Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The United States Supreme Court during the period between 1860 and 1910 has been portrayed as the source of a laissez-faire style of constitutional interpretation under which the nation and the Court largely abdicated their obligation to protect society's common interests from the ideologically conservative influences of new and powerful economic interests.;Recent trends in legal/intellectual history have moderated this critical view and have begun to rehabilitate the Supreme Court's image by placing it in a more accurately drawn intellectual context. This approach reasserts the role of ideas in shaping the law and reduces that of economic determinism. This thesis extends that trend by examining the powerful influence of antebellum Moral Philosophy, particularly as it was presented in the antebellum Protestant colleges, upon legal theory and practice during the last third of the nineteenth century.;The thesis examines the philosophical public statements and legal opinions of a select group of justices appointed after 1862 who shared exposure to an antebellum college education, to the doctrines of American Protestant theology, and to varying levels of legal education. This examination avoids, as far as practically possible, adopting a legal typology of the subject and adopts instead the typology of nineteenth-century moral science, with a view to illustrating the relationship between American Protestant theology, academic Moral Philosophy, and legal theory. This approach provides a better understanding of late nineteenth-century judicial conservatism in its own terms of reference. It demonstrates that the acceptance by conservative jurists of voluntaristic, moral view of the individual, society, and the economy led them to conclusions concerning individual liberty and responsibility, race and the question of quality, and the role and function of government profoundly different from those of late nineteenth-century reformers. It demonstrates that judicial conservatism had less to do with belief in a gospel of wealth than an attempt to preserve a vision of man and society founded upon moral values.



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