This essay explores the ways in which the right to contract interacted with the free labor ideology at this pivotal moment in American legal history. It examines this relationship by looking at the perspectives of four groups of historical actors: grassroots actors such as anti-slavery activists and ordinary laborers, legislatures of the former Confederate states, agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and federal lawmakers in the 39th Congress. This essay argues that, although Congress legislated some of the key grassroots demands on a system of free labor and the right to contract through constitutional amendments and federal statutes, enforcement by the Freedmen’s Bureau deviated from the original legislative intent. For a few years after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Freedmen’s Bureau—a federal agency established to assist freed people in the former Confederate states—fell short of protecting freed people from the numerous attempts by Southern legislatures to re-enslave them. This essay concludes by discussing potential insights this short episode in history could provide to historians, as well as to private law and public law scholars.
Janice Y. Jiang,
Duty to Contract: Free Labor Ideology and Contractual Freedom in the Postbellum South, 1865-1867,
U. Pa. J. Const. L. Online
Available at: https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/jcl_online/vol25/iss1/2