The Unfolding of American Labor Law: Judges, Workers and Public Policy Across Two Political Generations, 1790-1850

The Unfolding of American Labor Law: Judges, Workers and Public Policy Across Two Political Generations, 1790-1850
Jeffrey Steven Kahana
February 2014

ISBN-13:  978-1-59332-580-0 / Hardcover
Dimensions:  5.5 x 8.5 / ca. 350 pages

Price   $85.00

"...clear prose and coherent arguments....accessible to a general audience....a scholarly, engaging analysis." -- Kirkus Reviews


Praise for The Unfolding of American Labor Law

In the nation-building following independence, no challenge was more fraught than how to construct an American law of labor. The technical side of this question—the case-by-case transformation of an inherited common law of repression—has been thoroughly studied, but no one has quite done what Jeffrey Kahana has accomplished in this fine book: he has captured the processes by which this Americanized common law came to reflect the values of a rapidly democratizing, economically free-wheeling nation. This is a major contribution, and Kahana is to be congratulated for it.
-- David Brody, Professor Emeritus of History, UC-Davis

Jeffrey Kahana has written a profoundly informed, quite unconventional book on a topic that is awash in conventional wisdom. Instead of tired shibboleths about rapacious capitalism, he focuses on the novel consequences for labor law of the American Revolution and the creation of the new Republic. These events carried with them conceptions of citizenship and rights that posed a major challenge to the established principles of English law regarding the master-servant relationship and the status of laborers' organizations.

No one would deny that the legal position of unions worsened as the nineteenth century progressed. But another, more hopeful legal approach occurred during the Early Republic, which would bear legal fruit in the twentieth century. It is that all but lost story of an alternative legal course that this pathbreaking book recounts.
-- Morton Keller, Spector Professor of History, emeritus, Brandeis University

Jeffrey Kahana’s book is a valuable addition to the literature on law in the early republic. His book highlights how intrinsic American conditions and ideas – most notably a desire for independence and a pursuit of democracy – influenced the course and character of antebellum labor law. This historical understanding of labor law casts a new and welcome light on how noneconomic forces can influence law and development in emerging nations such as early nineteenth-century America.
-- William E. Nelson, Weinfeld Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

About the Author

Jeffrey Kahana teaches legal and political history at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. He earned his doctorate in American history at Brandeis University, and holds a law degree from The Ohio State University College of Law.