Analyzing the Delegate Voting at the Constitutional Convention to Predict the Votes of Missing Delegates and Identify Floor Medians

November 6th, 2011


We estimate a single dimensional position for delegates at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, then explain these positions using a variety of delegate and constituent variables in a double-censored heteroskedastic Tobit model. We find that the underlying dimension of voting is not defined primarily by state factors, as often viewed. Instead, it is explained by nationalistic tendencies with covariates that include the type of political experience (judicial, executive, or legislative), ownership of slaves and private bank securities, and how much a delegate’s state complied with federal requisitions. The results raise questions about principle-agent relationships in the creation of the Constitution. As an ancillary result, we predict the position of missing delegates and identify potential state and floor medians.

From the paper:

Our regressions reveal that the relative positions of the delegates are explained primarily by whether or not they were anti–Federalists, the number of years they served in the legislative, judicial, and executive service, if they owned slaves or private securities, and the extent to which their state complied with federal requisitions during the confederation. A less robust effect stems from the region of the country from which a delegate resides. Some insignificant factors include whether a delegate held public securities and the population of his state. These results help show the important effects of a strong central government, political experience, and commitments made by a delegate’s state on their voting behavior. Their personal interests in the new sets of institutions, as measured by slave and private security ownership, also appear to have affected their voting positions.

We find that median delegates from Georgia and South Carolina were typically pivotal, with the particular median state determined by whether or not New York or New Hampshire attended. Because the medians of Georgia and South Carolina are estimated to have held similar positions, the distinction between these two positions may have had little effect on the final form of the Constitution. Thus, despite the very different positions held by the median delegates from New York and New Hampshire, the departure of the New York delegates and later arrival of the New Hampshire delegates would have a smaller effect than many scholars might presume.