Dahl’s review of Sabato’s book on US constitution

The New York Times has published an interesting book review by Robert Dahl, one of the world’s preeminent political scientists and author of How Democratic is the American Constitution? (to which he correctly replies, not sufficiently). The review is of The Genius of America, by Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes, and A More Perfect Constitution, by Larry Sabato. I am going to focus on Dahl’s review of Sabato’s book (which is on my to-read list).

Sabato’s book offers 23 reforms to improve the US Constitution. Quoting from Dahl now, with the internal quotations being from Sabato:

“The small-state stranglehold on the Senate,” he writes, “is not merely a bump in the road; it is a massive roadblock to fairness that can and does stop all progressive traffic… It is the height of absurdity for our gargantuan states to have the same representation as the lightly populated ones.”

His solution: “Give the 10 largest states two more Senate seats each, with the next 15 largest states gaining one additional seat.” He would also increase the size of the Senate to accommodate greater diversity in representation and to make it possible for former presidents and vice presidents to be awarded Senate seats.*

Definitely a good start. California would still be grossly underrepresented, though somewhat less grossly. I concede we won’t ever get Madison’s original second-chamber proposal (each state represented, according to population, by members nominated by their respective states and confirmed by the House of Representatives), and Sabato’s proposal is better in some respects than mine (concede equal representation, but with 3 or 5 per state, and each state’s delegation elected simultaneously by a non-majoritarian formula).

Sabato wants a 135-seat Senate and a 1,000-seat House. Even I, as an advocate of a much-expanded House, have never dreamed of going that far. In fact, I do not even think it would be a good idea. More is not always better, even if the current 435, fixed since the country was one third its current population, is ridiculously small. One thousand would make the US House by far the world’s largest representative body.

Sabato also says, according to Dahl, that “The Constitution itself must call for universal nonpartisan redistricting.” Constitutionalizing the redistricting process is a great idea–if one must remain within the single-seat district paradigm. Of course, if one is serious about democratizing the US Constitution, one must be prepared to break out of that paradigm. (If one had 1,000 members and nonpartisan redistricting, it would certainly increase the percentage of potential swing districts and maybe even make the odd third-party plurality achievable. But this goes too far on House size and not nearly far enough on electoral reform.)

But Sabato also has some loony ideas that sound like scraps left on the cutting room floor from one of Ross Perot’s campaign ads:

…mandatory limits on House and Senate terms in office [classic Peroism–MSS]… a balanced budget unless at least 55 percent of the members of each chamber voted to override it [just what we need: more obstacles in the way of the democratic majority**; and, are you ready for it?] extend the term of the president to six years, to which two more years might be added, for a total of eight, after a national referendum in which a majority of voters favored the extension

A yes/no on extending a president’s term to eight years? Even Perot probably would find that nutty. Chavez, on the other hand…

Sabato also is evidently content with the electoral college:

automatically allocate a state’s electoral votes in presidential elections to “the winner of the certified popular vote in the state.”

This is a reform?

Sabato also proposes six-year terms for members of the House. That would be the world’s longest lower-house term, now that bastions of democracy like Sandinista-era Nicaragua have reduced the term to five (the longer end of term lengths around the world). Of course, this idea, combined with a successful referendum on extending a sitting president’s term, would result in nonconcurrent elections. I wonder if Sabato recognizes that as a problem. I guess I will have to read the book to find out.

Dahl concludes the review with words I wholeheartedly endorse:

A reluctance to engage in public discussions that might challenge the prevailing view of the Constitution as a sacred document will doubtless inhibit debate on Mr. Sabato’s proposals. This is not to say that they should all be adopted. But without a public discussion of proposals like this, too many American citizens will be unable to understand the virtues and problems of our Constitution and how it might be improved.

Indeed, as I have noted several times before (most recently on Constitution Day), it would be immensely useful to ean ourselves as a nation from what Thomas Jefferson called “sanctimonious reverence” for the Constitution and its founders.

Given that the increasing disparities of states’ sizes and the ever-increasing complexity of policy challenges in a globalized economy and warming climate, debate on our foundational political institutions will get more urgent over time. In this sense, Sabato, Dahl, and other prominent political scientists are doing us all a real service by their writings on these matters.


* This is not necessarily a bad idea, to keep their expertise in policy, but it has a very serious flaw: A party gets two new seats in the Senate for every living past president it has elected, thereby adding yet another lag on democratic responsiveness to a system that already has too many. Add the defeated candidates, too (and not only those of the biggest losing party!), and impose a limit of how long either former presidents or their defeated opponents can serve, and you might be getting somewhere. Drop the running mates from the plan.

** Really, it is hard to overestimate how much this goes against the grain of Sabato’s stated interests in reducing the “stranglehold” against “progressive traffic.”

38 thoughts on “Dahl’s review of Sabato’s book on US constitution

  1. 1000 members for the U.S house is way too big. Congressional seats should be allocated by least popoulous state (The Wyoming Rule). District population should be no larger than the district of the least popoulous state.

    I think the U.S house should be no larger than at least 600 members if it were expanded.

    Congressional terms which are 2 years is too short which is why our voter turnout is so low.

    It should be 4 years concurrent with the Presidents election. The senate could serve eight years, but half renewed every 4 years instead of the staggered 1/3 rule.

    The Presidental term is just right which is 4 years. Not too long nor too short.

    The presidential veto should be reduce from 2/3 to 3/5.


  2. Keep 6 years for the Senate, one-third every second year. Elections every even-numbered March (not November) for reasons I discussed here: http://tinyurl.com/2b3evo. 4-year terms for both the President and the House of Reps. Presidential elections held in leap years, House elections (all seats together) in years divisible by 2 but not by 4.


  3. Tom, I assume by “leap years” you mean “every four years”–unless we intend to give whoever is elected President in 2096 a bonus four years! 🙂

    I think term lengths are okay right now, though extending House terms to four years isn’t unreasonable. I definitely want to keep midterm elections. I haven’t given this a lot of thought, but it might be interesting to have moremidterm elections, maybe letting half the states vote in even years and half in odd ones.

    In any case, I remain profoundly skeptical that any tinkering will change the political atmosphere in the US. I suspect it is much more closely related to culture and media than to electoral details. Moving to PR could certainly shake things up enough to make a difference. Aside from that, I can’t think of much electoral engineering that could be useful–maybe very short term limits?


  4. “Given that the increasing disparities of states’ sizes and the ever-increasing complexity of policy challenges in a globalized economy and warming climate”

    Is malapportionment increasing? From “Sizing Up the Senate” I know malapportionment increased from 1790 to 1990, but did it increase from 1990 to 2000?

    With the relative shrinkage of Illinois, New York, Ohio, PA, and Michigan I’d think that malapportionment was decreasing.

    Waiting to be proven wrong,


  5. I do not have the data for all years, but Senate malapportionment over time is as follows (calculated by the Loosemore-Hanby index):

    1800: .280
    1810: .336
    1820: .301
    1880: .296
    1900: .333
    1920: .331
    1940: .340
    1960: .366
    1970: .377
    1980: .360
    1990: .364
    2000: .361

    So the direct answer to your question about whether malapportionment increased from 1990 to 2000 is clearly no. It actually declined, though trivially.

    My argument about the problems posed by equal representation of increasingly unequal states is not simply an argument about malapportionment, however. The very few biggest states represent an increasing percentage of the US population, yet they retain a fixed percentage of the Senate representation. In perpetuity, under current arrangements.

    That is, the difference between .377 and .361 (or even .28) is fairly trivial compared to the fact that all of these values of malapportionment are significantly greater than zero. (I do not mean to argue that it “has to be” zero, but somewhere closer to zero is, in my view, preferable to somewhere in excess of .25.)

    It would be good to compare the trends in the House. Obviously, malapportionment is lower there. However, with the smallest states representing an increasingly smaller share of the nation’s population but always entitled to one House seat each, it can only go up–until the size of the House itself is allowed to adjust upwards.

    Thanks for the question, Sam.


  6. Have 4 senators per state. Each state gets 2. The rest are assigned in proportion to population. The Sabato proposal (I’ve also not read the book yet) doesn’t seem to have any underlying logic, it merely assigns random numbers of senators to the largest states and not even to a logical number of the largest states.

    My preference on the electoral cycle (which will sound familiar) is a 6/3 cycle where half the senate and all the house face election every three years, although that makes the presidency challenging (3 years is too short and 6 years may be too long). NSW runs on an 8/4 cycle with would keep the presidential term the same but extend the house and the senate.

    I suspect the benefit of midterm elections may be overstated. Many US commentators with a certain enthusiasm for parliamentary systems, or an understandable animus against the present incumbent, got all wistful over the possibility that in parliamentary system Bush would have lost office after the last midterm election. True, but it’s also true that people would not have necessarily voted the same way if the presidency had been stake and that parliamentary systems, by their nature, cannot have midterm elections.

    Incidentally, there much more brutal rules in the world to deal with earmarks.

    56. A vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of revenue or moneys shall not be passed unless the purpose of the appropriation has in the same session been recommended by message of the Governor-General to the House in which the proposal originated.

    Britain, Canada and New Zealand have the same rule.


  7. Thanks for the info on Senate malapportionment. Naturally I agree with you about Senate malapportionment being a problem. It doesn’t matter if malapportionment declined slightly from 1990 to 2000, as long as the Senate is badly malapportioned.

    There are many ways that the Senate could theoretically be improved. Scattering extra Senators to the largest states is attractive, but so is weakening the Senate somehow. One could copy Japan and give the lower house a veto over the upper house. One could restore the American Founding Fathers’ intention that the House would predominate in fiscal matters.


  8. A query here regarding the much-mooted conventional wisdom that off-year US voters are on average significantly older, whiter and more conservative (and fewer in number) than the segment of the populace who turn out and vote at the quadrennial presidential-year elections.
    While the presidency flips pretty reliably between elephant and donkey every 8 years (with one exception – Carter in 1980 – this holds true for 17 of the 18 presidential elections in the seven decades since 1944), Congressreps and especially Senators seem to last a lot longer in office. Yet by definition they, unlike Presidents, have to deal with both sets of voters, in even-numbered years that are and that are not divisible by four. Am I missing something here? I’m a hemisphere away from US politics on the ground, but people who are there in the trenches often seem to repeat nuggets of CW (“the Electoral College ensures smaller States aren’t ignored”) that dissolve upon closer scrutiny.


    • Tom, most US legislative elections are simply not that “competitive”. In the federal election that was just held, about thirty Congressmen were returned unopposed. In the New York state legislature, admittedly an extreme example, about 40% of the legislators were unopposed.

      Currently, in the House of Representatives, the turnover is actually happening in about sixty districts, maybe 15% of the total. Some Congressmen in the remainder have to worry about losing primaries, or redistricting/ reapportionment. Senators don’t benefit from gerrymandering, but have six year turns and are sometimes unopposed too.

      Also, the rule is not that the midterm election is older and whiter. The rule is that the partisans of the presidential party tend to abstain in greater numbers during midterms. With a Democratic administration, this means Democrats are more likely to stay home, so a more Republican electorate. The presidential party, whether Democratic or Republican, consistently performs poorly in midterms. Some political scientists have theorized that this is because of a significant chunk of voters who don’t follow politics closely, vote only in presidential elections, and tend to bandwagon in favor of the winning presidential candidate and his party and then of course are not available to support his party in non-presidential years. I think there was alot of truth to this before around 1990, but the current situation is more that presidential administrations tend to be unpopular and tend to govern much the same way, disappointing supporters of their parties, though presidents now win re-election almost routinely because the other party nominates someone even more unpopular.

      The loss of seats for the Democrats in 2014 is around the median for a presidential party in midterm elections, actually a bit more than the median in the Senate and a bit less in the House, and this is explained by factors such as a large number of Democratic Senators up for reelection this year who had won in what are normally Republican states (the Republicans won exactly three Senate elections this year in states Obama carried in 2012), and as for the House a considerable reduction in the number of districts that can swing between the parties.


  9. What is the impact of the somewhat random electoral map by which not all states vote in each partial senate election?


      • I did check, and even if the Republicans win a landslide of historic proportions in 2016, the most Senate seats then could realistically pick up would be three (Nevada, Colorado, and someplace else if you are curious). In theory they could pick up nine, that being how many Democratic seats are up out of the 32, but it would mean things like defeating Schumer in New York which are just not going to happen.

        Likewise, in the 2014 election the Democrats would have wound up losing three seats even if everything that could conceivably have broken their way did so.

        Though I think partial turnovers of legislatures is idiotic, the class feature is not a big deal because the entire legislature will turn over eventually as long as a party keeps winning elections. There have been big Senate majorities in the past, but they came when one of the two parties was genuinely significantly more popular than the other. Actually over time there has been a trend in elections for the US Senate away from split delegations, increasingly red states just return a Republican every election and blue states just return a Democrat.


      • Perhaps a good solution to stabilize the Senate would be to add 30 national open party-list seats, with 10 up for election every 2 years. All voters would vote for these seats. These seats could be parallel or compensatory, and would ensure that all voters, not just the ones electing a Senator, got a say in the composition of the Senate


      • I could see several problems with having “national senators.” If they aren’t top up, there would be an almost constant 5-5 split unless and then until third parties become competitive in the race or there is a landslide landslide year. The other major problem is that by adding 30 senators, someone will sue saying that the equal representation of the Senate is broken–and that almost certainly will not pass muster in the courts


        • The concept of “top up” (compensatory) Senators would require not merely a constitutional amendment, but constitutional replacement. The principle that equal representation of a state can be taken away only with the consent of the state is one of the provisions of the US Constitution that is expressly left inadmissible to amendment. (You can’t establish a monarchy, and you can’t make the states unequal in the Senate.)

          The only solution to getting PR in the Senate is to expand the number of Senators per state and elect them (i.e. those for any given state) at the same time. It would still require a constitutional amendment, but at least one that the constitution itself does not forbid.


      • Senate reform is usually placed in the too-hard basket for this reason, and it would probably be easier just to reduce the powers of the Senate than to mess with the representation of states.


  10. Any change to the composition or electoral cycle of the US senate is going to take a constitutional amendment whether it is Henry’s scheme or any other. I agree with Ed about partial renewal of legislatures, although rotation is almost universal in upper houses, partial elections are quite rare.

    I’d expect partial elections to produce exaggerated, although not necessarily confected majorities.

    I’d think a more intuitive answer to the partial election problem is 3 senators per state with 1 facing election every 2 years, or keeping 2 senators and shifting to an 8/4 cycle like NSW.


    • To my knowledge, the following countries have partial renewal besides the US: Chile, Argentina, Czech Rep., France (indirect, of course).

      I remember someone offering a detailed terminology for different types of staggered election. Does someone recall which thread that was?


      • I might have once tried taxonomising such systems. Not sure if the draft ever made it from my hard drive to F&V online… Anyway: Number of classes of members, number of members in each class, number of classes that any given State/ province/ region/ district falls into. The third variable can be anywhere between 1 and the first variable (inclusive). Eg, for the three Australian mainland upper houses with rotation (Senate, NSW and SA), all voters in every district (Statewide in each case) fall into all classes (two of two in all three cases: this was also the case for the Victorian and WA LEgislative Councils before they got four-year fixed terms). But for the US Senate, there are three classes, and any given State falls into only two of the three. And (as far as I know) for US State Senates, and also the Tasmanian Legislative Council, there are several classes (two for all US State Senates [*] I know of, apart from the one or two with a single class chosen for two-year terms, and six classes for Tasmanian MLCs), but each given district falls into one class only, ie votes only once per cycle until the next time the entire body has been renewed.
        Hendrik Hertzberg (“Let’s Get Representative,” The New Republic, 29 June 1987) argued for introducing proportional representation to the US Congress by way of parallel sets of nationwide top-up seats. From memory, he advocated 200 by closed-list PR for the House and 16 or 17 by STV for the Senate (along with 17 or 16 States each electing their now-sole Senator at each election, to keep the Senate at about a hundred seats.)


      • [*] Originally wrote “all bicameral US States” but changed to this to “all US State Senates” to include Nebraska.


  11. Alan (09/11/2014 at 10:26 am), good one. Tom, in a later comment, JD found that you indeed had suggested such a taxonomy. Now, if I might refer both of you to the link in my comment just a little earlier (10:05 am), we now have such a thread.


  12. “The principle that equal representation of a state can be taken away only with the consent of the state is one of the provisions of the US Constitution that is expressly left inadmissible to amendment.”

    Leaving aside the problem of whether you can really pass a law that makes it illegal to repeal that law itself, I don’t see why this language would prohibit reducing the size of all state delegations in the Senate to zero. They would all still have equal representation in the Senate. Could you have a constitutional amendment abolishing the Senate altogether? Or what about abolishing the states? If not, why not (other than that radical measures like this are not on the agenda).

    Nor does the language presumably prohibit reducing all state delegations to one Senator each, and electing all fifty Senators for a four year term during the non-presidential federal election. Even without changing its rules, the Senate would work much better as a smaller body, which is what it was originally anyway. Or you could increase the size of the Senate to 150, give every state three Senators, and end the staggered class problem. But I don’t see why you could give each state three Senators each, or one Senator each, and not zero Senators each.


    • Article V (Article 5 – Mode of Amendment)
      The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

      It’s hard to accept the reasoning that a thing can be equal if it does not exist. Any change would need an amendment, but a change that maintained the equal state suffrage, such as 3 senators, would only need 3/4, not all 50, of the states.


      • While the drafting of the Constitution was generally hopeless, the key phrase is “equal Suffrage in the Senate”. I really don’t see why having no suffrage in the Senate doesn’t satisfy that, as long as all states equally have no suffrage. What this seems to preclude is schemes to give states representation in the Senate in proportion to its population.

        Otherwise, the Seventeenth Amendment is a problem:

        “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.”

        If Article V is interpreted as saying all states have to agree to remove state representation in the Senate -an interpretation I disagree with- then the Seventeenth Amendment is invalid, nine states not having ratified it. Elsewhere the text of the Constitution is clear in making a distinction between the “states” and the “people”. The Seventeenth Amendment transfers suffrage in the Senate from the “states” -the state governments- to the people -the electors, albeit with eligibility determined by the state governments (though this was made dead letter later) and organized into state-based electoral districts. The Seventeenth Amendment clearly deprived state governments of their representation in the Senate, and did so without the consent of nine state legislatures that were deprived of representation, so under Alan’s interpretation of Article V was not properly ratified.

        Under my interpretation the states can be cut out of the process of choosing Senators completely, or the Senate or the states themselves can be abolished by constitutional amendment -note that several states lost representation in the federal government entirely during the Civil War and reconstruction- so there is no issue here.


  13. The other option would be to reduce the number of senators down to one per state, while increase the size of the House and allowing laws to be passed in a joint session. Let everything be done in a joint session.


  14. The Seventeenth Amendment does not remove the equal suffrage of sates in the senate, it transfers the election from the legislature of the state to the people of the state. That precise point was argued repeatedly and unsuccessfully throughout the 1920s.

    A serious test for any court opinion is absurdity. Your reading would not just effect the senate.The same language that guarantees equal suffrage in the senate guarantees that the people elect the house of representatives. If the equal representation of the states in the senate can be zeroed, then the representation of the people in the house of representatives can be zeroed as well.

    It’s usually wiser, as even the justices of the Dred Scott court must have realised with time, not to hand down judgements that cause civil wars.


  15. On the first point, I agree that the Seventeenth Amendment does not remove the equal suffrage of the states. My argument is that it is the expansive interpretation of the language of Article V, that the article guarantees the existence of an upper chamber with state delegations, is untenable. Evidence that this interpretation has never prevailed includes the Seventeenth Amendment, and the removal of entire state delegations from Congress during Reconstruction. The concurrence of fifty states would be needed to have variable state delegations, but not to change the Constitution to remove the Senate entirely, change its powers, remove the state basis for its composition, abolish the states, change state boundaries, or to remove all state delegations to the Senate while keeping it the same otherwise.

    It also occurs to me that if all the states did concur to have the size of state delegations vary, and new states were admitted later (as Alaska and Hawaii were after the Seventeenth Amendment), would the change be dead letter unless they concurred too?

    The point about the House of Representatives is simply incorrect. These are the two clauses from Article I:

    “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.”


    “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; …….”

    (the rest of the passage sets the size of the delegations in the first Congress)

    I’m not even sure what the point is because the language is completely different. Members of the House of Representatives are chosen by “the People”, with apportionment between the states unequal. States are guaranteed at least one Representative, but this and the rest of the clauses can be altered through the normal amendment process. Note that with the House, the language about election by “the People” appears before apportionment is discussed, while even the Seventeenth amendment discusses apportionment first, and then who does the election.


    • The exclusion of the Southern States during reconstruction after a war during which the Union maintained the legal fiction that those very same States were actually still in the Union is just one of the many, let’s put it this way, constitutionally-inconsistent occurrences from 1860 to 1877. Why such things should be taken as an example, except, perhaps, in exceptional times of crisis, I wouldn’t know.


    • Ed

      You are missing my point. If the language with respect to the equal suffrage of states in the Senate means why you claim then the entire provision is a nullity. You must then answer why the provision appears at all in the constitution and you must answer why any other provisions cannot be nugated as well. The issue is not the particular language but your claim that one provision can be rendered into nothing by interpretation but others cannot. That’s the political science. the legal science is simply that you must prefer an interpretation that gives effect to a provision to one that does not and that has been a basic canon of interpretation since time immemorial.


      I don’t want to refight the civil war, but the secession of the southern states was at least as much a legal fiction as their continuance in the Union.

      Outside the Deep South itself, the ordinances of secession were as much coups d’état as anything else and almost certainly did not necessary represent a majority of even the white male electorate. The Texas secession convention,for example, was basically an armed mob that’d declared itself a convention. The Missouri secession convention rejected secession by repeated votes with increasing majorities but Confederate armies nevertheless entered the state to ‘defend’ the sate. When Kentucky, after a very long delay, eventually moved decisively to the Union side, invading Confederate armies developed the habit of installing of swearing in their own governor whenever possible.

      It is also noteworthy that fully one southerner in three under arms fought in the Union army. The most damning of all, is that the Confederacy dealt with anti-Confederate secession movements like West Virginia or East Tennessee by repression where it could and bitter expostulation where it could not. Late in the war, as Confederate states sought their own accommodations with the Union, the Confederate central government suddenly discovered that states could secede from the Union but not from the Confederacy. The Confederacy actually degenerated quite early into a police state with constant patrols and raids against its own people because it would otherwise have suffered a total civil collapse. That meant only that extraordinary police measures that had long been used against blacks were also extended to whites.

      Civil wars are indeed exceptional periods.


      • Interesting.

        “Outside the Deep South itself”
        That seems a pretty big qualification for your first statement.

        Also, I couldn’t to find a source corroborating your account of the Texas convention, which according to what I could find was convened by the legislature against the wishes of governor Sam Houston. But then again, this is American history, so who knows…

        Not that any of this is very important to our discussion. Just curious.


      • Let me refer you to The South vs the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War, William W Freehling , 2001. Freehling has also published accounts of the secession conventions in Georgia and Virginia although I confess i have not read them. For a free online, but somewhat partisan account, there is Abraham Lincoln: A History, Vol I, John G Nicolay and John Hay, 1886. Both authors had been private secretaries to Lincoln.

        I agree that this does not much relate to our discussion but our host is staggeringly generous about these things.

        By the Deep South I mean the cotton states where slavery dominated the economy. 6 of the 7 states in the Lower South, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, seceded very quickly and more or less unanimously. The Upper South and the Border South were much more complex and much less unanimous. The majority of the border states did not secede at all, although Kentucky took months to finally commit to the Union and Missouri for a time had competing Union and Confederate governments.


      • I should correct my figures.

        One white southerner in 3 fought for the Union. Almost all black southerners fought for the Union. The exceptions were personal slaves in attendance on their masters and 2 or3 black regiments (the Confederate records are unclear) raised in the last weeks of the war which did not see action.

        Southern unanimity was always vastly exaggerated and became an essential element of the Lost Cause mythology. Freehling calculates that across the whole of the South, the 15 states where slavery existed, the aggregate popular majority was against secession and notes that large areas of the Confederacy like eastern Tennessee and much of Texas were under martial law for most of the Confederacy’s existence. Equally, large areas saw lynchings of alleged Union supporters. Even South Carlina itself saw armed militias intervene in the election for the convention.

        Virginia and Texas are both interesting.

        Informal conventions elected from the Union areas of Virginia formed the Restored Government of Virginia which was generally represented in the Union congress and consented to the admission of West Virginia. Thereafter a rump Union state government continued in those areas of Virginia held by the Union outside the new state of West Virginia.

        In Texas an informal convention was summoned by the chief justice without the approval of the legislature or the governor. Obviously Unionists tended not to vote because of intimidation and the irregular nature of the process. Most delegates were elected by voice vote at public meetings. This body was then declared a convention by the legislature over the governor’s veto. Although there was probably a popular majority for Texas secession, as shown by the referendum that Unionists managed to insist on, large areas of the state were never reconciled to secession or the Confederacy and Texas units tended to suffer huge desertion rates when ordered to operate outside the state.

        Even in states like Georgia there were a number of areas that rejected secession including, famously, a number of North Georgia counties which answered secession by seceding from the state and declaring for the Union.

        As late as the Hampton Roads Conference between Lincoln and delegates of the Confederacy, weeks before Appomattox, the Confederate side continued to insist that the secession of West Virginia was invalid. Secession apparently only ran one way in their view.


    • I should give fair warning about about the Lincoln biography. When I began I thought there were 2 volumes. Towards the end of Vol 2 I realised it was 1848 and Lincoln was still 12 years from the White House. Quite some time later I am almost at the end of both Vol 10 and the work itself. Still, if you like nineteenth century writing…


      • Woah… As a slow reader, I think I’ll try finishing the Federalist Papers first. I started towards the end of the summer holidays, reading a couple each week. I think I’m at 20 or so; I’ll continue in the winter break. I’m currently reading the Efficient Secret, which is serving as inspiration for my capstone.


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