Turning the Legislative Thumbscrew

Minority Rights and Procedural Change in Legislative Politics
Douglas Dion
A study of minority rights in legislative politics


The use of filibusters in the U.S. Senate by small numbers of members to prevent legislative action apparently desired by a majority of the members—as evidenced by the battles over civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s—is legendary. Similar situations have existed in other legislative bodies over time. The fear that they will at some time be in the minority has inhibited actions by the majority groups to control the right of minority groups to block legislative action. And yet from time to time the majority in a legislative body has forced a change in the rules to control the rights of the minority. When does the majority seek to limit minority rights to obstruct legislation? Douglas Dion, in a unique study, develops a formal model to set out the conditions under which majorities will limit minority rights. He finds that when majorities are small, they will be more cohesive. This majority cohesion leads to minority obstruction, which in turn leads to majority efforts to force procedural change to control the ability of the minority to obstruct legislation. Dion then tests his findings in a rich consideration of historical cases from the nineteenth-century U.S. House of Representatives, the nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. Senate, the British House of Commons, and an account of the Austro-Hungarian Parliament written by Mark Twain.

Turning the Legislative Thumbscrew is a work that combines formal analysis with extensive historical evidence to address an important problem in democratic theory. Specialists in legislative politics and American political development, as well as those more broadly interested in the relationship between democratic theory and institutional structure, will find the work of great interest.

Douglas Dion is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • "Scholars across the discipline of political science are grappling with where institutions come from, and Turning the Legislative Thumbscrew is a masterful contribution to the emerging debate. . . . Turning the Legislative Thumbscrew is a great read, in fact, downright funny. . . . It is a great treat indeed. Dion has raised the bar for creative integration of formal models with historical research: few are likely to reach it."
    —Sarah A. Binder, George Washington University and The Brookings Institution, American Political Science Review, June 1999
  • "It is not every social scientist who can transform a fiercely academic subject and methodology into an absorbing study of that driest of topics—nineteenth-century legislative behavior. Nor do many academics have the sufficient perceptual range, not to mention the work ethic, to change the obscure and forgettable into an important and absorbing study. But Dion has done so, having written a dramatic tale of the deteriorating rights . . . of legislative minorities during the mid-nineteenth century in the United States House of Representatives."
    —Jean H. Baker, Goucher College, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Volume XXX, No. 2, Autumn 1999

Product Details

  • 312 pages.
  • numerous tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02269-4

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $31.95 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 180 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $20.50 U.S.

  • PDF Rental 30 Days: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $11.00 U.S.

Choosing any of the above format options will take you to the appropriate e-retailer to complete your purchase. Pricing may vary by individual e-retailer. Please see e-retailer site for purchasing information.

For more information about our Digital Products, including reading systems and accessible formats, visit our Digital Products page.

Related Products

Add to Cart
  • $31.95 U.S.