Sunday July 28 | 3:00PM - 4:00PM
“Keep the Wretches in Order transports us to a pivotal, if largely forgotten, moment in U.S. labor history, weaving individual stories into an epic tale of American injustice. With a historian’s eye for detail, a lawyer’s command of law, and a novelist’s virtuosity with prose and narrative, Strang brings to life this country’s largest mass trial ever. Through masterful storytelling, he exposes our legal system’s ugly underbelly, with profound and enduring relevance for today.”—Jon D. Hanson, Harvard Law School
“Strang humanizes this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. With empathy and verve, he tells the story of abuse of executive power, a partial and wacky federal judge (and autocratic first baseball commissioner), and many ruined lives of working men and women.”
—Brad Snyder, author of The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism
Before World War I, the government reaction to labor dissent had been local, ad hoc, and quasi-military. Sheriffs, mayors, or governors would deputize strikebreakers or call out the state militia, usually at the bidding of employers.
When the United States entered the conflict in 1917, government and industry feared that strikes would endanger war production; a more coordinated, national strategy would be necessary. To prevent stoppages, the Department of Justice embarked on a sweeping new effort—replacing gunmen with lawyers. The department systematically targeted the nation’s most radical and innovative union, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, resulting in the largest mass trial in U.S. history.
In the first legal history of this landmark trial, Dean Strang shows how the case laid the groundwork for a fundamentally different strategy to stifle radical threats, and had a major role in shaping the modern Justice Department. As the trial unfolded, it became an exercise of raw force, raising serious questions about its legitimacy and revealing the fragility of a criminal justice system under great external pressure.
Dean A. Strang practices law in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also the author of Worse than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror.