The Forgotten Emancipator #1
My book, The Forgotten Emancipator: James Mitchell Ashley and the Ideological Origins of Reconstruction (Cambridge University Press 2017), tells the story of James Ashley, a leader in the Civil War and early Reconstruction Congress, and the egalitarian free labor vision which animated him and his colleagues. Ashley represented northwest Ohio in the United States House of Representatives from 1858 to 1868. While in Congress, Ashley chaired the House Committee on the Territories at a time when slavery in the territories was the hottest political issue in the country. From the start of the Civil War, Ashley was determined that the was should bring about the end of slavery. Ashley was the first to propose a Reconstruction bill, as early as 1862. As chair of the Committee on the Territories, Ashley spearheaded the abolition of slavery in DC and the territories. Ashley was the first member of Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. At the side of President Abraham Lincoln, Ashley led the fight for approval of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass, "In every phase of the great conflict over slavery, [James Ashley] bore a conspicuous and honorable part. He was among the foremost of the brilliant galaxy of statesmen who reconstructed the Union on the basis of liberty."
But my book is not only about James Ashley, it is also about the movements that influenced his vision and in which he played a part - the political antislavery movement and the nascent labor movement. My book describes a radical alternative to the conventional view of Reconstruction held by constitutional scholars. They tend to focus on the 14th Amendment and the more moderate period of Reconstruction, but my book focuses on the 13th Amendment and early Reconstruction. My book describes an alternative vision of Reconstruction, a labor vision which also incorporate racial equality. The 19th Century was a time of transformation of labor law from unfree to free labor, and Reconstruction was a pivotal moment in that transformation. Slavery was a system of exploitation of labor, based in an ideology of racial subordination. The antislavery and labor movements in antebellum America developed a paradigm of free labor that opposed not only the institution of slavery, but also the undue exploitation of northern workers. James Ashley articulated an egalitarian free labor vision as he advocated for the end of slavery and in favor of the rights of all workers. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, James Ashley and his allies implemented this vision.
I first posted this blog entry on TheFacultyLounge.org on December 1, 2017.