Judge Alston Gordon Dayton (October 18,1857-July 30, 1920) was once notorious among union miners for his labor law rulings. He was born in Philippi, graduated from West Virginia University in 1878, and apprenticed in law with his father, Spencer Dayton. He married Columbia May Sinsel on November 26, 1884, and had one son, Arthur Spencer Dayton, who became an attorney in Barbour County.
Dayton was prosecuting attorney in Upshur and Barbour counties before being elected to Congress. He served in the House of Representatives from 1895 to 1905, when he was appointed judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. His appointment to the bench resulted from the friendship of U.S. Sen. Stephen B. Elkins, the most prominent West Virginia Republican of that era.
Judge Dayton became a bitter enemy to the United Mine Workers with his rulings in Hitchman Coal & Coke v. John Mitchell. In 1907, he issued a sweeping temporary injunction against the UMW to prevent organizing, claiming that the union violated Hitchman’s individual employment contracts, the so-called ‘‘yellow-dog contracts’’ which forbade employees to join a union. He further ruled that the union was an unlawful organization because it was a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Litigation on the temporary injunction lasted until 1913, when he made the injunction permanent. While this case was being litigated, Dayton issued a number of other injunctions effectively neutralizing the UMW in West Virginia’s northern coalfields. In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court supported Dayton’s ruling on the employment contract based on the historical view of the sanctity of contracts, but rejected his argument that the United Mine Workers was an illegal organization. Dayton served on the bench until he died while visiting Battle Creek, Michigan.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on October 15, 2012
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