The history of a Washington, D.C., residence that served as a crucible for liberal ideas and strategies.
In 1912, a row house in DuPont Circle was dubbed the “House of Truth” by its original residents: labor relations expert Robert G. Valentine and lawyers Winfred Denison, Loring Christie, and Felix Frankfurter. Through the years, many others made their home there: among them, outspoken journalist Walter Lippmann, one of the founders of the New Republic; and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis, both of whom served on the Supreme Court. Lippmann, Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter dominate Snyder’s (Law/Univ. of Wisconsin; A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports, 2006, etc.) richly detailed history of progressivism, which ends with Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and Holmes’ death in 1935. Drawing on a wealth of manuscript sources, the author traces the evolving alliances and views of his four passionate and influential protagonists. Except for Holmes, all believed “that government recognition of organized labor would create an industrial democracy.” Except for Holmes, they were Jewish, with varying connections to their heritages and responses to anti-Semitism, which was rampant in government, at Harvard, where Frankfurter taught, and a growing threat in Europe. Brandeis was a leader in American Zionism; Lippmann described Hitler as “the authentic voice of a civilized people.” Although Snyder depicts Holmes with warm admiration, the jurist emerges as a Victorian mired in the 19th century. Brandeis gently urged Holmes to read about “the pressing issues of the day,” but Holmes, Snyder writes, “loathed” facts. The author provides details of liberals’ involvement with each presidential aspirant and winner; with the Paris Peace Conference; with the notorious trial and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, and many other social and political causes. At times, the sheer amount of information overwhelms the narrative, more appropriate for a reference source than a lively group biography. Nevertheless, the author’s focus on the significance of the Supreme Court makes the book unusually timely.
An accomplished, authoritative history of American liberalism.