This essay explores the utility of class as a concept for writing the history of working people in the postrevolutionary United States. Historians have no difficulty identifying the impoverishment of female seamstresses, immigrant canal diggers, and enslaved agricultural laborers, but have few analytic categories for situating such diverse working people in an economic system that translated the physical labor of some into the wealth of others. Class has fallen out of favor in recent years–as overdetermined, as premature, or as blind to concurrent racial or gender inequality–but this essay contends that class need not rely upon the articulation of a coherent political consciousness, the emergence of factory wage labor, or the denigration of other categories of analysis. Freed from these burdens, class offers the best way to make sense of the economic power relations that structured early republic capitalism.


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pp. 527-535
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