In 1924, American reformers seeking an end to the labor of children believed they were on the verge of a historic victory. For two decades, the National Child Labor Committee had pushed for federal regulation. Their successes—the 1916 Keating-Owen Act and the 1919 Child Labor Tax—had been encouraging but fleeting, as the US Supreme Court had ruled both unconstitutional. Now they sought a constitutional amendment to give the federal government the power to do what the court said it could not. Congress passed the amendment, which went to the states with broad, influential support. All three major presidential candidates endorsed it. Progressives pitied their opponents, a motley assortment of traditionalists. Some dismissed them as pawns of greedy manufacturers who had long fought to keep children at work. But these over-confident champions of reform would not get to celebrate. Their opponents racked up win after win against the amendment, from states...

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