Butler v. Perry,
240 U.S. 328 (1916)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328 (1916)

Butler v. Perry

No. 182

Submitted January 14, 1916

Decided February 21, 1916

240 U.S. 328


The term involuntary servitude, as used in the Thirteenth Amendment, was intended to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery which, in practical operation, would tend to produce like results, and not to interdict enforcement of duties owed by individuals to the state.

The great object of the Thirteenth Amendment was liberty under protection of effective government, and not destruction of the latter by depriving it of those essential powers which had always been properly exercised before its adoption.

The Fourteenth Amendment was intended to recognize and protect fundamental objects long recognized under the common law system.

Ancient usage and unanimity of judicial opinion justify the conclusion that, unless restrained by constitutional limitations, a state has inherent power to require every able-bodied man within its jurisdiction to labor for a reasonable period on public roads near his residence without direct compensation.

A reasonable amount of work on public roads near his residence is a part of the duty owed by able-bodied men to the public, and a requirement by a state to that effect does not amount to imposition of involuntary servitude otherwise than as a punishment for crime within the prohibition of the Thirteenth Amendment, nor does the enforcement of such requirement deprive persons of their liberty and property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Page 240 U. S. 329

The statute of Florida requiring every able-bodied man within it jurisdiction to work during each year for six ten-hour day on public road within the county of his residence, and imposing penalties for willful failure so to do, is not unconstitutional as contrary to the Thirteenth Amendment or to the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.

67 Fla. 405 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of a statute of Georgia requiring able-bodied men to do a certain amount of work on public roads, are stated in the opinion.

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