Slavery and Servitude in the Colonies

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Is indentured servitude immoral? Why or why not?

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Indentured servants are individuals who trade labor in exchange for something of value. A person would become indentured if they were unable to repay a debt or if they were trying to earn enough money to purchase something, like a piece of property they could farm.

Is indentured servitude immoral?...

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Indentured servants are individuals who trade labor in exchange for something of value. A person would become indentured if they were unable to repay a debt or if they were trying to earn enough money to purchase something, like a piece of property they could farm.

Is indentured servitude immoral? If being indentured was by mutual agreement between two consenting adults, then no. For example, suppose the owner of a large farm wants to break the farm into smaller portions. On his farm is a laborer who has worked the property for some years but cannot afford to purchase the land. The two of them agree that the owner will lend the money to the laborer so long as the laborer agrees to work the property for seven years. At the end of the seven years, the property is transferred to the new owner. The owner agrees to pay a reduced wage to the laborer and allow the laborer to live on the farm until the debt is paid, and the transfer of ownership occurs. In this transaction, it is a voluntary business agreement that is mutually beneficial to both parties. In this example, because both parties agree, there is no coercion, and both parties benefited equally from the arrangement, then no, it is not immoral.

But suppose the indentured laborer is forced to work the property to repay a debt. Think about the early settlers who were released from debtor's prison in England to settle the colonies, and suppose the owner charges an exorbitant amount of interest on the debt. The indentured servant can never repay the debt and becomes a source of almost free labor to the owner of the farm. Because the indentured servant is coerced and unable to ever repay the original amount, in this instance, it is immoral.

Keep in mind that a business contract is a legal contract and that how the parties conduct themselves when bound legally is not a moral issue, but a contractual issue. Most of the indentured service was coerced into forced labor with very restrictive legal clauses that favored the person contracting over the contracted. The morality of indentured contracts depends on if the arrangement was voluntary instead of coerced, how the deal was managed, and if it was an equitable agreement between the parties.

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