The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Boycott

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BOYCOTT. What is popularly known as the boycott is a form of coercion by which a combination of many persons seek to work their will upon a single person, or upon a few persons, by compelling others to abstain from social or beneficial business intercourse with such person or persons. Carried to the extent sometimes practised in aid of a strike it is a cruel weapon of aggression and its use immoral and anti-social, and the concerted attempt to accomplish it is a conspiracy at common law and merits and should receive the punishment due to such a crime. It is attempted to defend the boycott by calling the contest between employers and employees a war between capital and labor and pursuing the analogies of the word to justify thereby the cruelty and illegality of conduct on the part of those conducting a strike. The analogy is not apt and the argument founded upon it is fallacious. There is only one war-making power recognized by our institutions and that is the government of the United States and of the States in subordination thereto when repelling invasions or suppressing domestic violence. War between citizens is not to be tolerated and cannot in the proper sense exist. If attempted it is unlawful and is to be put down by the sovereign power of the State and nation.

The practices common in a boycott would be outside the pale of civilized war. In civilized warfare, women and children and the defenseless are safe from attack and a code of honor controls the parties to such warfare which cries out against the boycott. Cruel and cowardly are terms not too severe by which to characterize it.

The name was first given to an organized system of social and commercial exclusion employed in Ireland in connection with the Land League and the land agitation of 1880 and subsequently. It took its name from Capt. James Boycott, a Mayo landlord, one of its earliest victims, who as agent for Lorde Erne evicted many tenants. A landlord, manufacturer or other person subjected to boycotting faces a combination to prevent his buying from or selling to anyone employing labor, etc., and those refusing to join in a boycott are often threatened with similar interference, loss or injury. Boycotts have been frequently employed in the United States as a means of coercion in labor difficulties. The attitude of courts is not altogether uniform in regard to such combinations. A boycott accompanied by violence is a criminal offense and such conspiracy is sometimes declared unlawful even when not marked by threats and violence.

English courts recognize the legality of the boycott, no matter how much injury it may inflict on its victims, and punish only acts of violence or intimidation that may be incidental to the boycott. In the United States ,however, the courts usually take a strong attitude against boycotting and in Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana and Texas it is especially prohibited by legislation, regardless of what its object may be or whether it is accompanied by violence. Many cases have been brought before the United States Supreme Court under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, notably the Danbury Hatters' and the Bucks Stove Company cases. In both cases the court decided that boycotts were "in restraint of trade," therefore illegal.

Bibliography.— Smith, Jeremiah, 'Crucial Issues in Labor Litigations' in the Harvard Law Review (Vol. XX, pp. 253, 345, 429, 1907); Laidler, H. W., 'Boycotts and the Labor Struggle' (1913).