Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gerard Magliocca's "The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan"

Gerard N. Magliocca is professor of law, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan: Constitutional Law and the Politics of Backlash, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan talks about the 1896 presidential campaign between Bryan and William McKinley and asks why Bryan lost. This is important to the book because my argument is that Bryan’s defeat transformed constitutional law during the 1890s. The fear of what he and his Populist allies wanted to do triggered a massive backlash that lasted for decades and gave us many familiar legal ideas. For example, this was the period that racial segregation and Jim Crow became entrenched in the South, largely in response to the efforts of Southern Populists to build a multiracial coalition of the poor. The 1890s also marked the development of the “liberty of contract” by the Supreme Court, which lasted until the 1930s and gave stronger protection to property and contract rights as a shield against the redistributive policies of the Populists. And it was the era where the Commerce Clause became the provision that lawyers focus on with respect to broad exercises of congressional power, as is still true now in the litigation challenging the constitutionality of the health care statute enacted last year. Unfortunately, though, there are no pictures on page 99. They are sprinkled throughout the rest of the book.

Here’s the key paragraph from that page:
The most important question about the 1896 election, at least for the purposes of this book, is, Why did the Populists lose? In every other generational contest, the rebels overwhelmed the old guard and implemented their program after winning a climactic election or series of elections. The Populist movement is the only exception, and its failure requires an explanation. And the only way to assess what went wrong is by looking closely at how Bryan was chosen as the Populist and Democratic nominee for president.
Learn more about The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue