Legislative Leader and "Institution"
T he revival of presidential leadership in legislation is one phase of the revival of legislation of national scope. Sir Henry Maine's assertion that "the energy of legislatures is the prime characteristic of modern societies" is now nearly a century old, but it is only within the last seventy years that the activities of Congress have brought it notable confirmation. The Reconstruction Era was marked by an outpouring of legislation volcanic in volume and violence as well as in the suddenness with which it came to an end. The succeeding period was dominated by the gospel of laissez faire, that government, except when it has favors to confer, had best refrain from meddling in the economic field -- doctrine reinforced for the national government by a rigidly conceptualistic constitutional law.
But gradually a new point of view emerged, the increasing influence of which appears especially in the history of congressional legislation touching interstate commerce. I quote from Professor Ribble's volume on State and National Power Over Commerce:
Before 1887 there were but few statutes of material importance regulating the conduct of the inland commerce of the United States. Such statutes as existed dealt chiefly with bridges, the improvement of rivers and harbors, and general admiralty regulations....
This record is in sharp contrast with Congressional activity in succeed-
The Notes to this chapter begin on p. 466.