Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1457802
 


 



The First Child Labor Bill and the Politics of Federalism in the Lochner Era


Logan Everett Sawyer III


University of Georgia Law School

August 19, 2009


Abstract:     
By examining the defeat of the first federal child labor bill in 1907, the attached article challenges the long-standing explanation for the failure of federal child labor reform in the Lochner Era as well as the reductionist understanding of the relationship between law and politics it supports. That traditional explanation, often associated with Hammer v. Dagenhart, attributes the failure of federal child labor reform to the Supreme Court’s federalism doctrines and portrays those doctrines as crude camouflage for a desire to protect business interests.

This paper, in contrast, argues that the Republicans who controlled Congress did not reject the bill because they were simple shills for manufacturing interests or because they were laissez-faire ideologues. In fact, the same Republican controlled Congress that rejected the first child labor bill also passed some of the most important regulatory legislation of the Progressive Era. They rejected the bill because they feared the constitutional argument used to support it would destroy the coalition of labor and capital that was crucial to their political success, a conclusion they reached because they properly understood a surprising relationship between antitrust enforcement, liberty of contract, and commerce clause doctrine.

This paper thus provides a clear example of how politicians use constitutional arguments in their constant quest for political advantage. But it also emphasizes how politicians can be constrained by the same political and legal structures that empower them.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

Keywords: legal history, federalism, freedom of contract, commerce clause, Progressive Era, political parties

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Date posted: August 19, 2009 ; Last revised: October 26, 2009

Suggested Citation

Sawyer, Logan Everett, The First Child Labor Bill and the Politics of Federalism in the Lochner Era (August 19, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1457802 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1457802

Contact Information

Logan Everett Sawyer III (Contact Author)
University of Georgia Law School ( email )
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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