LAW & CRIME

Keep the Wretches in Order: America’s Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW

Univ. of Wisconsin. Jun. 2019. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780299323301. $36.95. LAW
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The rise and fall of the International Workers of the World (IWW) was the major predecessor to the subsequent rise of U.S. labor unions in the early part of the 20th century. It is a fascinating and little-noted chapter in American history. Criminal defense lawyer Strang (Univ. of Virginia Sch. of Law; Worse Than the Devil) is well qualified to tell the judicial story of the “Wobblies,” as members of the IWW were known. The author relates this history in brief chapters that illustrate Alex de Tocqueville’s prescient warning about the “tyranny of the majority” in the American brand of democracy. The Wobblies confronted President Woodrow Wilson, who used the newly formed Department of Justice to punish harshly the organization for challenging his authority. This episode set the stage for the witch hunt by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the early years of the Cold War.
VERDICT This title excels at showing the danger of American justice during wartime. For those who enjoyed Nat Hentoff’s The First Freedom and Peter Iron’s Courage of their Convictions, it’s a must-read, appealing to American historians, political scientists, and anyone interested in labor and the judicial process.

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