Book Review: Jeffrey Kahan, The Unfolding of American Labor Law: Judges, Workers, and Public Policy Across Two Political Generations, 1790-1850
15 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2016
Date Written: 2015
This historiographical review essay places Jeffrey Kahana's book in the context of existing scholarship on ideology and labor and employment law in the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries. It compares the arguments and findings of this book with works by Christopher Tomlins, Robert Steinfeld, Karen Orren, Victoria Hattam, and others. Specifically, it contrasts Kahana's analysis with that of other authors on two key questions: (1) the extent to which early American labor and employment law rules were largely based on English common law; and (2) the extent to which American rules were a product of class bias and or ant-union sentiment. On both questions, Kahana stakes out positions on the far end of the historiographical spectrum, insisting that early America almost entirely rejected English common law in this area, and that the law was driven by concerns quite separate from class or anti-union bias. Kahana's book is thus remarkably positive given the subject matter. While it may not convince those who have adopted different positions, it is a valuable contribution to the literature.
Keywords: Labor Law, Employment Law, Legal History, Intellectual History, Historiography
JEL Classification: J5, KI31, N31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation