Cover image for The Pullman case : the clash of labor and capital in industrial America
The Pullman case : the clash of labor and capital in industrial America
Papke, David Ray, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 118 pages ; 23 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF223.D435 P37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When the American Railway Union went on strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1894, it set into motion a chain of events whose repercussions are still felt today. The strike pitted America's largest industrial union against twenty-four railroads, paralyzed rail traffic in half the country, and in the end was broken up by federal troops and suppressed by the courts, with union leader Eugene Debs incarcerated. But behind the Pullman case lay a conflict of ideologies at a watershed time in our nation's history.

David Ray Papke reexamines the events and personalities surrounding the 1894 strike, related proceedings in the Chicago trial courts, and the 1895 Supreme Court decision, In re Debs, which set important standards for labor injunctions. He shows how the Court, by upholding Debs's contempt citation, dealt fatal blows to broad-based unionism in the nation's most important industry and to any hope for a more evenhanded form of judicial involvement in labor disputes-thus setting the stage for labor law in decades to come.

The Pullman case was a defining moment in the often violent confrontation between capital and labor. It matched wealthy industrialist George Pullman against Debs and gave a stage to Debs's fledgling attorney Clarence Darrow. Throughout the trial, capital and labor tried to convince the public of the justice of their cause: Debs decrying the company's treatment of workers and Pullman raising fears of radical unionists. Papke provides an analytically concise and highly readable account of these proceedings, offering insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the law at the peak of industrial capitalism, showcasing Debs's passionate commitment to workers' rights, and providing a window on America during a period of rapid industrialization and social transformation.

Papke shows that the law was far from neutral in defending corporate interests and suggests what the Pullman case, by raising questions about both the legitimacy of giant corporations and the revolutionary style of industrial unions, can teach us about law and legal institutions in our own time. His book captures the passions of industrial America and tells an important story at the intersection of legal and cultural history.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This thin, eminently readable volume is the latest in the series "Landmark Law Cases and American Society," e.g., Paul Kens, Lochner v. New York (CH, Jun'99)). It tells the intriguing story of the 1894 Pullman strike, one of the most bitter strikes in US history, the first to elicit Supreme Court sanctioning of a labor injunction. This study joins works such as William Forbath's Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (CH, May'92) and Victoria Hattam's Labor Visions and the State (1993) in exploring the role of the courts in determining the course of labor politics. Although Papke (Indiana University/ Purdue University) reiterates the conflict of interests of federal officials and judges, he concludes that their biases resulted more from their social backgrounds and shared class perspective. The author narrates the events of the strike and the struggles of the major figures involved and adds an elucidating discussion on the significance of the case for the development of American labor law. Scholars might want a fuller theoretical analysis of law's interrelations with society and might be aggravated by the substitution of a bibliographic essay for footnotes and references. But the brief explanations of various aspects of the legal system constitute a user-friendly entree into labor law. All levels. A. B. Cochran; Agnes Scott College