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An agreement declaring the benefits and obligations of two or more parties, often applicable in the context of Bankruptcy and bond trading.

The term indenture primarily describes secured contracts and has several applications in U.S. law. At its simplest, an indenture is an agreement that declares benefits and obligations between two or more parties. In bankruptcy law, for example, it is a mortgage or deed of trust that constitutes a claim against a debtor. The most common usage of indenture appears in the bond market. Before a bond is issued, the issuer executes a legally binding indenture governing all of the bond's terms. Finally, the concept of indenture has an ignominious place in the history of U.S. labor. Indentured servants of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were commonly European workers who contracted to provide labor for a number of years and in return received passage to the American colonies as well as room and board.

As an investment product that is used to raise capital, a bond is simply a written document by which a government, corporation, or individual promises to pay a definite sum of money on a certain date. The issuer of a bond, in cooperation with an underwriter (i.e., a financial organization that sells the bond to the public), prepares in advance an indenture outlining the terms of the bond. The issuer and the under-writer negotiate provisions such as the interest rate, the maturity date, and any restrictions on the issuer's actions. The last detail is especially important to corporate bonds because corporations Accrue liability upon becoming bond issuers and therefore seek to have the fewest possible restrictions placed on their business behavior by the terms of the indenture. As a consequence, potential buyers of corporate bonds should know what the indenture specifies before buying them.

Federal law governs these indentures. For 50 years, the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 (TIA) (15 U.S.C.A. § 77aaa) was the relevant law. Significant changes in financial markets prompted Congress to amend the TIA through the Securities Act Amendments of 1990 (Pub. L. No. 101-550, 1990; 104 Stat. 2713), which included the Trust Indenture Reform Act (Pub. L. No. 101-550, 104 Stat. 2713). The reforms simplified the writing of indentures, recognized the increasing internationalization of corporations by creating opportunities for foreign institutions to serve as trustees, and revised standards for conflicts of interest. The reforms also broadened the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In early American history, indenture was a form of labor contract. Beginning during the colonial period, employers in the largely agricultural economy faced a labor shortage. They addressed it in two ways: by buying slaves and by hiring indentured servants. The former were Africans who were brought to the colonies against their will to serve for life; the latter were generally Europeans from England and Germany who had entered multiyear employment contracts. From the late sixteenth century to the late eighteenth century, approximately half of the 350,000 European immigrants to the colonies were indentured servants. During the seventeenth century, these servants outnumbered slaves.

An indentured servant agreed to a four-to seven-year contract, and in return received passage from Europe and guarantees of work, food, and lodging. Colonial courts enforced the contracts of indentured servants, which were often harsh. Employers were seen as masters, and the servants had not only to work for them but also to obey their orders in all matters. For some, indentured servitude was not a Voluntary Act. Impoverished women and children were pressed into servitude, as were convicts. Nevertheless, this servitude was not equivalent to Slavery. Slaves remained slaves for life, whereas indentured servants were released at the end of their contracts. Moreover, as parties to a contract, indentured servants had rights that slaves never enjoyed. The practice of indentured servitude persisted into the early nineteenth century.

Further readings

Ballam, Deborah A. 1996. "Exploding the Original Myth Regarding Employment-At-Will: The True Origins of the Doctrine." Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law 17.

——. 1995. "The Traditional View on the Origins of the Employment-At-Will Doctrine: Myth or Reality?" American Business Law Journal 33 (fall).

Riger, Martin. 1991."The Trust Indenture as Bargained Contract: The Persistence of Myth." Journal of Corporation Law 16 (winter).


n. a type of real property deed in which two parties agree to continuing mutual obligations. One party may agree to maintain the property, while the other agrees to make periodic payments. 2) a contract binding one person to work for another. 3) v. to bind a person to work for another.


noun agreement, agreement to work, apprenticeship agreement, arrangement, commitment, contract, contract to work, contractual obligation, connractual statement, covenant, deed of agreement, instrument, mutual agreement, mutual undertaking, pact, pactum, stipulation, undertaking
See also: bind, bond, compact, contract, liability, obligate, obligation, pact, security, servitude, specialty, stock, undertake



INDENTURE, conveyancing. An instrument of writing containing a conveyance or contract between two or more persons, usually indented or cut unevenly, or in and out, on the top or, side.
     2. Formerly it was common to make two instruments exactly alike, and it was then usual to write both on the same parchment, with some words or letters written between them, through which the parchment was cut, either in a straight or indented line, in such a manner as to leave one-half of the word on one part, and half on the other. The instrument usually commences with these words, "This indenture," which were not formerly sufficient, unless the parchment or paper was actually indented to make an indenture 5 Co. 20; but now, if the form of indenting the parchment be wanting, it may be supplied by being done in court, this being mere form. Besides, it would be exceedingly difficult with even the most perfect instruments, to out parchment or paper without indenting it. Vide Bac. Ab. Leases, &c. E 2; Com. Dig. Fait, C, and note d; Litt. sec. 370; Co. Litt. 143 b, 229 a; Cruise, Dig t. 32, c. 1, s. 24; 2 Bl. Com. 294; 1 Sess. Cas. 222.

References in periodicals archive ?
I argued that within the confines of a reconstituted Indian community, possibilities for mobility or economic independence gained as a result of indentureship, as discussed above, were not relinquished and while women colluded with some aspects of culture to rebuild community, at the same time they negotiated within families and villages, and inside the cultural construct of Indianness in ways that were not obvious to those outside of the culture.
The author contends that this notion could have originated during the indentureship era with perceptions of the "promiscuous woman" (p.
86) These indentured women shook the fabric of patriarchy in such a way that in 1916, a year before the end of indentureship, a group of indentured laborers filed a formal complaint against the actions of Indian women.
The historian Verene Sheperd points out that during the period of indentureship, the scarcity of Indian women migrants meant that Indian men had few suitable partners.
Not only did the indentureship contract give the labourers the choice of a free return passage to "Hindostan" or exchange his right to a free passage for a Government grant of ten acres of land, but also according to Kingsley, it fostered thrift.
On the other hand, by distancing herself from the village, Conde is able to explore anew the ethno-social legacy of slavery and indentureship in a French Caribbean village and to propose new ways to read the Caribbean quest for identity.
In particular, Apess recollects when, as a teenager, he escaped indentureship and traveled with a confidence man (or boy) named John who, having heard a group of soldiers' "affecting" tale, "concluded to incorporate a part of it with his own" (24).
For the reader, there is no escape from being reminded of Naipaul's origins--in a family that had barely climbed out of indentureship in a plantation economy in far-off Trinidad.
Third, the world economy has been significantly influenced by racialized labor supply and other practices of labor recruitment, such as, among others, indentureship in the nineteenth century, importation of Third World domestic labor, and trafficking in mostly Third World sex workers.
Enough women in Third World countries were attracted by the comparatively higher wages in Canada and the promise of citizenship; they came to Canada as domestic workers in the hope that once they had completed their indentureship, they could enter more lucrative forms of employment (p.
Even in cases where women, men, boys and girls are clearly harmed within the sex industry or are caught in debt-bondage and indentureship situations, it is the respectful recognition of subjectivity and personal agency that creates continuity in this collection.
Despite its semifeudal nature, indentureship carried with it aspects of capitalism, including waged labour, rational calculation and individualism.