The Properties of Labor
The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.
-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
In ending slavery, the Civil War closed one chapter in American life. The struggle against slavery was a black and white issue in two senses. Not only was slavery vilified as a backward and immoral institution, but slavery also placed color consciousness at the center of American culture. 1 Officially sanctioning separate treatment for black and white Americans, national law promoted exactly the kind of group, as opposed to individual, rights that it rejected when the issue turned on the collective action of workers. Unfortunately, the Civil War did not end this inconsistency.
Federal law aimed at nothing less than the transformation of the country from a loose federation of separate states possessing vastly different cultures and values, into a nation united under a single legal commitment to equal rights. An impressive series of federal enactments mandated this change: the Emancipation Proclamation ( 1863) first declared slaves in unoccupied territories free; the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment ( 1865) then abolished involuntary servitude; the Civil Rights Act ( 1866) and the Fourteenth Amendment ( 1868) accorded all blacks citizenship and equal protection under the law; and, finally, the Fifteenth Amendment ( 1869) established a right to vote for black males. Despite, or perhaps even because of these acts, the legal issues involving labor became grayer. Overt bondage was eliminated, but the ideal of republican independence appeared more remote than ever and the strategies used to achieve it gave expression to unresolved tensions involving property, contract, and individualism.
Only property, not merely the freedom to contract it, yielded an adequate basis for real independence. On this score, however, the federal government