Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Political Science and Law

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Ian J. Drake

Committee Member

Leslie E. Wilson

Committee Member

Jack Baldwin-LeClair


Did the “except for punishment for a crime” (exception punishment) clause of the first section of the Thirteenth Amendment provide a platform for states to revise, and create if necessary, laws to target blacks and imprison them, thus denying them their rights and create a labor force through the agency of mass incarceration? This author begins with the assumption that it did. The purpose of this thesis study is to explore this question and find if the author’s assumption is correct - whether the exception punishment clause permitted slavery and involuntary servitude to exist as a labor system despite the intent of the Thirteenth Amendment. This thesis begins with the exploration of the Thirteenth Amendment and its relationship to systems of involuntary servitude from 1890-1920, which serves as the period covered for the duration of the study. The main intent of this study is to review the construction and meaning of the exception punishment clause of the Thirteenth Amendment; explore vagrancy laws; define peonage as well as identify the conditions and the mechanics of its perpetuation; and address as well as discuss the role of the state and state actors in peonage enforcement or the lack thereof. Mississippi operates as the unit of analysis for exploring the state statutes regarding vagrancy. Alabama is the focus of the exploration of state and state actors activity in peonage. Numerous cases are discussed to interpret the roles of state and federal governments. Most of the cases are federal in nature (two of the cases are statelevel). The study ends with the author’s finding and determination of his assumption.

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