The Evolution of American Legislatures

Colonies, Territories, and States, 1619-2009
Peverill Squire
Squire offers a comprehensive history of legislatures, core institutions in American political development


The institutional development of American legislatures, beginning with the first colonial assembly of 1619, has been marked by continuity as well as change. Peverill Squire draws upon a wealth of primary sources to document this institutional history. Beginning with the ways in which colonial assemblies followed the precedents of British institutions, Squire traces the fundamental ways they evolved to become distinct. He next charts the formation of the first state legislatures and the Constitutional Congress, describes the creation of territorial and new state legislatures, and examines the institutionalization of state legislatures in the nineteenth century and their professionalization since 1900.

With his conclusion, Squire discusses the historical trajectory of American legislatures and suggests how they might further develop over the coming decades. While Squire's approach will appeal to historians, his focus on the evolution of rules, procedures, and standing committee systems, as well as member salaries, legislative sessions, staff, and facilities, will be valuable to political scientists and legislative scholars.

"This work fills a big gap in the scholarship of American government. . . . It is a real, and most probably, lasting contribution to our understanding of American government."
—Jon C. Teaford, Purdue University

"By far the finest history of state legislatures that we have in the political history literature."
—Jeffery A. Jenkins, University of Virginia

"The sweep of Squire's narrative covering not only our modern 51 American legislatures but an approximately equal number of colonial, confederal, territorial, and even the most arcane provisional legislatures is remarkable. There is no other comparable scholarly work that looks at institutional change in American legislatures on such a grand scale. It is impressive in both its broad brush strokes and its convincing detail."
—Karl Kurtz, National Conference of State Legislatures

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

Praise / Awards

  • "The Evolution of American Legislatures is a sweeping, fine-grained history of state legislative institutions. The book chronicles the beginnings of every state legislature in the United States, and examines theirmembership, leadership, rules, committee systems, salary structures, frequency of sessions, and staffing. This is a synthesis of the highest order."
    Journal of American History
  • "Research on legislatures typically has been more concerned with national than sub-national assemblies. This book shows that study of subordinate assemblies can also contribute to our knowledge of institutional evolution."
    Journal of Legislative Studies
  • "This is a well-researched and carefully documented addition to the field of legislative studies, but just as important, Squire’s book is highly readable and filled with great stories of legislative life and lore."
    —APSA Legislative Studies Section
  • "Historians, political scientists and serious legislative junkies will love this book. ... There is no other comparable scholarly work that looks at institutional change in American legislatures on such a grand scale. It is impressive in both its broad brush strokes and its convincing detail."
    —Karl Kurtz, The Thicket at State Legislatures
  • "The Evolution of American Legislatures is a gem. ... This daunting project is more in line with grand historical narratives rather than the far more narrowly tailored analysis found in much of the political science literature."
    --Jeremy B. Johnson

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 450pp.
  • 5 figures, 32 tables, 6 boxes.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11831-1

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  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03583-0

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  • $41.95 U.S.

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  • American Legislatures, U.S. Congress, Colonial Assemblies, State Legislatures, Rules, Procedures, Standing Committee Systems, Constitutional Congress, Congressional History