This chapter considers what drives differences in political and legal institutions across countries, narrowing the focus to the evolution of legislatures and courts in the American states. The American states have relatively diverse geographic and colonial initial conditions, well-documented historical experiences, and rich data on politics and courts going back to the 1860s, making it ideal for the study methods this chapter introduces. Hence, to document how and why geography and other historical factors have had a persistent influence on political and legal institutions, this chapter plots out the structure of an argument to be used in the remainder of this volume, and argues that initial conditions played early and enduring roles in shaping political and legal institutions in the American states.
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