Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





James Oakes

Committee Members

Joshua Brown

David Waldstreicher

Manisha Sinha

Subject Categories

Labor History | Political History | Social History | United States History


labor movement, land reform, slavery, antislavery, capitalism, free labor


“A Reformers’ Union: Land Reform, Labor, and the Evolution of Antislavery Politics, 1790–1860” offers a critical revision of the existing literature on both the early labor and antislavery movements by examining the ideologies and organizational approaches that labor reformers and abolitionists used to challenge both the expansion of slavery and the spread of market relationships. Extending the timeframe of the antislavery and labor movements backwards to the 1790s, this dissertation situates the origins of the pre-Civil War labor movement in republican ideology and currents of transatlantic radical thought, and traces the rise of agrarian and communitarian labor reform against the backdrop of the growing economic and political salience of chattel slavery. While acknowledging and seeking to explain the real differences that divided labor reformers and abolitionists throughout the period, "A Reformers' Union" argues that important strains within each movement shared common understandings about the limitations of private property and the reach of the market. These shared understandings, and the discursive debates that shaped them, eventually fostered important organizational and institutional connections between the two movements, even as developments surrounding the slavery’s expansion in the 1840s and 50s inextricably linked the cause of land reform to antislavery. Land and labor reformers made critical contributions to the ideological foundations and popular appeal of the Liberty, Free Soil, and Republican parties, thus highlighting both the limitations and the potential of the politics of “free soil” and “free labor.”