The Journal of Economic History


Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England

Douglass C. Northa1 and Barry R. Weingasta2

a1 Luce Professor of Law and Liberty, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130.

a2 Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.


The article studies the evolution of the constitutional arrangements in seventeenth-century England following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It focuses on the relationship between institutions and the behavior of the government and interprets the institutional changes on the basis of the goals of the winners—secure property rights, protection of their wealth, and the elimination of confiscatory government. We argue that the new institutions allowed the government to commit credibly to upholding property rights. Their success was remarkable, as the evidence from capital markets shows.