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Constitutional Principle, Partisan Calculation, and the Beveridge Child Labor Bill


Following the 1906 midterm elections, Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge was excited to return to Washington to introduce a bill that would prohibit child labor in the nation's factories, mines, and mills. He hoped the bill would curtail the unpopular practice and help rebrand his Republican Party as the nation's progressive party. The Party's old guard, however, proved uncooperative. Recognizing the unpopularity of child labor, they fought the bill on constitutional grounds and challenged Beveridge with a parade of horribles. If Congress could constitutionally regulate child labor, they asked, could it not also regulate the hours or wages of adults? Could it not prevent a man from joining a labor union? Or require it? One would have expected Beveridge—who opposed such regulations—to blunt that criticism with some legal distinction. Instead, he embraced it. Would Beveridge go so far as to claim that Congress could prohibit the interstate shipment of cotton picked by children, asked one Senator. “Yes,” Beveridge retorted, “or [by] a redheaded girl.”

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Robert Harrison , Congress, Progressive Reform, and the New American State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Albert J. Beveridge , “Child Labor and the Nation,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 29 (1907): 115–24

John Gerring , Party Ideologies in America, 1828–1996 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 57124

Richard Franklin Bensel , The Political Economy of American Industrialization, 1877–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Everett V. Abbot , “The Police Power and the Right to Compensation,” Harvard Law Review 3 (1889): 189205

Philander C. Knox , “The Development of the Federal Power to Regulate Commerce,” Yale Law Journal 17 (1908): 148

The Unconstitutionality of the Erdmann Act of 1898,” Yale Law Journal 17 (1908): 614–16

Andrew Alexander Bruce , “The Beveridge Child Labor Law and the United States as Parens Patriae,” Michigan Law Review 5 (1907): 627–38

Martin J. Sklar , The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890–1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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