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In 1865 the 13th Amendment provided that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, shall exist in the United States. I have heard it said that slavery and indentured servitude are the two forms of servitude that were abolished. However, a commonplace practice was that parents signed up their 12- or 13- or 14-year-old son as an apprentice to a tradesman, and such an apprentice was forbidden to resign. If he left his master, the master would advertise in newspapers that whoever found him should arrest him and return him to his master, and the master would sue anyone who employed his "runaway apprentice" (google that term!) and the court would award damages.

Was that kind of apprenticeship also abolished by the 13th Amendment?

  • The title is a little confusing - it starts out in the present tense ("are"), and then by the end of the sentence we discover you're not talking about the present but about the world of 160 years ago, though only if we know what "antebellum" means. – Nate Eldredge Sep 12 '18 at 14:42
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This depends on how far along you're waiting for court rulings to set in, and if you count laws of Congress passed under the 13th amendment's enforcement clause. There were quite a lot of things that got ruled as violations of the 13th and 14th amendments (mostly the 14th), but many were not ruled or legislated that way for decades. Some were even ruled to have an essentially opposite effect of what the current (overturning) precedents do. "Separate but equal" was challenged on 13th amendment grounds, but was upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and wasn't overturned, on 14th amendment grounds, until 58 years later in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Your particular situation sounds like peonage, which was outlawed by Congress in 1867 via the enforcement clause. This law specifically banned "the voluntary or involuntary service or labor of any persons as peons, in liquidation of any debt or obligation, or otherwise." However, peonage cases continued to make their way into the courts for more than 40 years thereafter, such as Clyatt v. United States (1905)— which ruled that peonage was involuntary servitude— and Bailey v. Alabama (1911). These cases affirmed that the 13th amendment abolished not just chattel slavery but essentially all forms of involuntary or indentured servitude (except as punishment for a crime). Though exactly what qualifies as "involuntary servitude" is still something courts decide on a case-by-case basis; the draft doesn't, nor does mandatory community service to graduate high school.

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