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date: 09 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

While early works in American political development (APD) incorporated congressional actors in accounts of state-building, policymaking, and social reform, there is a growing body of historically oriented scholarship that places the institution of Congress front and center. We highlight three major streams of contemporary congressional research that engage with APD. The first analyzes the development of congressional institutions, often drawing upon concepts of path dependence and layering to understand the presence or absence of change in legislative operations. Second, several important studies of state-building and policy development highlight the role of congressional actors in driving—or blocking—critical political and social reforms. Finally, new datasets that track congressional elections and roll call voting over long time spans have given rise to a growing literature that uses historical evidence to test contemporary theories of legislative behavior. We close with a discussion of the contributions and pitfalls of using historical evidence in this way.

Keywords: congress, institutional development, legislative institutions, NOMINATE scores, path dependence, layering, filibuster, committee system, Reed Rules, sectionalism

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