Towards a New Legal History of Capitalism and Unfree Labor: Law, Slavery, and Emancipation in the American Marketplace

40.1 Law & Social Inquiry __ (Winter 2015), Forthcoming

56 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2014

See all articles by Matthew Axtell

Matthew Axtell

Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Date Written: October 23, 2014

Abstract

New work on the "history of capitalism" reveals how the personal freedom enjoyed by people living within the liberal capitalist mainstream is often purchased by coerced labor at the social margins. Walter Johnson’s book "River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom" (2013) makes this argument with force, utilizing the concept of "slave racial capitalism" to suggest how race-based slavery constituted a necessary component of early American economic expansion. Using Johnson’s framework as a starting point, this essay argues that the legal institutions of property and contract, institutions underwriting a genuinely "slave racial capitalist" regime, also contained certain subversive possibilities within themselves, eventually challenging unfree labor as a modality of rule within the modernizing United States.

Keywords: Legal History, Capitalism, Race, Slavery, Labor, Property, Contract, Self-Emancipation

Suggested Citation

Axtell, Matthew, Towards a New Legal History of Capitalism and Unfree Labor: Law, Slavery, and Emancipation in the American Marketplace (October 23, 2014). 40.1 Law & Social Inquiry __ (Winter 2015), Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2513987

Matthew Axtell (Contact Author)

Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University ( email )

Wallace Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

HOME PAGE: http://lapa.princeton.edu/peopledetail.php?ID=610

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