Laws Allowing Forced Labor Are Found Unconstitutional

1903

In a series of cases known as the Peonage Cases, the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional an Alabama law that allows landowners to force farmers to work off their debts or face criminal charges and possible prison. A number of sharecroppers (farmers who rent the land they farm) who have fallen behind in their payments to the landowners challenge the law as a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court agrees that this is involuntary servitude because the farmers are prevented from seeking other employment and thereby finding alternative ways of paying the debt.