U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C., 1896 - Source: Wiki Commons
Bryan allies in Congress introduced two new pieces of legislation in early December of 1897. The first, known as the American Safeguards bill, was written mostly in response to President Cleveland's notorious treatment of the Pullman strikers (which had been denounced in the 1896 Democratic platform). The legislation flatly stated that federal courts could no longer issue injunctions against nonviolent workers. Initially, this bill included provisions banning anti-union 'yellow-dog contracts' as well as the utilization of private agencies to instigate labor violence, but these were stripped away in a conservatively-bent committee. Other than the most virulent Bourbons, Democrats accepted this bill and unified to defend it.
The Sulzer-Hepburn Bill, named for its co-authors, Representatives William 'Plain Bill' Sulzer (D-NY) and William P. Hepburn (R-IA), called for an expansion of the Interstate Commerce Commission in order to more stringently control the formation of trusts, curtail the consolidation of railroad systems, institute bookkeeping standards, and set maximum rail rates. Members of all three major political factions in Congress seemed to agree on the necessity to implement these regulatory measures. Now their actions needed to match their words.
Just prior to the opening of the second session of Congress on December 6th, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Johnson Field retired from the bench. Having reached the ripe old age of 80, the rather traditionalist Lincoln appointee decided to vacate his seat on the court and allow for President Bryan to name a successor. "Attorney General Gray," wrote Ackerman, "insisted Bryan conserve his political capital and present Congress with a middle-of-the-road nominee. Boies concurred, concerned with the fate of the trust-busting initiative. Even Rep. Bland wrote to the president, urging he deny any instinct to reshape the highest court. Bryan listened to their advice, but could not be swayed."
To Congress, Bryan floated a name they could not have anticipated: Joseph M. Carey. This individual, then retired, served from 1885 to 1895 as a Republican congressman from Wyoming. Prior to this, he was an associate justice to the Wyoming Territory Supreme Court. Carey was unlike most Republicans of his time, often disputing the mainstream party line on issues of federalism and social issues. In one instance, during the course of congressional debate pertaining to admitting Wyoming to statehood, Carey declared, "Wyoming would wait 100 years for statehood rather than join without women's suffrage." For lack of stronger terminology, the former senator could fairly be described a 'Progressive' before Progressivism.
The president believed that Carey was the perfect candidate, and the Wyomingite took Bryan up on his offer. Some Democrats fumed over what they saw as Bryan's incredulous betrayal of party allegiance. To them, the nomination of a Republican senator was indefensible. Bryan, nonetheless, worked to persuade his party, confiding in them his belief that Carey would further the goals outlined in the Chicago platform. Congressional Republicans, having long since deemed Bryan an inept fool, happily agreed to admit Carey to the bench. Within weeks, Congress near-unanimously approved of Bryan's pick and granted Joseph Carey permission to sit alongside new colleagues on the Fuller Court.
Speaker Reed, considering himself twice victorious in defeating President Bryan, thereafter allowed for the introduction and debate of the Sulzer-Hepburn and American Safeguards bills. The merits and Constitutionality of both measures were discussed at length by members of the House, with support for passage far exceeding that of the Coinage Restoration bill. Conservative Republicans objected to a stipulation in the injunction bill protecting the rights of workers to organize collectively, a conviction shared with the Bourbon minority. An amendment gutting the Safeguards legislation of the pro-union language passed with ease, 225 to 132. Bryan was discouraged by this news, but still sought to pass what he could.
The House passed both measures, in the end. Upon its arrival, the legislation found less resistance in the Senate, where the bulk of its members exhibited favor of passage. A handful of staunch conservatives did remain opposed to Sulzer-Hepburn on the grounds that regulating rates could disrupt the railroad industry. Others, like Senator Platt, remarked that the Supreme Court would simply strike down the anti-trust portions, as they recently managed to do with the Sherman Antitrust Act in United States v. E. C. Knight Co. To the latter charge, Senators Spooner and Cullom, proponents of the Interstate Commerce Act, retorted that the federal government had the power regulate monopolies, trusts and pools since it meant the protection of interstate commerce. The Senate did not alter either bill, passing both with few defections in early April.