What determines the extension of the franchise to the poor? This paper studies the 19th century development of parliamentary institutions in the 17 British Caribbean slave colonies. After abolition, freed slaves began to obtain the franchise as smallholders. I document that the elite’s response was a series of constitutional changes in which local parliaments voted to restrict their own powers or abolish themselves altogether in favor of direct colonial rule. This “defensive franchise contraction” happened later or not at all where the franchise expanded less and political turnover remained lower, suggesting it was aimed at excluding the new smallholder class from the political process. Against its stated aim, direct colonial rule led to increases in coercive expenditure and decreases in public good provision, suggesting it did not reduce planter elites’ insider access to the colonial administration. A new data-set on the identity of all elected and nominated politicians in the colonies from 1838 to 1900 confirms that planter interests continued to dominate the reformed legislatures under direct colonial rule.
Christian Dippel is a professor of Economics at UCLA. His research interests include political economy, international trade, development economics and economic history. His main research interests are the formation, persistence and change of organized interests and social divisions in society, their impact on policy choices and economic growth and the effect that international integration has on these equilibrium relations. In graduate school, Dippel’s research has garnered a number of graduate awards, including an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, the Marie Jane Hendrie Memorial Scholarship, the Albert Berry Prize of the Canadian Economics Association and the Tom Easterbrook Fellowship. Professor Dippel teaches the core Managerial Economics course at UCLA Anderson and in the past has taught graduate and undergraduate International Economics and International Trade at the University of Toronto.