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Telling Congress What To Do


The Right of Instruction and Representation in American Legislatures, 1778 to 1900 provides a comprehensive analysis of the role constituent instructions played in American politics for more than a hundred years after its founding. Constituent instructions were more widely issued than previously thought, and members of state legislatures and Congress were more likely to obey them than political scientists and historians have assumed. Peverill Squire expands our understanding of constituent instructions beyond a handful of high-profile cases, through analyses of two unique data sets: one examining more than 5,000 actionable communications (instructions and requests) sent to state legislators by constituents through town meetings, mass meetings, and local representative bodies; the other examines more than 6,600 actionable communications directed by state legislatures to their state’s congressional delegations. He draws the data, examples, and quotes almost entirely from original sources, including government documents such as legislative journals, session laws, town and county records, and newspaper stories, as well as diaries, memoirs, and other contemporary sources. Squire also includes instructions to and from Confederate state legislatures in both data sets. In every respect, the Confederate state legislatures mirrored the legislatures that preceded and followed them.

Peverill Squire is Professor of Political Science and Hicks and Martha Griffiths Chair in American Political Institutions at the University of Missouri.

“Peverill Squire has brought a spotlight to an often overlooked feature of American political history—constituent instructions to legislators. The frequency with which state and federal legislators were subject to formal instructions from those who put them in office will surprise you. With a keen eye to important events, Squire brilliantly relates a chapter that is central to the story of political representation in America. Anyone interested in American political development or the challenge of representation for democracies will want to read this book.”
—Steven S. Smith, Kate M. Gregg Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St Louis

- Steven S. Smith

“In this impressive book, Peverill Squire overturns much of the conventional wisdom surrounding the use of constituent instructions to American legislators. Squire demonstrates that constituent instructions played an important role in state legislatures and the U.S. Senate throughout the nineteenth century. Squire’s analysis offers valuable insights into the changing dynamics of representation in American politics.”
—Eric Schickler, University of California, Berkeley

- Eric Schickler, University of California, Berkeley

“Squire’s meticulous analysis of an impressive collection of archival data provides new insight that contradicts the conventional wisdom about the role of instructions in American political development. The book addresses important issues that are relevant for anyone interested in questions of representation and citizen influence on policy outcomes.”
—Gregory Wawro, Columbia University

- Gregory Wawro, Columbia University

"Squire’s book is a wonderful addition to the scholarship on American Political Development (APD)."
Congress & The Presidency

- William D. Hicks

"...The Right of Instruction is a rich, layered, and broadly successful book. It convincingly recovers “instruction” as a key idiom and institution in nineteenth century democratic life. In the voluminous evidence and host of arguments that Squire offers, there are many threads for readers to pull and follow."
-The New Rambler 

- Aaron Hall

Read: Review of The Right of Instruction and Representation in American Legislatures, 1778 to 1900 in The New Rambler Link | 6/17/21