Federalism and Reform: Party Politics and Constitutional Argument in the Progressive Era Fight for Federal Child Labor Reform

Sawyer III, Logan Everett, Department of History, University of Virginia
McCurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines how constitutional argument and party politics shaped the fight for federal child labor legislation between 1907 and 1916. It reveals how powerful lawyer-politicians fought to redefine the reach of federal authority but were constrained by the limits of legitimate legal practice and the structure of partisan competition. The course of the Progressive Era contest over federal child labor legislation was not determined by law or politics alone, but by the convergence of legal opportunities and political imperatives. Albert Beveridge, a progressive Republican Senator, first proposed using federal power to regulate child labor in 1907. He believed it was good politics and good policy, but he also believed it was a legitimate exercise of Congress's constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce because of how he interpreted the Supreme Court's 1903 decision in Champion v. Ames. That case, he believed, had established that Congress had a "federal police power" it could use to prohibit the interstate shipment of goods produced by children. Beveridge's bill, however, failed because other leading politicians were unwilling to adopt his Progressive Nationalist vision of the federal commerce power. Many, led by lawyer and Democratic Senator Joseph Bailey, adopted a conservative vision of federal power I call Classical Dual Federalism. But most adopted a moderate vision I call Progressive Dual Federalism that was largely constructed by Republican Senator Philander Knox. Those alternative visions either rejected or limited the implications of Champion v. Ames and therefore could not justify federal child labor regulation. But they better supported the existing interests of both political parties. Two developments permitted the passage of child labor regulation in 1916. First, the Democratic Party sought to win the 1916 Presidential election by embracing 4 a broader role for the federal government in achieving social and economic justice, even though it could have threatened Jim Crow. Second, the Supreme Court's adopted the "rule of reason" interpretation of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1911. That new doctrine generated Republican support by making it possible to constitutionally differentiate the federal regulation of child labor from general federal labor legislation for adults.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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