The Elections of 1896, 1912, and 1924: Partisanship Redirected
A trio of cases decided in 1895 exemplified a quickening of judicial activism and symbolically cast the Supreme Court with the victorious Republican party in the election of 1896. Seemingly arrayed against Populists and then a refashioned Democratic party, the Court became identified institutionally as an agent of the forces of law and order, respectability, and economic wealth. These decisions, combined with later ones, placed court-curbing on the agenda of the reform movement called Progressivism in the elections of 1912 and 1924. It would be the first serious campaign against judicial review itself—as opposed to efforts to reverse particular decisions—in nearly a century. Progressivism fostered a climate of skepticism about the legitimacy of the judiciary’s role in democratic government that would have far-reaching effects. Together, 1896, 1912, and 1924 marked a watershed in campaign response to the Supreme Court. The context for this turmoil was the fourth party system, in which Republicans consolidated the gains which they had achieved in the third and secured an ascendancy in national politics that lasted, barely interrupted, until 1932.
As the previous chapter showed, the Republican party emerged from the Civil War with a firm grip on the White House and Congress. Not until 1874 did Democrats recapture control of the House of Representatives for a term, and not until the election of 1878 did they dominate both houses of Congress. The executive branch remained out of their hands entirely, except for Grover Cleveland’s bifurcated administration following the elections of 1884 nd 1892.
Republican dominance in national politics, however, did not assure