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

By Jeffrey Steven Kahana | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
A World of Freedom and
Associations

We are then to understand by liberty, merely such a state
of the compact as permits the members of the com-
munity to lay no more restraints on themselves, than are
required by their real necessities, and obvious interests.

—James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat
(1838)

In the years between 1815 and 1860, America became the most active, competitive, and entrepreneurial society in the world. Americans were constantly in motion, always looking to get ahead, and were so rambunctious that an observer at Andrew Jackson’s first inauguration in 1829 noted that the crowds had “literally nearly pressed [the president] to death.”1

Politicians and commentators had long commented upon the spirit of trade in America. Years before, Samuel L. Mitchill had exclaimed, “Commerce! Commerce! At all events Commerce!”2

1 Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: Scribner, 1906), 295. On the social significance of Jackson’s victory, see Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: Norton, 2005), 309–14.

2 Samuel L. Mitchill, An Address to the Citizens of New-York: Who Assembled

-159-

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