Property Rights and the Emergence of Standing Committee Dominance
in the Nineteenth-Century House
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIII:493-519

Between 1810 and 1825, the bill-referral process in the House of Representatives changed dramatically, from a system that channeled a majority of legislation through select committees to a system that was dominated almost exclusively by standing committees. At the heart of this change, I contend, were grants of new rights to both standing committees and individual committee members. To explain this dispensation of new rights, I follow a new institutionalist approach and use a political theory of property-right origination, developed by Riker and Sened (1991), as a theoretical guide. I find that all necessary and sufficient conditions for right emergence, in the form of new bill-referral powers and seat-assignment privileges, are met by the actual macro-level and micro-level events of the early nineteenth century. Specifically, the greater heterogeneity of the Jeffersonian coalition and the self-interested machinations of the House Speaker, Henry Clay, combined to produce an institutional change that served the needs of all major parties in the House.

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