American Reconstitution: How the States Stabilize American Constitutional Development

Robinson Woodward-Burns, University of Pennsylvania


The American Constitution is exceptionally stable. Americans have proposed and ratified only one national constitution with only twenty-seven amendments. In contrast, the American states have proposed 354 constitutions, held 250 conventions, and ratified 146 constitutions with at least 5,900 amendments. Why is the federal Constitution so much more stable than the state constitutions? Many scholars cite the federal Constitution’s higher procedural barriers to revision. But this dissertation asserts that ongoing state constitutional revision resolves national constitutional controversies, preempting federal constitutional amendment and quieting national inter-branch conflict. The dissertation tests this claim in two ways. First, it compares all attempted federal and state constitutional revision since 1776, drawing on an original dataset of all proposed state constitutions to show that federal and state constitutional revision are closely associated over time. Second, the dissertation disaggregates this trend by topic, offering case studies in which state constitutional revision preempted or resolved national constitutional conflicts. Since the states constrain the scope of national constitutional controversies, one cannot fully understand the political development of the national branches or Constitution without the states.

Subject Area

American history|Law|Political science

Recommended Citation

Woodward-Burns, Robinson, "American Reconstitution: How the States Stabilize American Constitutional Development" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10273199.