Involuntary Servitude

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Involuntary Servitude

Slavery; the condition of an individual who works for another individual against his or her will as a result of force, coercion, or imprisonment, regardless of whether the individual is paid for the labor.

The term involuntary servitude is used in reference to any type of slavery, peonage, or compulsory labor for the satisfaction of debts. Two essential elements of involuntary servitude are involuntariness, which is compulsion to act against one's will, and servitude, which is some form of labor for another. Imprisonment without forced labor is not involuntary servitude, nor is unpleasant labor when the only direct penalty for not performing it is the withholding of money or the loss of a job.

The importation of African slaves to the American colonies began in the seventeenth century. By the time of the American Revolution, the slave population had grown to more than five hundred thousand people, most concentrated in the southern colonies. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution did not specifically refer to slavery in the document they drafted in 1787, but they did afford protection to southern slaveholding states. They included provisions prohibiting Congress from outlawing the slave trade until 1808 and requiring the return of fugitive slaves.

Between 1820 and 1860, political and legal tensions over slavery steadily escalated. The U.S. Supreme Court attempted to resolve the legal status of African Americans in dred scott v. sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857). The Court concluded that Congress was powerless to extend the rights of U.S. citizenship to African Americans.

With the secession of southern states and the beginning of the Civil War in 1860 and 1861, the Union government was under almost complete control of free states. In 1865 Congress enacted the Thirteenth Amendment, which the Union states ratified. Section 1 of the amendment provides that "[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Section 2 gives Congress the authority to enforce the provisions of section 1.

The Thirteenth Amendment makes involuntary servitude unlawful whether the compulsion is by a government or by a private person. The penalty for violation of the amendment must be prescribed by law. Although the principal purpose of the amendment was to abolish African slavery, it also abolished other forms of compulsory labor similar to slavery, no matter what they are called. For example, it abolished bond service and peonage, forms of compulsory service based on a servant's indebtedness to a master.

An individual has a right to refuse or discontinue employment. No state can make the quitting of work a crime, or establish criminal sanctions that hold unwilling persons to a particular labor. A state may, however, withhold unemployment or other benefits from those who, without Just Cause, refuse to perform available gainful work.

A court has the authority to require a person to perform affirmative acts that the person has a legal duty to perform. It has generally been held, however, that this power does not extend to compelling the performance of labor or personal services, even in cases where the obligated party has been paid in advance. The remedy for failure to perform obligated labor is generally limited to monetary damages. A court may, without violating the Thirteenth Amendment, use its Equity authority to enjoin, or prevent, a person from working at a particular task. Equity authority is the power of a court to issue injunctions that direct parties to do or refrain from doing something. A court also may prevent an artist or performer who has contracted to perform unique services for one person on a given date from performing such services for a competitor.

The Thirteenth Amendment does not interfere with the enforcement of duties a citizen owes to the state under the Common Law. Government may require a person to serve on a petit or Grand Jury, to work on public roads or instead pay taxes on those roads, or to serve in the militia. Compulsory military service (the draft) is not a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, nor is compulsory labor on work of national importance in lieu of military service, assigned to conscientious objectors.

Forced labor, with or without imprisonment, as a punishment upon conviction of a crime is a form of involuntary servitude allowed by the Thirteenth Amendment under its "punishment-for-crime" exception.


Celia, a Slave; Dred Scott v. Sandford; Emancipation Proclamation; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Selective Service System.

References in classic literature ?
And thus it was that I passed into a state of involuntary servitude to Wolf Larsen.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude of any primate shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Thus, the forms of involuntary servitude are varied.
In August 2004, two men were convicted and sentenced for conspiring to participate in a juvenile prostitution ring--enticing juveniles into prostitution and into involuntary servitude.
For example, the Thirteenth Amendment stipulates that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude .
Former restaurant owner Supawan Veerapol, 56, was convicted in 1999 of one count of causing involuntary servitude and three counts of harboring illegal aliens for bringing three Thai women into the country and forcing them to work long hours in her home and restaurant.
THREE FLORIDA CITRUS CONTRACTORs received lengthy prison sentences in November for conspiring to hold workers in involuntary servitude, harboring undocumented workers, interfering with interstate commerce by extortion, and using firearms during the course of a violent felony.
196) Kidnapping a person to be sold into involuntary servitude or enticing a person to board a vessel with the intent that the person be made a slave was also prohibited and punishable by ten years' confinement.
Instead, they find themselves living in involuntary servitude, forced to work 60- to 70-hour-work weeks and to meet unrealistic production standards that force them to work overtime without compensation.
Constitution prohibits involuntary servitude, an employee can terminate employment with a corporation at will.
One may observe that our own century has seen the most terrible consequences of the potential for dehumanizing other human beings; this does not make chattel slavery and the other past forms of involuntary servitude right because "we do it too" if in another way, but this certainly is a black fact about humanity that needs always to be remembered.
Opponents had argued that the practice would violate the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against involuntary servitude and the California Constitution's ban on imprisonment for debt.