Striking: Labor Unions’ Powerful New Weapon

by Alexander Huffman

April 4th, 1843

In Early October of the year 1840, a humble Bostonian bootmaker by the name of Jeremiah Horne began making boots without any compensation. He was a member of the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society, and his fellow bootmakers objected to his making1354682480.jpg boots for free, so conflict arose. Isaac Wait, Horne’s employer, compensated Mr. Horne to eliminate the conflict, though Horne continued to be at odds with the Society. Eventually, Horne’s Co-workers threatened to strike and Mr. Wait claimed there was no option save firing Mr. Horne.1

Why had this man been making boots for free? It is difficult to say, though he has been described as “not a steady workan… often left work undone,”2
so speculation could be made that Mr. Horne was attempting to make amends for his generally poor work ethic by going unpaid. A more transparent matter is that of Horne’s fellow bootmakers’ objection. Ever since President Jackson’s dissolving the Bank of the United States in 1836, economic turmoil has resulted in massive increases in the value of domestic goods.3 In the case of the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society, a series of strikes has enabled them to increase the pay for one pair of boots from $1.50 to $2.00 since 1835.4 Thankfully, standards for boots have also increased, as members of the society have reported a gentleman that could produce five pair of boots before 1836 would have to invest much effort to produce four pair a week by today’s standards.5 In any case, boots have been becoming a more valuable commodity in the past decade, a commodity controlled by the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society, therefore the society’s’ objection to this commodity’s being given away.

When asked of his thoughts on his employee so recently fired, Isaac Wait stated, “Indeed I admire Mr. Horne for his craft and his character, though he fails to understand the delicate nature of my arrangement with the [Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’] Society.”6 During his testimony, Mr. Wait went on to say the he “Did not feel at liberty to employ any but society men,” and “would not wish to lose five or six workmen for the sake of one.”7 Mr. Wait rightly wished to stay out of the conflict as much as possible.

After having accrued $7.00 in fines from his fellow bootmakers, primarily for “slandering the society,”8 Mr. Horne contacted his cousin Dennis Horne, an upstanding member of the society, who spoke before it’s leaders and informed them of the Horne’s intended lawsuit on the grounds of the society’s unlawful oppression of the nonconformist craftsman. The leaders of the Society, mostly Irishman, responded by demanding Dennis not attend future meetings. Certainly the society did not consider settling the dispute financially then, though Dennis insisted his cousin was only concerned with the pursuit of justice.9

Just last year, the case was put to rest in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw.10 The Horne’s had accused the society of criminal coercion in the form of “Absolute and overbearing compulsion” 55 and unlawful “oppression”11 of both Jeremiah Horne and Isaac Wait by forcing Wait’s hand by refusing to work.

Unfortunately for the Hornes, these accusations were dropped by Chief Justice Shaw on the grounds that since Jeremiah Horne had obtained a new employer almost immediately he had not been personally damaged by the incident, “except perhaps his feelings”12. One factor which certainly contributed the Hornes’ losing this case was Jeremiah’s inability to testify due to his atheism, something which he should have taken into account beflemuel-shawore going to court.13

Despite accusations of criminal coercion against them, Shaw agreed that the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers were “all good workmen”14and ruled that normal laws regarding criminal coercion did not apply to labor unions, which had the legal right to strike.14 This newfound massive power placed in labor unions has resulted in a massive growth in the amount of union laborers just this past year, and it can be assumed their quantity will continue to increase. This growing class of skilled workers with the power to legally strike thereby controlling their employers and resisting abuse will usher in new opportunities for the poor to make good money. Ultimately, Shaw has aided in closing the gap between the wealth of the general population and the elite few which so plagues our country today.


1. Nelles, Walter. Columbia Law Review. Vol. 32. Jstor, 2017.
2. Ibid.
3. The Library Company of Philadelphia. The First Bank of the United States: A Chapter in the History of National Banking. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2009.
4. Commons, John R. “American Shoemakers, 1648–1895 A Sketch of Industrial Evolution.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 24, no. 1 (1909): 39-84.
5. Nelles, Walter. Columbia Law Review. Vol. 32. Jstor, 2017.
6. Fictitious
7. Nelles, Walter. Columbia Law Review. Vol. 32. Jstor, 2017.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Levy, Leonard W. Lemuel Shaw: America’s “greatest magistrate”. Villanova, PA, 1962.
11. Nelles, Walter. Columbia Law Review. Vol. 32. Jstor, 2017.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Levy, Leonard W. Lemuel Shaw: America’s “greatest magistrate”. Villanova,

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