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344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 4 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-1-4696-0768-9
Published: August 2013

Freedom's Frontier

California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction

By Stacey L. Smith

Awards & Distinctions

David Montgomery Award, Organization of American Historians

Most histories of the Civil War era portray the struggle over slavery as a conflict that exclusively pitted North against South, free labor against slave labor, and black against white. In Freedom's Frontier, Stacey L. Smith examines the battle over slavery as it unfolded on the multiracial Pacific Coast. Despite its antislavery constitution, California was home to a dizzying array of bound and semibound labor systems: African American slavery, American Indian indenture, Latino and Chinese contract labor, and a brutal sex traffic in bound Indian and Chinese women. Using untapped legislative and court records, Smith reconstructs the lives of California's unfree workers and documents the political and legal struggles over their destiny as the nation moved through the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction.

Smith reveals that the state's anti-Chinese movement, forged in its struggle over unfree labor, reached eastward to transform federal Reconstruction policy and national race relations for decades to come. Throughout, she illuminates the startling ways in which the contest over slavery's fate included a western struggle that encompassed diverse labor systems and workers not easily classified as free or slave, black or white.

About the Author

Stacey L. Smith is assistant professor of history at Oregon State University.


“Adds an entirely new dimension to California’s history. . . . Recommended for classroom use as well as for researchers and the casual reader interested in California’s diverse past.”
--Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"Recommended. All levels/libraries."

"A real winner: ambitious, thoughtful, and splendidly rendered. Smith peels back history to rework the labor landscapes of nineteenth-century California and reintroduce the state into dynamic, Reconstruction-era political and social debates."
--William Deverell, University of Southern California

"A brilliant and long overdue examination of late-nineteenth-century California's complicated race and labor history. By comparing the stories of bound Native American, African American, Chinese, Latino, and Hawaiian workers, Smith reveals the complexities of California's racial and labor histories and goes even further to demonstrate the larger implications for the California experience for understanding national stories of abolition, emancipation, Reconstruction, and immigration."
--Michael Magliari, California State University, Chico

"In the history of the clash between North and South, the Golden State has long seemed a world apart. But in Freedom's Frontier, Stacey Smith combines lucid prose, meticulous research, and compelling argument to reveal how the labor of unfree Indians, Chinese, African Americans, and others built a California that has for too long hidden behind its free state myths, even as it shapes modern policies of race and immigration control."
--Louis S. Warren, W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of Western U.S. History, University of California, Davis

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