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Free Labor

Free Labor: The Civil War and the Making of an American Working Class

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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    Free Labor
    Book Description:

    Monumental and revelatory, Free Labor explores labor activism throughout the country during a period of incredible diversity and fluidity: the American Civil War. Mark A. Lause describes how the working class radicalized during the war as a response to economic crisis, the political opportunity created by the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the ideology of free labor and abolition. Grappling with a broad array of organizations, tactics, and settings, Lause portrays not only the widely known leaders and theoreticians, but also the unsung workers who struggled on the battlefield and the picket line. His close attention to women and African Americans, meanwhile, dismantles notions of the working class as synonymous with whiteness and maleness. In addition, Lause offers a nuanced consideration of race's role in the politics of national labor organizations, in segregated industries in the border North and South, and in black resistance in the secessionist South, creatively reading self-emancipation as the largest general strike in U.S. history.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09738-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    The Civil War proved central to the making of an American working class. Yet the intersection of labor history and the conflict itself with regard to the future nature of labor in the country has stirred remarkably little interest among historians in either field. Historians have certainly written about a struggle that subsumed large sections of the workforce and transformed the working-class experience forever. Yet the role of workers in shaping the course of that conflict and the role of the conflict itself in shaping the future nature of labor and the labor movement has stirred remarkably little interest in...

  5. PROLOGUE. The Antebellum Labor Crisis: Organized Workers as a Force in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American History
    (pp. 1-12)

    March 1860 saw the largest strike to date in American history. At 8:00 a.m. on March 8, some fifteen hundred “ladies” led a march of thousands of shoemakers bearing “several hundred banners” through Lynn, Massachusetts. The townspeople, “with flags and streamers,” and several local militia and fire companies paraded as bands of music escorted them, as did “delegations of ladies” from nearby communities. Overall, some seventeen thousand New England shoemakers—including two thousand women—noisily walked off their jobs and contested the local elites for control of the streets. While visiting the region, Abraham Lincoln claimed no special understanding of...


    • CHAPTER 1 Workers and the Crisis of Nationhood: The Social Republic, Peace, and the Union
      (pp. 15-27)

      In April 1861 twenty-one-year-old Wesley Washington Pasko skulked through the streets of Charleston, South Carolina. After joining the New York City Typographical Union, he had also helped to organize the Troy local before returning in January 1861 and leaving for Charleston in March. Unwilling to rely on more easily recognized and detained editors and reporters, theNew York Tribunesent one of its young printers to cover the confrontation over Fort Sumter. Older and more well-traveled union members would have been ducking the Charleston printers and newspapermen who might have recognized them.¹ Pasko had his own difficulties trying to remain...

    • CHAPTER 2 Continuities of Class: The Persistence of Labor Struggles
      (pp. 28-40)

      After Bull Run shattered hopes for a short war, some of the more radical socialists proposed concrete relief measures to ameliorate the burden of a longer conflict. On Friday, July 24, 1861, theArbeiterbundat New York assembled some two thousand people at the Harmonic Gardens to suggest that a society that chose to go to war bore the responsibility for its economic impact and needed to provide jobs or income for workers whose livelihoods had been disrupted. The organizers had not proposed Utopia, but planned to form “sections” in the wards and trades to promote these goals, with an...

    • CHAPTER 3 Organized Labor Goes to War: The Fate of the Old Workers’ Movement
      (pp. 41-52)

      William R. Creighton of the Typographical Union married and put his affairs in order before he went to war on April 22, 1861, when his company of the Cleveland Light Guards mobilized as part of the Seventh Ohio. The Pittsburgh native had gone to work at age ten, and he had little formal education before entering the printing trade. There, though, he joined the local fire company and became active in the Light Guards. Contemporaries spoke of “his love of adventure” that was hardly appeased in the experience of the workshop. More than this, though, as Creighton’s pastor explained later,...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Great Slave Strike: Emancipation and Race
      (pp. 55-67)

      Workers in the Washington Navy Yard moved into action, along with the general wartime labor unrest that swept the capital. There, “most of the colored hands employed in the anchor shop struck for higher wages, demanding one dollar and seventy-five cents instead of one dollar and fifty cents, which they have been receiving heretofore.” The bosses refused the raise and decided to replace twenty-nine black strikers with twenty-five white strikebreakers.¹ The frequent portrayal of black workers as strikebreakers not only oversimplified the complexity of wartime race relations but also sometimes inverted what actually happened.

      In terms of numbers and militancy,...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Alienation of Militancy: Immigrants and the New White Workingmen
      (pp. 68-80)

      The contemporary American press tended to use ethnic terms to describe labor struggles in the stratified workforce. When unskilled Brooklyn laborers clashed with strikebreakers, theNew York Timesreported that a “generalmeleeensued; brickbats, stones and shillelaghs flew about briskly,” for which the papers blamed “the bad whisky.” The police turned up and arrested the strike leaders “while the rank and file took to their heels, to the tune of St. Patrick’s day in the morning.” Two years later, as representatives of the various local labor organizations—almost all of them very new—gathered at the Cooper Union, Charles...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 6 The Survival of Moral Suasion: Solidarity, Sisterhood, and Paternalism
      (pp. 81-92)

      The wives, mothers, and daughters of men off to the war joined other women who had already been making their own way in New York City to establish the Working Women’s Protective Union. On October 26, 1863, they sought to highlight the plight of female labor in the city by presenting their grievances before the mayor and other such luminaries. The spiritualists, who tended to move toward an early version of social work during the war, had already begun organizing relief for impoverished women. Philanthropy doubtlessly created a new kind of sisterhood with working-class women, but a very limited kind...


    • CHAPTER 7 New Militancy across the Union: The Strike Waves and Labor Movements of 1863
      (pp. 95-105)

      Within weeks of Lincoln’s Gettysburg suggestion that civil war marked “a new birth of freedom.” Jonathan Fincher of the machinists’ union warned workers that they, like the nation, faced a turning point in their affairs. Press accounts noted “no let-up, apparently, in the strike movement, on the part of the mechanics and workingmen.” More than would later be the case, the press acknowledged that the increasing costs of living made wage increases “reasonable,” though, even this early, some simply ignored the numbers and asserted that the market had already functioned to keep wages proportionate to prices. Few who earned those...

    • CHAPTER 8 Richmond, New Orleans, Nashville: The Diverse Experience of Urban Labor in the South
      (pp. 106-118)

      In April 1863 the women of Richmond seized a rare chance to express what they thought of the secessionist management of their communities. Mary Elizabeth Foy, an Irishwoman, complained that “if they didn’t intend to give her something to eat why didn’t they send her to the North.” An Englishwoman, Isabell Hold, “wished the Yankees would come here and sweep the city.” One woman simply demanded “bread or blood.” With these women of the markets in the lead, “gangs of men followed them and helped them and the town was in great excitement and the shop-keepers with big stocks in...

    • CHAPTER 9 The State Power: Workers and the New Authorities, North and South
      (pp. 119-130)

      Wartime spending created an economy intimately involved with government, which is how the delegation of strikers from the Navy Yard found themselves meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. They reported that “the worthy old gentleman had not left all his sympathy for laboring men with his maul and wedges in the prairie State.” Being from a rural area, the president explained, “he had never participated in a strike. The only one he had ever beheld was a strike among the shoemakers of Haverhill, Massachusetts, some 12 or 15 years ago, in which the shoemakers succeeded in worsting their bosses.” The president...


    • CHAPTER 10 The Emergence of Labor Reform: Class, Citizenship, and Politics
      (pp. 133-144)

      Toward the close of 1863, some officers of the beleaguered Boston unions joined local radicals in fielding an independent “Labor Reform” ticket for the upcoming municipal elections. After having advocated class politics for thirty years through hisBoston Investigator, Horace Seaver had organized weekly forums for years, many of which addressed labor issues. “How is it that some men receive only half allowance for doing double work,” he kept asking, “while others receive double or quadruple allowance merely for looking on?” In fact, “the producers of wealth… always superior in numbers” permitted themselves to be victimized by elites. “If the...

    • CHAPTER 11 Toward a National Labor Presence: Exploring the Class Limits of Respectability
      (pp. 145-156)

      In September 1864 a dozen skilled white men from eight states assembled at Louisville to launch what has been (rather erroneously) called the first national labor organization in American history. They resolved: “Whereas, capital has assumed to itself the right to own and control labor for the accomplishments of its own greedy and selfish ends, regardless of the laws of nature, and of nature’s God; and… if the dignity of labor is to be preserved, it must be done by our united actions.” In fact, they had little but good intentions behind what they called the “International Industrial Assembly of...

    • CHAPTER 12 A Peace of Sorts: Labor, Liberty, and Respectability
      (pp. 157-170)

      In April 1865 the masters of Richmond scurried from the city. A generation before the war, a Southern political economist had warned about the strife between principles “of property combined with sound intelligence, and of numbers, united with imperfect knowledge,” of which the tendency to murder, arson, and pillage challenged the survival of civilization itself. In the end, though, the Confederates consigned the city to the flames and the looters, and order returned only on the bayonets of the blue-coated “mudsills.” As their bands blared “Dixie,” runaway slaves returned in uniform to claim both the song and the civilization their...

  10. EPILOGUE. 1877: Reconstructions of Class
    (pp. 171-184)

    As of July 27, 1877, nearly thirteen years had passed since Union General Andrew Jackson Smith scrambled to protect St. Louis from Confederate forces that included those under General John S. Marmaduke. On this later day, the two generals cooperated to take the city from its people. At Lafayette Square on the south side, they and other former officers of both sides gathered a small force of well-armed regulars and militia to the cheers of the businessmen and their retainers. From there they marched north into the center city to seize the headquarters of the general strike waged by other...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-260)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-268)