Born and raised in Louisiana, the son of a slaveholding sugar planter and a Confederate veteran, Edward Douglass White was an archetype of the "New South" political leader. The masters of the region's economic and social development from the 1880s until WORLD WAR I combined the interests of antebellum planters with those of northern and local capitalists eager to build railroads and tap the area's coal, iron, and timber. The South's new ruling class "redeemed" Dixie from the egalitarian schemes of Radical Republicans and carpetbaggers by supporting RUTHERFORD B. HAYES for President and accepting the national hegemony of the GOP's conservative wing. In return, these leaders of the "New South" received from the Republicans a promise to remove federal troops from the region, a free hand with respect to the Negro, and a junior partnership in the management of the nation's economic affairs. (See COMPROMISE OF 1877.)
While tending his family's plantation and building a prosperous legal practice in New Orleans, White became
a chief political confidant and ally of Governor Francis Nicholls, the leader of the state's conservative Democrats, who rewarded him with an appointment to the Louisiana Supreme Court and then a seat in the United States SENATE in 1891. While in Washington, the portly, florid, long-haired junior senator from Louisiana adopted a rigid STATES ' RIGHTS and laissez-faire posture on most issues. However, he fervently supported high duties on foreign sugar and lavish federal bounties to the planters in his home state. White led the Senate's successful revolt against President GROVER CLEVELAND'S efforts to lower the protective tariff in 1893. Nevertheless, the beleaguered head of the Democratic party nominated him to the Supreme Court a year later, following the death of SAMUEL BLATCHFORD and the Senate's rejection of two earlier nominees.
White took his seat as the junior member of the FULLER COURT at one of the important turning points in the history of the federal judiciary. The country seethed with unrest generated by the worst depression of the nineteenth century. Violent confrontations between workers and employers erupted on the nation's major railroads as well as in coal mines, steel mills, and other factories. Debt-ridden farmers formed the radical Populist Party, which demanded government control of the money supply and banking system and nationalization of the major trunk rail lines. Insurgent Democrats nominated the youthful William Jennings Bryan, who ran on a platform promising inflation of the money supply, higher taxes on the wealthy, and a curb on trusts and other monopolies. In this atmosphere of class strife and regional polarization, men of property and standing looked to the Supreme Court to defend the constitutional ark against dangerous innovations. Fuller and most of his colleagues were equal to the task of repelling the radical hordes.
Even before the economic collapse, a majority of the Justices had served warning that they would not tolerate legislative attacks on corporate property and profits. Legislative power to fix railroad rates, they warned, was not without limits; corporations were PERSONS, entitled to the judicial protection of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT ' SDUE PROCESS clause; and no rate imposed by legislative fiat could be deemed "reasonable" without final judicial review. Then, in a series of cases that reached the Court together during the depths of the depression in 1895, the Justices quashed federal efforts to prosecute the sugar trust under the SHERMAN ANTITRUST ACT in UNITED STATES V. E. C. KNIGHT CO. (1895); upheld the contempt conviction of the labor leader Eugene V. Debs for his role in the Pullman boycott in IN RE DEBS (1895); and declared unconstitutional the first federal income tax levied since the Civil War in POLLACK V. FARMER ' S LOAN AND TRUST CO.
(1895). These three decisions displayed the FULLER COURT'S conservative colors and represented a major victory for big business, the wealthy, and the enemies of organized labor.
Like the majority of his brethren...