Law and Politics: Occasional Papers of Felix Frankfurter, 1913-1938

By Archibald MacLeish; E. F. Prichard Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

The Eight-Hour Day

The following selection is part of a letter appearing in the Boston Herald for October 9, 1916. President Wilson, in response to a threatened strike, had recommended legislation to Congress establishing the basic eight-hour day for interstate railroad workers. The Adamson Act, passed shortly afterward, embodied the substance of President Wilson's recommendations.

NOWHERE is it possible to arouse feelings so deeply resentful or prejudiced as in the field of labor problems. Even men otherwise intelligent are apt to become unreasonable when confronted with the questions raised by trade unionism. The explanation is, of course, simple. We are dealing here not with premises or conclusions that are established beyond question, but with the fears and doubts of men. We have as yet no accepted test of right and wrong; and the scientific formulae which are to be the signposts of adequate opinion are as yet wanting. We have not even an adequate fund of experience. So that we are compelled to experiment. In the application of purposeful and probable hypotheses alone can there be the right to hope for knowledge.

What we need is the clarification of our assumptions. To everyone not imbued with a fatal optimism which arrests inquiry, this is simply essential. Anyone at all acquainted with the realities of modern industry, its grinding pressure and spiritual starvation, must feel that wherever the alleviation of its ugliness and injustice may be looked for, there must due search be made. The crucial fact of modern industry is its failure to use the creative qualities of men, its deadening monotony and its excessive fatigue. Nowhere, save in directive or professional work, is there the op

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