This introductory chapter argues that the story of how Chicago wageworkers and the labor question achieved legitimacy in the public sphere begins with the formation of the Republican Party. The Republican Party of the 1850s had an ambiguous attitude toward wage labor. On the one hand, Republicans wanted to reserve the western lands for white settlers and maintain their access to landed property and personal independence. Thus, they opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories and supported a homestead law for those with little capital. However, Republicans were also the first party to offer an ideology and set of policy prescriptions that accepted and even glorified wage labor as an important element in the Northern social order. Thus, leaders of the new party substituted for propertied independence the free-labor values associated with social mobility.
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