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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
And thus it was that I passed into a state of involuntary servitude to Wolf Larsen.
The measure also codifies penalties for any company that, "knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture that has engaged in an act of involuntary servitude or involuntary sexual servitude of a minor."
There are no allegations of slavery, involuntary servitude, or human trafficking in the instant case."
Ratified in 1865 after the Civil War, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, but also "allowed for prisoners to be used as slave labour," tweeted writer Yashar Ali, who tried to make sense of West's message.
The other major grievance of the prisoners comes from the 13th Amendment, which in 1865 abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted".
Lizada, a lawyer, likewise, gave emphasis on the possible case of 'involuntary servitude,' should Uber be forced to do business in the Philippines despite its 'corporate decision' to put its business elsewhere.
The complaint contended that US companies Rubicon Resources, and Wales and Co Universe - along with Thai companies Phatthana Seafood and SS Frozen Food - were responsible for peonage, forced labour, involuntary servitude and human trafficking, as they were 'participants in a joint venture that in violation of US law knowingly profited from the import and sale of shrimp and seafood produced with trafficked labor'.
By contrast, the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the entire country, and prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude from ever being reinstated within US jurisdiction.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the work done by seafarers in general and fishermen in particular carries one of the highest levels of risk and danger, and these workers are especially vulnerable to labor exploitation or involuntary servitude.
And that amounts to placing these providers into involuntary servitude.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude of any animal shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended (TVPA), and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Protocol) describe this compelled service using a number of different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.