The Tragedy of William Jennings Bryan: Constitutional Law and the Politics of Backlash

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Although Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan lost the presidential elections of 1896, 1900, and 1908, he was the most influential political figure of his era. In this astutely argued book, Gerard Magliocca explores how Bryan's effort to reach the White House energized conservatives across the nation and caused a transformation in constitutional law. Responding negatively to the Populist agenda, the Supreme Court established a host of new constitutional principles during the 1890s. Many of them proved long-lasting and highly consequential, including the 'separate but equal' doctrine supporting racial segregation, the authorization of the use of force against striking workers, and the creation of the liberty of contract. The judicial backlash of the 1890s - the most powerful the United States has ever experienced - illustrates vividly the risks of seeking fundamental social change. Magliocca concludes by examining the lessons of the Populist experience for advocates of change in our own divisive times.