In this volume the editors have brought together documents focusing upon the relationship between the antebellum white working class and the movement for abolition of African-American slavery. These materials illuminate the progress made by labor activists and abolitionists in joining forces in the great struggle to overthrow chattel bondage. The achievement of collaboration emerged from a process that unfolded in the years between the 1830s and the triumph of the Union in 1865. Effective collaboration required recognition of the legitimate demands put forward by workers while understanding that abolition must, in the immediate future, stand at the top of the democratic agenda. This convergence called for challenging class prejudices and the pernicious divisions generated by racism. The documents shed light on this uneven but relentless process, offer a basis for reconsidering the existing scholarly literature concerning labor and slavery, and should facilitate future study of a question that says much about the potential for interracial cooperation in American society.
In American history since the Revolutionary War, the period of antislavery struggle is the great era of radical transformation. To define more accurately what has been the substance of our democratic heritage, it is important to understand how abolition and the labor movement related to each other. How did middle class abolitionists perceive the situation of "free" workers? To what extent was abolitionism rooted in a working class constituency? How was the working class able to respond to the very complex challenge of having to confront Northern employers, who sometimes voiced antislavery sentiments, while living in a nation in which the plantation owners formed the most powerful force for reaction? The years of the antislavery struggle constituted a bridge between an earlier artisan society of small entrepreneurship and the United States of large-scale industrial capitalism. What does the experience of this critical period say about the prospects for an