Constitutional Regime Change
MGRABER at gvpt.umd.edu
Tue Mar 23 09:15:34 PST 2004
Seems to me that generalizing from Reconstruction about constitutional
regime change may be difficult. Consider at least three elements.
1. How powerful and committed are the forces that want regime change.
Seems to me that if Sandy and I set out to make the United States a
reform Jewish theocracy, we are likely to encounter lots of
difficulties, having little to do with reform change in general, and
lots to do with the relative powerlessness (and lack of commitment) of
our movement. So, with Reconstruction. Precise degree of northern
commitment is contestable, but most experts agree that many gave up the
fight rather early (and others never became wholeheartedly involved).
The 13th Amendment (surely a major regime change) stuck in a way the
14th didn't in large part because of greater northern commitment to the
2. How powerful and committed were the forces of opposition. As Tom
Ferguson points out in his essay in THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW DEAL
ORDER, one reason for the success of the New Deal (surely a regime
change) is that American business was in fact badly divided over
Roosevelt's initiatives with many in support. Reconstruction was a
tougher deal than the New Deal in large part because the existing white
power structure in the South was far more hostile to racial equality
than the existing power structure in American business was to the
3. How thick are the relevant institutions. Stephen Skowronek in his
book on the presidency asserts that regime change has become tougher
throughout American history as institutions have thickened. Jefferson,
he thinks, had it easy. Reagan, by comparison, was more limited.
Reconstruction was in-between. But remember, Reconstruction required an
historically weak federal government (both in terms of historic powers
and general understandings) to make dramatic changes in historically
stronger states. One reason why the federal government, once it got
serious, was better able to implement BROWN than the Fourteenth
Amendment (during Reconstruction) is in 1964 that federal government was
institutionally stronger than in 1868.
Well, Eugene, this had something to do with the constitution, though
perhaps not constitutional law!
Mark A. Graber
mgraber at gvpt.umd.edu
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