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 10
The Demise of the Labor
Conspiracy Doctrine

The general rule of the common law is, that it is a crimi-
nal and indictable offence, for two or more to confeder-
ate and combine together, by concerted means, to do that
which is unlawful or criminal, to the injury of the public.
… This rule of law may be equally in force as a rule of
the common law, in England and in this Commonwealth;
and yet it must depend upon the local laws of each coun-
try to determine, whether the purpose to be accom-
plished … be unlawful or criminal in the respective
countries.

—Lemuel Shaw, Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842)

Associations had such economic and political prominence in the Jacksonian period that the law sought to endorse them, while also providing a framework that established boundaries between legitimate and unlawful or legally actionable conduct. The Revolutionary-era view of private corporations, political parties, and self-constituted societies as threats to the community seemed increasingly out of place. Americans depended on organized individual and group action as the most effective means for getting

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