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The Forgotten Emancipator
James Mitchell Ashley and the Ideological Origins of Reconstruction


Part of Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society

  • Date Published: July 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107479234

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About the Authors
  • Congressman James Mitchell Ashley, a member of the House of Representatives from 1858 to 1868, was the main sponsor of the Thirteenth Amendment to the American Constitution, which declared the institution of slavery unconstitutional. Rebecca E. Zietlow uses Ashley's life as a unique lens through which to explore the ideological origins of Reconstruction and the constitutional changes of this era. Zietlow recounts how Ashley and his antislavery allies shared an egalitarian free labor ideology that was influenced by the political antislavery movement and the nascent labor movement - a vision that conflicted directly with the institution of slavery. Ashley's story sheds important light on the meaning and power of popular constitutionalism: how the constitution is interpreted outside of the courts and the power that citizens and their elected officials can have in enacting legal change. The book shows how Reconstruction not only expanded racial equality but also transformed the rights of workers throughout America.

    • Presents an alternative, labor-focused vision of the Reconstruction Era, focusing on the Thirteenth Amendment and political strategy
    • Analyzes the impact of politics on constitutional development, and contributes to the burgeoning scholarship on the Thirteenth Amendment
    • Provides an in-depth analysis of military emancipation, the confiscation acts, and other measures adopted during the Civil War which contributed to the abolition of slavery, unlike other legal scholars who focus on the courts as engines of constitutional development
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Rebecca E. Zietlow is right - James Mitchell Ashley has been all but forgotten and deserves to be remembered. Thanks to Zietlow, we can now appreciate Ashley's pivotal role in the pre-Civil War struggle against slavery, abolition during the war, and the battle for black rights during Reconstruction. But she also emphasizes his commitment to the rights of all labourers, and we would benefit today from recalling his vision of a 'free labour' society of equals.' Eric Foner, Columbia University, New York

    'James Mitchell Ashley spent decades of the nineteenth century crusading against slavery, discrimination, and labor injustice - positions in absolute harmony with one another, as the author Rebecca E. Zietlow deftly shows. This readable biography reveals Ashley in his heroism, defeat, and contradictions. More than that, it illuminates the challenges that any old-line egalitarian faced in a modern, industrializing world. In Zietlow's able hands, Ashley's life becomes as significant for our present era as it was for his own.' Michael Vorenberg, Brown University, Rhode Island

    'An impressively informative and original work of seminal scholarship from beginning to end, The Forgotten Emancipator is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library 19th century American history collections and supplemental studies reading lists.' Midwest Book Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107479234
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 13 mm
    • weight: 0.327kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. James Ashley, the forgotten emancipator
    2. Antislavery constitutionalism and the meaning of freedom
    3. Free labor and wage slavery – the labor and antislavery movements
    4. Ashley's egalitarian free labor vision
    5. Ashley in Congress, 1859–63
    6. The thirteenth amendment and a new republic
    7. Enforcing the thirteenth amendment: reconstruction and a positive right to free labor
    8. After Congress: the 'Old Antislavery Guard' and the northern worker

  • Author

    Rebecca E. Zietlow, The University of Toledo College of Law
    Rebecca E. Zietlow is Charles W. Fornoff Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo, College of Law. She is a recipient of the University of Toledo Outstanding Faculty Research award and a leader of the Thirteenth Amendment Project. She is the author of Enforcing Equality: Congress, the Constitution and the Protection of Individual Rights (2006), and her work has been published in the Columbia Law Review, Boston University Law Review, Ohio State Law Journal, Florida Law Review, and the Wake Forest Law Journal.

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