Commonwealth vs. Hunt

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Commonwealth V. Hunt

United States 1842


Commonwealth v. Hunt was a significant 1842 Massachusetts court case that considered the right to exist of labor unions. Also at issue was whether such unions had the right to strike, especially for the purpose of establishing a closed shop. Some charged that such labor activities constituted an illegal conspiracy. In both instances the court ruled that not only were trade unions legal, but they had the right to strike for a closed shop. The court also reminded both labor and management that although unions were legal, so must their purposes be legal as well. This was a landmark case occurring in the earlier years of the Industrial Revolution when it appeared that workers might not have very many rights to protect their own interests.

Timeline•1823: U.S. President James Monroe establishes the Monroe Doctrine, whereby the United States warns European nations not to interfere in the political affairs of the Western Hemisphere. •1828: Election of Andrew Jackson as president begins a new era in American history. •1834: American inventor Cyrus H. McCormick patents his reaper, a horse-drawn machine for harvesting wheat. •1836: In Texas's war of independence with Mexico, the defenders of the Alamo, among them Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, are killed in a siege. Later that year, Texas wins the Battle of San Jacinto and secures its independence. •1838: The forcible removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) along the "Trail of Tears" begins. •1841: Act of Union joins Upper Canada and Lower Canada, which consist of parts of the present-day provinces of Ontario and Quebec, respectively. •1842: Scientific and technological advances include the development of ether and artificial fertilizer; the identification of the Doppler effect (by Austrian physicist Christian Johann Doppler); the foundation of biochemistry as a discipline; and the coining of the word dinosaur. •1842: In Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, British reformer Edwin Chadwick draws attention to the squalor in the nation's mill town slums and shows that working people have a much higher incidence of disease than do the middle and upper classes. •1842: British forces in the Afghan capital of Kabul are routed, experiencing one of the first major defeats of a Europe an force by a non-European one in modern times. •1844: "Fifty-four-forty or fight" is the rallying cry at the Democratic National Convention, where delegates call fortion of Texas. •1848: Mexican War ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico gives up half of its land area, in cluding Texas, California, most of Arizona and New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. In another treaty, with Great Britain, the United States sets the boundaries of its Oregon Territory. •1852: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, though far from a literary masterpiece, is a great commercial success, with over half a million sales on both sides of the Atlantic. More important, it has an enormous influence on British sentiments with regard to slavery and the brewing American conflict between North and South.

Event and Its Context

The impact of the Industrial Revolution includes the advent and increased use of machines that allowed business owners to produce more goods at lower costs. The expansion of machine use was accompanied by the growth of the "outsourcing" system. This was a process by which a skilled craft, such as shoemaking, would be reduced from that of a master shoemaker creating his product to that of dividing the process up into a series of "unskilled" tasks. For example, instead of employing a number of master and journeymen workers, an employer would hire unskilled labor to each perform one aspect of the manufacturing process. This system allowed employers to avoid paying skilled wages because the work was broken up and distributed among those who...
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