In the more than 200 years in which formal organizations of workers (labor unions) have existed in the United States, there have been three distinct eras of policy toward them. Initially, in the late 18th and early 19th century, they were regarded as associations that came under the purview of the English common-law doctrine of conspiracy--that is, their very existence could be considered illegal, regardless of the objectives of the group. The first significant departure from that doctrine came in 1842, in a Massachusetts court. In Commonwealth v. Hunt, the conspiracy doctrine was rejected. That decision generally was accepted in other state courts, and it ushered in a period of neutrality with respect to the very presence of an organization of workers. The specific acts of labor organizations were still actionable, but not the existence of the organization itself. However, the law did not provide protection or encourage labor organizations.