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From Privileges to Rights: Work and Politics in Colonial New York City

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From Privileges to Rights connects the changing fortunes of tradesmen in early New York to the emergence of a conception of subjective rights that accompanied the transition to a republican and liberal order in eighteenth-century America.

Tradesmen in New Amsterdam occupied a distinct social position and, with varying levels of success, secured privileges such as a reasonable reward and the exclusion of strangers from their commerce. The struggle to maintain these privileges figured in the transition to English rule as well as Leisler's Rebellion. Using hitherto unexamined records from the New York City Mayor's Court, Simon Middleton also demonstrates that, rather than merely mastering skilled crafts in workshops, artisans participated in whatever enterprises and markets promised profits with a minimum of risk. Bakers, butchers, and carpenters competed in a bustling urban economy knit together by credit that connected their fortunes to the Atlantic trade.

In the early eighteenth century, political and legal changes diminished earlier social distinctions and the grounds for privileges, while an increasing reliance on slave labor stigmatized menial toil. When an economic and a constitutional crisis prompted the importation of radical English republican ideas, artisans were recast artisans as virtuous male property owners whose consent was essential for legitimate government. In this way, an artisanal subject emerged that provided a constituency for the development of a populist and egalitarian republican political culture in New York City.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A consequential study, reshaping our understanding of artisan history."—American Historical Review

"This remarkable book opens up a new vista on the history of colonial New York City by focusing on the experiences of a group that has never been the subject of a major study. In doing so, it calls into question conventional notions of the work lives and political understandings of a broad strand of the urban population and builds a convincing case for locating the emergence of artisanal republicanism several decades before the revolutionary era."—Joyce D. Goodfriend, University of Denver

"Deeply analytical and richly rewarding, From Privileges to Rights should become essential reading for historians of New York and early America."—New York History

"A powerful and complex refutation of the colonial craft idyll."—William and Mary Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812239157
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/15/2006
  • Series: Early American Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,110,671
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Middleton teaches early American history at the University of Sheffield.
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Table of Contents

1 "Earning a beaver" : tradesmen in New Amsterdam 11
2 "Like a child in their debt and consequently their slave" : the transition to English rule, 1664-1691 53
3 "Diverse necessaries and conveniences work found and provided" : trading in a craft economy, 1691-1730 96
4 "The only obstruction at this present is our want of people" : the labor problem, 1691-1730 131
5 "So much as he should reasonably deserve to have" : tradesmen and the English common law 163
6 "C'mon brave boys let us be brave for liberty and law" : artisans and politics, 1730-1763 189
7 Conclusion 225
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