This article explores the relationship between the law of maritime labor and the law of slavery. In the eighteenth century, both sailors and slaves were part of a broad regime of unfree labor relations, with slaves, of course, the most oppressed. In the nineteenth century, an era otherwise supposedly devoted to the ideal of "free" labor, sailors and slaves instead remained unfree, subject to federal laws providing for the forced return to their toils if they deserted - the Merchant Seaman's Act and the Fugitive Slave Act. Both of those statutes were deemed to be within Congress' authority, despite questionable foundations for those conclusions on the face of the Constitution. Exploring the similarities and differences between the conditions and legal treatment of merchant seamen and slaves may yield important insights into the understanding of the congressional reaction to those conditions and the Supreme Court's understanding of Congressional power.
9 U. Pa. J. Lab. & Emp. L. 87 2006-2007