken fiscal capacity in anticipation of new groups coming to power. One such instance occurred in the Colonial Indian provinces, where incumbent political elites hollowed out tax capacity in anticipation of franchise expansion. While studies of intra-elite competition have focused on economic inequality as a key factor in shaping elite motivations, the paper argues that high-caste elites in this era, who were worried about their caste dominance, weakened institutions to limit the ability of newly elected elites to desegregate public goods to lower castes. As elite bureaucrats as well as local tax collectors they enabled landed elites to avoid agrarian tax payments and weakened the local bureaucratic machinery. Using a historical dataset from 1914-1925 and novel micro-level measures of land tax collection, tax avoidance, and the size of the bureaucracy, the paper demonstrates that fiscal capacity declined after franchise expansion in the districts with higher levels of inter-caste inequality and higher land inequality.