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Vol 21 No 9 Sept/Oct 2016

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Goode on Commercial Law

Edited by: Ewan McKendrick
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Master and Servant Law: Chartists, Trade Unions, Radical Lawyers and the Magistracy in England, 1840-1865

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ISBN13: 9780754668305
Published: March 2010
Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Ltd
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £95.00

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In recent years, social and legal historians have called into question the degree to which the labor that fuelled and sustained industrialization in England was actually 'free'. The corpus of statutes known as master and servant law has been a focal point of interest: throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at the behest of employers, mine owners, and manufacturers, Parliament regularly supplemented and updated the provisions of these statutes with new legislation which contained increasingly harsh sanctions for workers who left work, performed it poorly, or committed acts of misbehavior. The statutes were characterized by a double standard of sanctions, which treated workers' breach of contract as a criminal offence, but offered only civil remedies for the broken promises of employers. Surprisingly little scholarship has looked into resistance to the Master and Servant laws. This book examines the tactics, rhetoric and consequences of a sustained legal and political campaign by English and Welsh trade unions, Chartists, and a few radical solicitors against the penal sanctions of employment law during the mid-nineteenth century. By bringing together historical narratives that are all too frequently examined in isolation, the author is able to draw new conclusions about the development of the English legal system, trade unionism and popular politics of the period. The author demonstrates how the use of imprisonment for breach of a labour contract under master and servant law, and its enforcement by local magistrates, played a significant role in shaping labour markets, disciplining workers and combating industrial action in many regions of England and Wales, and further into the British Empire. By combining social and legal history the book reveals the complex relationship between parliamentary legislations, its interpretation by the high courts, and its enforcement by local officials. This work marks an important contribution to legal history, Chartist scholarship and to the social history of the nineteenth century more broadly.

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Legal History
Introduction: 'constitutional law versus justices' justice'
The introduction of the 1844 Master and Servant Bill: 'the statutes relating to master and servant are nearly useless'
The defeat of the 1844 Master and Servant Bill: 'triumph for labour! ... the damnable Bill crushed'
Trade union legal challenges to master and servant prosecutions: 'the value of law when honestly administered'
The Warrington cases, 1846-1847: 'he might almost as well be without trial'
Trades of Sheffield against Dr Wilson Overend, 1842-1847: 'I hope his prescriptions are better than his law'
The reform of magistrates' summary jurisdiction, 1843-1854: 'the imperious necessity of affording greater protection to justices'
The trades of Staffordshire against T. B. Rose, 1842-1851:'let them but one of them come before me and I'll commit him'
Conclusion: 'We certainly ought not to let a mere technical slip ... decide such a case'