The Unfolding of American Labor Law: Judges, Workers, and Public Policy across Two Political Generations, 1790-1850

By Jeffrey Steven Kahana | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Regulating the Employment
Relationship

Contracts are sacred things. The man that doth not feel
himself bound by them, is totally incapacitated for polit-
ical intercourse with mankind…. One great end of civil
government, in this apostate world, is to compel men to
keep their contracts. Should the laws of a realm allow
subjects to break their contracts at pleasure, the very
constitution would contain the spirit of anarchy.

—Nathaniel Niles, Two Discourses on Liberty
(1774)

In the early republic, both workers and employers turned to the law to resolve disputes. While resorting to the law was not new, there was a growing sense that social boundaries were changing. In American Jurisprudence (1815), Richard Rush reported that the “active and restless spirit of freedom and the comfortable condition of all classes … encourages and provokes the disposition to go to law by supplying it almost universally with the means. We have honest blacksmiths suing banks for false imprisonment, and street cleaners fine gentleman for assaults and batteries as the common occurrences of our courts.”1

1 Richard Rush, American Jurisprudence, Written and Published at Wash-

-49-

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