Skip to comments.Old Hoosier Apologizes to Libertarians
Posted on 03/26/2002 7:30:11 AM PST by The Old Hoosier
Yesterday, I got into an argument with some libertarians. I promised to humiliate myself if they could answer the following question:
If I want to sell myself into slavery in order to pay off debts, why should the government be able to prevent me? Why should I not have every right to enter into an indissoluble contract surrendering my freedom--temporarily or permanently--to someone else in exchange for some consideration?
I hereby admit that I was wrong, because ThomasJefferson agreed that the government should have no power to prohibit voluntary slavery--a step that I did not think any of them would want to take. I hereby eat crow. (Tpaine and Eagle Eye still haven't given direct answers, but I'll mention it here when they do, and eat more crow.)
The relevant part of the long argument we had is here. TJ agrees to voluntary slavery at 374.
I, the undersigned, in exchange for $50,000, hereby promise, under penalty of corporal punishment to be administered by the payer (master), to perform all menial tasks he asks me to perform, every day for the remainder of my life. I permanently surrender my right to leave and work for anyone else, unless the payer chooses to dissolve this contract. I understand that this contract cannot be dissolved by me, the undersigned.
If anyone is interested I'll, gladly, get the chapter & verse. email me at email@example.com.
Even under wholly voluntary circumstance, contracts contrary to the public order and morality have been forbidden. I can't begin to recall the caption of the case, but the example always given in law school was the lottery among British shipwreck survivors to kill and eat one of there number as a way to sustain the remainder. At least they were well fed when hanged.
As a libertarian, I recognize the right of consenting adult individuals to enter into contract to mutually agreed terms. But in order to qualify as a consenting adult capable of administering one's own rights, an individual must be of sound mind (otherwise the comprehension of terms and consequences comes into question).
I would consider any contract entered into by sane consenting adults to be morally binding. I think a good case could be made however, questioning the sanity of an individual who would surrender their life and their perpetual labor for $50,000.
But here goes....
You say: ...why should the government be able to prevent me?
Many conservative would hold that the Constitution was a written document doing many tasks in establishing our Republic. One of these tasks was preserving ordered liberty. Our Constitution was a practical tool, not an ideological construct or philosophy-made-whole.
It contained the practical tools of politics, including a method of Amendment for prudent political purpose.
Seeing that a great war had been fought, greatly devestating the nation in all regions, the XIII Amendment was passed to permanantly remove one of the underlying issues that fostered the conflict. As contract law and philosophy were insuffient to resolve the issue, save by warfare, and insufficient to resolve it in the future, practical and prudent politics (political force) was utilized by a set process to place an issue outside of the realm of arising again.
Now, were temporary imbalances between the victor and the vanquished in place to foster the super majority necessary for this amendment? Surely. But it happened and we are better off for it.
So, in answer to your question, as the Constitution outlines:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.It would be hard to say that the passage of the Thirteenth at that time didn't meet the critera in bold. Furthermore, our national imputus was outlined in the Delaration of Independence and the following shows the reasonableness of alterations for due cause:
..and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--The framers determined an Amendment scheme, not based upon a rigid philosophy, ideology, theology or dogma, but instead based upon a prudent written prescriptive method, meant to allow the Republic to free itself from the "Object" mentioned in that paragraph, however it might arise.
There are methods of Contract Law that could concievably produce what amounts to a voluntary servitude as opposed to involuntary, but people of more extensive legal background that I will need to illuminate how common law principles of "employment at will" interface with Contract Law without a "time certain" in the contract. I think that is a red hering for debate as your question centered around what government should be allowed to do, not what marginal constructs are possible that simulate the state of slavery.
The only difference was that indentured servitude was for a specified length of time after which the indentured one was free to leave.
Should you wish to voluntarily fulfill the terms of the contract, then there shouldn't be a problem.
And as the nation, at that time, wanted no artifical constructs of Contract used to continue the institution of slavery, they passed the Thirteenth to thwart statute, contract, civil or common law being used to produce artificial constructs of what they wanted prohibited for the ordered liberty of the nation
I was reading that this last week and while it is not at hand, it has some real insight into how these framers could allow the practice to become intitutionalized.
The author posted a link to my comment which is a good thing because although he got the main idea correct, he talks about slavery in the example on this thread and the original concept was voluntary servitude. That was the basis for my comment and it is in agreement with your point entirely.
It was a great thing that people were allowed to make that contract without government interference, otherwise we would be missing your good counsel.