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This text examines the concept of freedom in the context of American labour history. Nine essays develop themes in this history which show that "liberty of contract" and "inalienable rights" form two contradictory traditions concerning freedom.
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This text offers interpretation of American labor history that makes workers' unquenchable thirst for freedom its central theme. In doing so, it breaks free from standard treatises in which the issues of class conflict and American "exceptionalism" have been dominant. This interdisciplinary narrative fleshes out the conditions under which workers have lived and labored. The author contends that labor protests against these conditions flow from an American tradition invoking the primacy of inalienable rights and that these protests clash with the equally American traditions asserting a nearly absolute liberty of individual contract.