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Beyond the Book

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

ISBN  978-1-4696-2653-6
Published: August 2015

Freedom's Frontier

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

By Stacey L. Smith

Awards & Distinctions

2014 David Montgomery Award, Organization of American Historians and Labor and Working-Class History Association

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 associate 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 long overdue and urgently needed synthesis. . . . A splendid example of traditional archival-based historical research.”
--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Freedom’s Frontier is [not only] thoroughly researched, but it is also well written and a pleasure to read.”
--Oregon Historical Quarterly

“A welcome addition to both the history of California and the West and to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.”
--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Smith’s analysis is cogent and detailed, and her arguments are solid. The book is a welcome addition to both the history of California and the West and to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.”
--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

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