From National Affairs George Will writes The Limits of Majority Rule. It is an excellent summary of the history of the court as it has moved from judicial review to activism. The success of Progressivism has hinged on the court shifting from upholding constitutional restraints on majority rule to an activist approach to uphold the majoritarianism- what many would call democracy- of Congress.
The Missouri Compromise had been the work of Henry Clay, whom Lincoln, in the first of his seven 1858 debates with Senator Douglas, called “my beau-ideal of a statesman.” The Compromise somewhat defused the slavery issue and sectional animosity for three decades. It did so by forbidding slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of a line that included the Kansas and Nebraska territories. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced by Senator Douglas, empowered the residents of those two territories to decide whether or not to permit slavery there.
The Act’s premise was that the distilled essence of the American project is democracy. And that the distilled essence of democracy is majority rule. And that, therefore, it was right that there should be popular sovereignty in the territories regarding the great matter of slavery. People should have the right to vote it up or vote it down.
Lincoln disagreed. He responded to the Act with a controlled, canny, patient, but implacable vehemence. So, the most morally luminous career in the history of American democracy took its bearings from the principle that there is more to America’s purpose, more to justice, than majorities having their way.
The Progressive Era can be summarized as the point in our history where democracy became more important than liberty. The Founders and Framers clearly valued Liberty much more.