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Why the Trial Still Matters

We asked our three Experts to weigh in on why the Haywood trial of 1907 still matters.

[Image: Katherine Aiken]

Katherine Aiken is the Dean for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Idaho. Her latest book is Idaho's Bunker Hill: The Rise and Fall of a Great Mining Company, 1885-1925.

The Haywood trial still matters because the issues that were at the forefront for Idahoans and Americans in general in 1907 still matter. The tensions between workers and owners/managers continue to exist.

People in Idaho dislike violence and worry about acts of terrorism. Idaho citizens are suspicious of outsiders and their influence. But in the final analysis Idahoans are committed to the rule of law and their sense of fair play is paramount.



[Image: David H. Grover]

David H. Grover is an historian and writer who has written several books, including Debaters and Dynamiters: The Story of the Haywood Trial.

When I wrote my book on the Haywood trial in about 1960 one of my goals was to show what the trial meant to the people of Idaho and the United States. The fifty-plus years since the trial provided an opportunity to assess what transpired in that case in a quieter and more objective atmosphere than that which had prevailed in 1907. I concluded that the trial had indeed been important to Idaho in demonstrating her ability to administer justice fairly under very difficult circumstances. Almost as much time has elapsed again, as the centennial of that trial enters its final months. The question has been asked, quite properly, is there still a useful message for society in the outcomes of the trial. My answer is yes.

The trial demonstrated that a kind of enlightened pragmatism is at work in any great trial that results from socio-economic conflict. The issues are debated from every point of view, and the twelve jurors who are called upon to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused — with neither a mastery of the law nor of the principles of economics — utilize common sense and societal standards of behavior, both of which are generally useful guidelines, in arriving at their decision. I submit that today society still benefits enormously when such enlightened pragmatism shows us the way through the minefields of prejudice and disagreement, and between the extremes of an ACLU and a "law and order" approach to justice.

I am deeply grateful that I had an early opportunity to examine the Haywood trial, and equally pleased that society has now taken another critical look at this great event.

[Image: Byron Johnson]

Byron Johnson is a retired Idaho Supreme Court Justice and defense attorney. He has had a life-long interest in the Haywood Trial.

In an age when the rule of law is not honored as highly as the expediency of the moment, when habeas corpus is an antiquated concept that never has really received the support and respect it is due, when unions are attacked as instruments of intermedling with the "free enterprise system," when the presumption of innocence is almost uniformly announced, but seldom followed, the Haywood trial of one hundred years ago reminds us that all of these facets of the American legal system are not only part of our heritage, but are abused today as they were then.

The Haywood trial should be a beacon for our conscience to strive to live up to the idealism these concepts encompass. Thank God for the faithfulnness to the law of twelve Ada County jurors who salvaged what could have been a total defeat of our justice system!