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CLYATT v. UNITED STATES

March 13, 1905

CLYATT
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Brewer

[ 197 U.S. Page 215]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The constitutionality and scope of sections 1990 and 5526 present the first questions for our consideration. They prohibit peonage. What is peonage? It may be defined as a status or condition of compulsory service, based upon the indebtedness of the peon to the master. The basal fact is indebtedness. As said by Judge Benedict, delivering the opinion in Jaremillo v. Romero, 1 N. Mex. 190, 194: "One fact existed universally; all were indebted to their masters. This was the cord by which they seemed bound to their masters' service." Upon this is based a condition of compulsory service. Peonage is sometimes classified as voluntary or involuntary, but this implies simply a difference in the mode of origin, but none in the character of the servitude. The one exists where the debtor voluntarily contracts to enter the service of his creditor. The other is forced upon the debtor by some provision of law. But peonage, however created, is compulsory service, involuntary servitude. The peon can release himself therefrom, it is true, by the payment of the debt, but otherwise the service is enforced. A clear distinction exists between peonage and the voluntary performance of labor or rendering of services in payment of a debt. In the latter case the debtor, though contracting to pay his indebtedness by labor or service, and subject like any other contractor to an action for damages for breach of that contract, can elect at any time to break it, and no law or force compels

[ 197 U.S. Page 216]

     performance or a continuance of the service. We need not stop to consider any possible limits or exceptional cases, such as the service of a sailor, Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, or the obligations of a child to its parents, or of an apprentice to his master, or the power of the legislature to make unlawful and punish criminally an abandonment by an employe of his post of labor in any extreme cases. That which is contemplated by the statute is compulsory service to secure the payment of a debt. Is this legislation within the power of Congress? It may be conceded as a general proposition that the ordinary relations of individual to individual are subject to the control of the States and are not entrusted to the General Government, but the Thirteenth Amendment, adopted as an outcome of the civil war, reads:

"SEC. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

"SEC. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

This amendment denounces a status or condition, irrespective of the manner or authority by which it is created. The prohibitions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments are largely upon the acts of the States, but the Thirteenth Amendment names no party or authority, but simply forbids slavery and involuntary servitude, grants to Congress power to enforce this prohibition by appropriate legislation. The differences between the Thirteenth and subsequent Amendments have been so fully considered by this court that it is enough to refer to the decisions. In the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 20, 23, Mr. Justice Bradley, delivering the opinion of the court, uses this language:

"This Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth, is undoubtedly self-executing without any ancillary legislation, so far as its terms are applicable to any existing state of circumstances. By its own unaided force and effect it abolished slavery, and

[ 197 U.S. Page 217]

     established universal freedom. Still, legislation may be necessary and proper to meet all the various cases and circumstances to be affected by it, and to prescribe proper modes of redress for its violation in letter or spirit. And such legislation may be primary and direct in its character; for the amendment is not a mere prohibition of state laws establishing or upholding slavery, but an absolute declaration that slavery or involuntary servitude shall not exist in any part of the United States.

"We must not forget that the province and scope of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments are different; the former simply abolished slavery: the latter prohibited the States from abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; from depriving them of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and from denying to any the equal protection of the laws. The amendments are different, and the powers of Congress under them are different. What Congress has power to do under one, it may not have power to do under the other. Under the Thirteenth Amendment, it has only to do with slavery and its incidents. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, it has power to counteract and render nugatory all state laws and proceedings which have the effect to abridge any of the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, or to deprive them of life, liberty or property without due process of law, or to deny to any of them the equal protection of the laws. Under the Thirteenth Amendment, the legislation, so far as necessary or proper to eradicate all forms and incidents of slavery and involuntary servitude, may be direct and ...


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