Child Labour During the Progressive Era Essay

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In 1896, Westell Willoughby stated, “There are in the individual no so-called innate or ‘natural rights,’ that is, such rights as exist independently of the State and beyond its control. In so far as the individual has claims upon his fellows to a non-interference upon their part with the free exercise of certain outward acts, such claims have no legal force except as recognized and enforced by the political power.” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, page 29). In this excerpt, Willoughby is discussing the state as a whole and not the union of the state. This idea had a lot to do with the justification of “police power” exercised by States. He believed without government regulation, society would crumble. Unlike Cooley and Tiedeman, who advocated for individual rights to protect companies from the government, Willoughby argued that the government and people of the state could act synonymously, stating 'The creation of a State and a People are necessarily synchronous.' (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, page 29). Through his preaching and reforms, Willoughby influenced the Progressive reformers, impacting how cases were ruled and how states governed. Willoughby’s main idea was politically organizing people to benefit the whole. Although Tiedeman and Willoughby had different ideas on how involved a government should be, they both were huge influences throughout the Progressive Era.

Although Willoughby’s thinking influenced future reforms, in the 1890s to early 1900s the concept of Laissez-faire was still prominent at this time. This notion prompted the separation of the individual from the state. A prime example of this is the Allegeyer vs. Louisiana (1897) case. In 1894, Louisana passed an act known as Act No. 66 which stated, 'An act to prevent persons, corporations or firms from dealing with marine insurance companies that have not complied with law.' (Mckinney and Garland, The American and English Annotated Cases, pg. 336). This law prevented out-of-state insurance companies from conducting business in the state of Louisiana without having at least one agent and physical infrastructure in the state. Allgeyer and his company violated this clause by purchasing insurance from a company in New York. Louisiana claimed that Allgeyer broke state laws, while Allgeyer & Company protested that the act was unconstitutional and deprived them of their property without due process. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Allgeyer & Company with Mr. Justice Peckham stating, 'As so construed we think the statute is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment [...] in that it deprives the defendants of their liberty without due process.' (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, pg. 31). This case ruling had a huge impact on the separation of the individual from the state. Louisiana attempted to exercise its police power by 'protecting' its citizens from fraudulent insurance companies, yet was unsuccessful because of the violation of a person's constitutional rights. This took a step back from what Willoughby was preaching and separated the idea that the State has immense power over the individual.

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With the Progressive Era taking place around the 1890s - 1920s, the country saw “the rise of myriad campaigns to address the extreme imbalance in wealth and political power that had developed over the last decades of the nineteenth century.” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, pg. 50). The Progressives had a heavy focus on improving working conditions, sanitary housing, and child labor in factories. They wanted to use the government's governing power to accomplish these acts. With the influence of Willoughby, one case that stands out is Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905). In February of 1902, the Massachusetts Board of Health adopted the regulation stating, “Whereas smallpox has been prevalent to some extent in the city of Cambridge [.....] the public health and safety require the vaccination or revaccination of all the inhabitants of Cambridge; [...] that all the inhabitants of the city who have not been successfully vaccinated since March 1, 1897, be vaccinated or revaccinated.' (Hunter, The Law of Emergencies: Public Health and Disaster Management, page 225). Massachusetts drew on its’ police power by empowering “local health officials to mandate that citizens be vaccinated against smallpox during outbreaks of this dreaded disease.” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, page 59). The plaintiff, Jacobson, refused to submit his vaccination because he believed that a previous vaccination had made him sick. He argued that under the 14th Amendment, he had the right to choose what went into his body. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts, claiming that the state acted legitimately in using its’ police power for the safety and health of its citizens. The importance of this case is how the Court ruled in favor of the state. With Willoughby’s influence during this Progressive Era, the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts demonstrates, “There are in the individual no so-called innate or ‘natural rights” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, page 29). Since the state is acting on behalf of the public as a whole to protect its citizens, the rights of the individual are lost. As Mr. Justice Harlan explains in his delivery of the Court’s opinion, “But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person […] wholly freed from restraint. (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, pg. 60). Willoughby influenced the court’s decision with the notion that the State could govern its police power so as long as they were acting on behalf of the whole.

On October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed throwing the US into the Great Depression. During this time, President Hoover pushed for US banks and companies to act to lift the overall economy of the state rather than act on self-interest. By 1932, the Great Depression had gotten worse and a new president by the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. He attacked the economic deficiencies with a program known as the New Deal. The New Deal was a program designed to “use the power of the federal government to actively intervene in the economy in an unprecedented way.” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, pg. 107). One of the cases during this time was Schechter v. United States (1935). In 1933, Congress set up a new agency, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which focused on regulating work conditions, fixed hours, and wages, as well as abolishing child labor. In Schechter v. United States, the Schecter brothers were caught breaking the Live Poultry Codes set by the NRA. The brothers argued that Congress had too much power over instate commerce and it was unconstitutional. The Court ended up ruling in favor of the Schechter brothers, claiming that Congress violated the constitutional separation of powers. Mr. Chief Justice Hughes in delivering the opinion of the court stated, “It is not the province of the Court to consider the economic advantages or disadvantages [...] the Federal Constitution does not provide for it.” (Waldrep and Curry, The Constitution and the Nation: The Regulatory State, pg. 116). This case has a huge significance to Willoughby’s idea of using the government to regulate and act on behalf of the whole. President Roosevelt used his ideas and tried to implement regulations and codes to govern during the 1930s. What’s interesting is that the Court ruled against Congress’s involvement and use of police power to regulate and sanction certain things. Although there was a strong push for government involvement, the court ruled in favor of the individual and took more of Tiedeman and Cooley’s laissez-faire approach.

Overall, Westell Willoughby had a huge influence on the Progressive Era and had a lot to do with how the New Deal came about. Through his practices, he stated that we as humans do not have “innate or natural rights” and those businesses could act and benefit as a whole. Unlike Tiedeman, who advocated for more of a laissez-faire approach, where separating the individual from the whole, to protect private investments from government regulations. Willoughby’s biggest influence can be seen in the Progressive Era and during the time of the New Deal. President Roosevelt followed a guideline and acted on the influence of Willoughby’s ideas. Through Willoughby’s approach, we see less of a focus on the individual and more of an emphasis on using the people to galvanize government involvement for the betterment of the public. Nevertheless, both gentlemen had a huge influence on how court decisions ruled, ideas on governing, and government involvement and regulations.

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Child Labour During the Progressive Era Essay. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/child-labour-during-the-progressive-era-essay/
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Child Labour During the Progressive Era Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2024 Feb 09 [cited 2024 Jun 22]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/child-labour-during-the-progressive-era-essay/
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