front cover of The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution
The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution
John W. Compton
Harvard University Press, 2014

The New Deal is often said to represent a sea change in American constitutional history, overturning a century of precedent to permit an expanded federal government, increased regulation of the economy, and eroded property protections. John Compton offers a surprising revision of this familiar narrative, showing that nineteenth-century evangelical Protestants, not New Deal reformers, paved the way for the most important constitutional developments of the twentieth century.

Following the great religious revivals of the early 1800s, American evangelicals embarked on a crusade to eradicate immorality from national life by destroying the property that made it possible. Their cause represented a direct challenge to founding-era legal protections of sinful practices such as slavery, lottery gambling, and buying and selling liquor. Although evangelicals urged the judiciary to bend the rules of constitutional adjudication on behalf of moral reform, antebellum judges usually resisted their overtures. But after the Civil War, American jurists increasingly acquiesced in the destruction of property on moral grounds.

In the early twentieth century, Oliver Wendell Holmes and other critics of laissez-faire constitutionalism used the judiciary’s acceptance of evangelical moral values to demonstrate that conceptions of property rights and federalism were fluid, socially constructed, and subject to modification by democratic majorities. The result was a progressive constitutional regime—rooted in evangelical Protestantism—that would hold sway for the rest of the twentieth century.


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Experimentalist Constitutions
Subnational Policy Innovations in China, India, and the United States
Yueduan Wang
Harvard University Press
One of the most commonly cited virtues of American federalism is its “laboratories of democracy”—the notion that decentralization and political competition encourage states to become testing grounds for novel social policies and ideas. In Experimentalist Constitutions, the first book that systematically compares subnational experimentalism in different countries, Yueduan Wang argues that the idea of federal laboratories is not exclusive to the American system; instead, similar concepts can be applied to constitutions with different center-local structures and levels of political competition. Using case studies from China, India, and the United States, the book illustrates that these vastly different polities have instituted their own mechanisms of subnational experimentalism based on the interactions between each country’s constitutional system and partisan/factional dynamics. In this study, Wang compares and contrasts these three versions of policy laboratories and comments on their pros and cons, thus contributing to the discussion of these great powers’ competing models of development.

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