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Was James Madison Wrong? Rethinking the American Preference for Short, Framework-Oriented Constitutions

Christopher W. Hammons
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 93, No. 4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 837-849
DOI: 10.2307/2586116
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2586116
Page Count: 13
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Was James Madison Wrong? Rethinking the American Preference for Short, Framework-Oriented Constitutions
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Abstract

American constitutional thought has long held that short, framework-oriented constitutions last longer than lengthy, statute-oriented constitutions. The longevity of the U.S. Constitution contributes heavily to this assumption. Not surprisingly, political scientists criticize state constitutions for their greater length and tendency to address issues better dealt with through ordinary statute law. These "defects" are frequently cited as responsible for the shorter lifespan of state constitutions. An examination of the 145 constitutions used by the American states since 1776, however, reveals a relationship among content, length, and durability that refutes the assumption that the design of the national constitution is necessarily superior. To the contrary, the analysis here reveals that longer and more detailed design of state constitutions actually enhances rather than reduces their longevity.

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