A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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Why, according to Howard Zinn in A People's History of the United States, would a European man or woman sign an indenture? Was it a “choice” or were they compelled by “historical forces”?

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Zinn explains that indentured servants were largely forced into coming to America. Many had to escape the impoverished conditions of their countries, and others were brought to the New World, he writes, "by forced exile, by lures, promises, and lies, by kidnapping" (43). The transport of indentured servants to America was highly profitable, and ship captains, merchants, and masters in the New World stood to profit. Zinn writes that after they signed their papers of indenture, in which they had to work for masters for five to seven years, indentured servants were often put in prison until their boats were ready to sail so that there was no possibility of their escape. Therefore, most indentured servants did not have a choice in their indentures, but were driven by larger forces. Their lots were bad, and they sometimes joined black slaves in...

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