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

Originally posted at SSRN.

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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.”