Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


Professor John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

J50, K31, N31

Key Words

American Labor History, Bound Labor, Commonwealth v. Hunt, Labor Organization


This inquiry seeks to establish that early developments in America’s workforce helped to shape the national labor movement that emerged at the end of the 19th Century. The first section discusses the changing social, economic, and legal landscapes from the colonial era to the Industrial Revolution. The second section examines the history of concerted action amongst the free and bound working classes leading up to 1842, when the case Commonwealth v. Hunt established the previously contested per se legality of labor combinations. The final section discusses developments in labor organization during the decades following Hunt, in which, amidst internal divisions in the working class and threats from without, the national trade union structure rose to become the dominant organizational form.


© Lillian Garcia

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