Free to Work

Labor Law, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, 1815-1880

Title Details

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 01/01/1999

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2034-2

List Price: $46.95

Free to Work

Labor Law, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, 1815-1880

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  • Description
  • Reviews
In this intriguing and innovative work, James D. Schmidt examines federal efforts to establish "free labor" in the South during and after the Civil War by exploring labor law in the antebellum North and South and its role in the development of a capitalist labor market. Identifying the emergence of conservative, moderate, and liberal stances on state intervention in the labor market, Schmidt develops three important case studies-wartime Reconstruction in Louisiana, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Freedmen's Bureau-to conclude that the reconstruction of free labor in the South failed in large part because of the underdeveloped and contradictory state of labor law. The same legal principles, Schmidt argues, triumphed in the postwar North to produce a capitalist market in labor.

[A] nuanced picture of the ideological continuities that ran through labor law from 1815 through the Gilded Age.

Journal of Southern History

Important . . . Its greatest strength lies in charting how jurists, social reformers, and political ideologues viewed the relationship between the state and labor markets.

Journal of the Early Republic

Free to Work is an excellent book that explores the evolution of labor law and the development of free labor in the United States during the nineteenth century. By focusing on laws dealing with contracts and apprenticeship, enticement, and vagrancy, the author develops a sophisticated study of the relationship of law and society, class discourse, and the role of the state in these matters. Free to Work sheds new light on the era in general and on Reconstruction in particular.

—Paul A. Cimbala, author of Under the Guardianship of the Nation: The Freedman's Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865–1870

About the Author/Editor

JAMES D. SCHMIDT is an assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University.