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It was 1892, and the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company was hastily constructing walls around its plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Carnegie had first declined to renew its workers’ contracts and then, refusing to deal with their union, had slashed their wages. The expected reaction was evident in the apertures for guns that were being incorporated into the new walls.

Louis Dembitz Brandeis read about these developments in his local Boston newspapers with mild interest. His reaction turned to horror, however, when strikebreakers and their Winchester-armed Pinkerton guards sailed up the Ohio River to Homestead. The strikers tried to keep them from landing; the Pinkertons responded by opening fire. Learning about the casualties in the ensuing battle, Brandeis abandoned his assumption that “the common law, built up under simpler conditions of living,” could deal adequately with what he called “the complex relations of the modern factory system.”

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