On June 27, 1894, William Howard Taft, a Judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, delivered the commencement address to the University of Michigan Law Department. His subject was "The Right of Private Property," which he argued was under siege by populists, certain labor leaders and, especially, "those who do manual labor for a living." He warned:
"Events are happening each day which make a thoughtful man fear that if the tendency, indicated by them, is to grow in popular weight and intensity, our boasted constitutional guaranties of property rights will not be worth the parchment upon which they were originally written."
In a carefully constructed speech, he argued that protections of private property led to its accumulation and use which benefits the workingman. "Everything which tends to legitimately increase the accumulation of wealth and its use for production will give each laborer a larger share of the joint result of capital and his labor."
He urged immediate action to combat attacks on those who have accumulated wealth, and counter proposals to weaken the guaranties of the rights of property. Though it takes time, educating laborers on how they benefit from the current economic system is an important step. In the meantime, the courts must preserve the rights of the minority---the rich---against assaults by the majority---the poor:
"How then can we stay the movement I have described against property rights? It is by telling and enforcing the truth that every laborer, and every man of moderate means has as much interest to preserve the inviolability of corporate property as he has that of his own. It is by defending modern civilization and the existing order against the assaults of raving fanatics, emotional and misdirected philanthropists, and blatant demagogues. It is by purifying politics from corruption. It is by calling to strict account our public men for utterances or conduct likely to encourage resentment against the guaranties of law, order and property and by insisting that equal and exact justice shall be done as well to a corporation as to an individual in legislative and executive action. . . . .
"In the days of old, the charter guarantees were given it was supposed, for the benefit of the poor and lowly against the oppressions of the rich and powerful. To-day it is the rich who seek the protection of the courts for the enforcement of those guaranties. The judges of federal and other courts are sworn to administer justice fairly between the rich and poor. When the oath was formulated it was doubtless feared that the temptation would be to favor the rich. To-day, if a judge would yield to the easy course, he would lean against the wealthy and favor the many. While this seems to be a change, it is not really so. The sovereign to-day is the people, or the majority of the people. The poor are the majority. The appeal of the rich to the constitution and courts for protection is still an appeal by the weak against the unjust aggressions of the strong."
Readers of Taft's address may ask themselves: does it exhibit the tenets of Social Darwinism?To this question, each must form her own conclusion.