by Karl Kurtz
...[T]he original state legislatures were the models for the Congress created by the Constitution. It is true that several of the most influenctial voices in the writing of the Constitution disparaged the existing state legislatures. Yet, in every elemental characteristic--number and name of houses and the relationship between them, the legislatures's ability to name its own leaders and adopt its own rules, and the power of the executive veto--the Congress under the Constitution closely resembled the original state legislatures. It bore no relationship at all to the Congress that existed under the Articles of Confederation, which was a unicameral chamber that fused legislative, executive and judicial powers, and granted each state, not each legislator, a vote....
This is a provocative paragraph from the introduction to University of Missouri Prof. Peverill Squire's new book, The Evolution of American Legislatures: Colonies, Territories, and States, 1619-2009. Squire goes on from this teaser to summarize two evolutionary lines of legislatures in the United States--one that was highly successful and adaptive and the other that was not--in this schematic drawing.
Evolutionary Line 1 encapsulates Squire's compelling case that the 13 colonial legislatures, themselves highly original institutions, shaped and influenced the Constitutional Congress and that these two models together evolved into the territorial legislatures and their successors, the state legislatures. Each of the boxes in this chart receives detailed analysis in Squire's book.
Historians, political scientists and serious legislative junkies will love this book. Drawing on mountains of obscure primary and secondary sources and a comprehensive review of secondary sources (the bibliography is 70 pages in length), it covers not only our modern 51 American legislatures but an approximately equal number of colonial, confederal, territorial, and even the most arcane provisional legislatures. 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.
This is primarily a scholarly work, but Chapter 7, "The Professionalizing of Legislatures Since 1900," should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the institutional characteristics of our state legislatures today.