The Application of Due Process After 1890
THE LIBERAL BATTLE within the judiciary had been lost. In the Supreme Court, powerful vested interests found "a bulwark of defense against the subtle and skillful manipulation of democratic processes to achieve unsanctioned theories." Just as political democracy was coming into its own, the Supreme Court, equating the laissez-faire dogma with the Constitution, safeguarded industrial might against the force of "mere numbers, whether organized in trade unions or in legislative assemblies." In 1893, as if to demonstrate that he had thoroughly learned the lesson that the American Bar Association had tried to teach, Mr. Justice Henry Billings Brown, of the United States Supreme Court, interrupted his judicial labors to discuss "The Distribution of Property":
While enthusiasts may picture to us an ideal state of society where neither riches nor poverty shall exist, wherein all shall be comfortably housed and clad, and what are called the useless luxuries of life are unknown, such a utopia is utterly inconsistent with human character as at present constituted; and it is at least doubtful whether upon the whole it would conduce as much to the general happiness and contentment of the community which excites the emulation and stimulates the energies, even if it also awakens the envy, of the less prosperous. Rich men are essential even to the well-being of the poor. . . . One has but to consider for a moment the immediate consequence of the abolition of large private fortunes to appreciate the danger which lurks in any radical disturbance of the present social system.
Private property, Justice Brown said, is a mark of civilization, and the pecuniary motive has always been the goal of social progress:
It is the desire to earn money which lies at the bottom of the greatest efforts of genius. The man who writes books, paints pictures, moulds statues, builds houses, pleads causes, preaches sermons, or heals the sick, does it for the money there is in it. . . . The motive which prompted Angelo [sic] to plan the Dome of St. Peter or paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel was essentially the same as that which induces a common laborer to lav brick or dig sewers.