Free to Work
Labor Law, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, 1815–1880

James D. Schmidt


"[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

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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.
Southern Legal Studies

Page count: 352 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $46.95

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James D. Schmidt is an assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University.