Thirteenth Amendment

I have taken some heat lately for proposing that white servitude in colonial America was comparable to black slavery. The demonstrable fact that black “slavery” prior to 1700 was indistinguishable from white “slavery” of the period doesn’t dissuade my critics. Perhaps, though, some contemplation of the Thirteenth Amendment will.

Everyone knows that the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Few, however, are aware that it also abolished involuntary servitude. Here is the text (from Wikipedia):

Section 1. Neither 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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The thing to notice is that the amendment makes slavery and involuntary servitude legally equivalent. Anyone who contends they were not equivalent must contend with the reality that this amendment says otherwise.

The question is, Why?

My view is that servitude contracts had been so much abused by the owners of servant labor over the years (centuries, in fact) that the necessary expedient was to eliminate the practice in its entirety.

To conceptualize the matter in a practical way, imagine a laborer who on Date A contracts to provide services beginning on Date B, but decides in the interim to quit the contract. Should the employer have the right to enforce the original contract?

The Thirteenth Amendment assures that the laborer cannot be compelled to involuntary servitude.

9 thoughts on “Thirteenth Amendment

  1. Regardless of any legal equivalence, they are not ethically equivalent.

    Indentured servants either willingly accepted the arrangement in hopes pf a better future or had placed themselves hopelessly in debt and needed a way out.

    Slaves were taken by force.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: “Regardless of any legal equivalence, they are not ethically equivalent.”

      I mean specifically to refute that kind of thinking. One can make ethical arguments (or rhetoric) out of angels dancing on pin points, but practical realities deflate theory and rhetoric.

      The fact remains that indentured servitude in the colonies had all the “badges and incidents of slavery,” even if the contract was for labor services and not for personhood. The distinction between chattel and owed labor may be real in some fine or legal sense, but the lived experience of the subject persons is not much different.

      I think the concept of personal freedom earned currency as a consequence of this very observation.


        1. Fair enough. Then the burden is on you to show that the indentures represented a valid meeting of the minds between the parties, a fair exchange. I think the record shows that many did not.


  2. You have taken heat because you are pushing nonsense with a racist agenda. The Thirteenth Amendment does not validate your nonsense in any way. It leaves the door wide open to VOLUNTARY servitude which is the essence of indentured service or even an employment contract.

    Of course, some white people were treated like slaves or even worse than slaves (since the “owner” lost nothing should they die) but that is a very long country mile from what you are pushing about equivalence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You seem to think the laws of man control the natural world, that one man could be a slave, another a servant just because the law says so. I contend that the revolutionary concept of liberty emerged during the Enlightenment specifically to reject such ideas.

      You cannot accuse me of racism under these circumstances.


      1. “You cannot accuse me of racism under these circumstances.”

        Your ideas speak for themselves.

        And as for the “laws of man” – that is what we are talking about. “Slave” is not a metaphor in this discussion. It was the legal and economic status of people held in INVOLUNTARY servitude for generations.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. RE: “It [slavery] was the legal and economic status of people held in INVOLUNTARY servitude for generations.”

        Do you even know what you are talking about? There was, technically, no slavery for anyone in the colonies until 1664.


        1. I know what I am talking about. You are talking out of your ass.

          The first slaves were SOLD in the colonies in 1619. YOU have cited the court case in 1640 in which John Bunch was formally declared a slave. Len shared a link showing that slavery was formalized in 1641 in Massachusetts.

          So, TECHNICALLY there was slavery in the colonies from early in the 17th century. And De FACTO there was slavery from 1619.

          Liked by 2 people

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