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The Steel Bar: Pittsburgh Lawyers and the Making of America
ABOUT THE WORK-IN-PROGRESS
The 1% vs. the 99% … federal surveillance of political targets … fights over the right to collective bargaining … enemy combatants on trial in military tribunals … tax protests … the glass ceiling for women … corporations as “persons” … exposure of government corruption … an African American lawyer is roughed up by the police ...
It certainly sounds like modern America, but each of these issues are at the center of the historical drama of THE STEEL BAR: PITTSBURGH LAWYERS AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. From the Whiskey Rebellion through the bloody Homestead Strike, to the Johnstown Flood, the creation of the world’s largest corporation, the witch hunts against anarchists in the 1910s and Communists in the 1950s, to a seminal constitutional battle over the rights of workers, a 20-year long federal antitrust prosecution, and the suspicious suicide of a district attorney accused of graft, THE STEEL BAR is the epic story of the rise and fall and rebirth of the Pittsburgh lawyer, from the earliest days of the Pittsburgh bar to the modern era, against the backdrop of American history.
From the beginnings of the Pittsburgh bar amid the turmoil of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 – the first serious challenge to the authority of the United States federal government – Pittsburgh lawyers were rowdy outliers. They were entrepreneurial, contrarian and passionate frontiersmen who lashed out at the Eastern establishment, fought duels and impeachment battles with impunity, and developed their own unique professional identity. One of them, Henry Baldwin, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Andrew Jackson and, appropriately, led the way in defining the tradition of the dissenting opinion.
After the interlude of the Civil War, in which a number of Pittsburgh lawyers either gave their lives or suffered horrific injuries, the growth of the city as the “Workshop of the World” – led by robber barons such as Carnegie, Westinghouse, Frick and Mellon – placed Pittsburgh lawyers at the center of American industrial influence, as they helped to define the American corporation as well as the playing field for labor-management relations in America. By 1902, Pittsburgh corporate lawyers simultaneously occupied seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, the House Ways and Means Committee and as U.S. attorney general – such was their importance in American public life at the end of the 19th century.
In the early 20th century, the excesses of Pittsburgh’s industrial might made it a ripe target for federal reform during the Progressive Era and the New Deal – particularly in the areas of labor and antitrust – and Pittsburgh lawyers engaged in a near-death struggle in their attempts to secure managerial independence for their corporate clients. By mid-century, we see how Pittsburgh lawyers maintained their civic relevance and authority, even as Pittsburgh itself was in decline, as builders and leaders of Pittsburgh’s renaissance. In THE STEEL BAR, the lawyers’ tactics and battlecraft within these historical episodes are brought to light, often with a dramatic flourish, as is something of the values, sense of identity and calling of this peculiar tribe within American society.
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