Subject Area



The phrase “What is Old is New Again” is a timeless adage. Indeed, on a deeper level, this sentiment can relate to political issues and governmental problems. Questions about how involved the federal government, especially the judicial system and Supreme Court, should be in the lives of the public tend to repeat themselves. A close reading of today’s headlines about monopolistic power as it relates to technology and the rise of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple harkens back to similar issues and concerns at the turn of the nineteenth century as the United States moved from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era.

It is naïve to say that the problems the government and legal system faced over a century ago have been definitively resolved. The contemporary concerns regarding monopolistic power in the financial, retail, and technology industries are not new. Rather, today’s issues echo fear of the Standard Oil Trust and other industries controlled by robber barons during the Gilded Age. At the end of the nineteenth century, members of the Supreme Court shared the national stage with legislators, captains of industry, and labor leaders. As reformers pushed legislative remedies at both the state and federal level, the American judicial system was increasingly called upon to adjudicate the most pressing issues of the day. Then, as now, the courts found themselves as arbiters of compelling and transformative societal and legal issues. The makeup of the United States Supreme Court during the period 1888 to 1911, when Lochner, Muller, and Standard Oil were decided, changed significantly. While scholarly and thorough in their respective analyses, the work of Progressive Era historians arguably does not fully acknowledge the macro perspective in regard to how these themes relate to one another and the cyclical nature of these societal and legal issues. This thesis seeks to review and analyze these interdependent themes.


Providence College

Academic Year



Fall 2019