In 1897 the US Supreme Court carved out an exception the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery and involuntary servitude. Robertson v. Baldwin held that merchant marine sailors could be arrested by law enforcement, imprisoned, and then returned to their ships. Essentially, forced labor in the United States was legal, as long as it was on boats. It was not until 1915 that Congress banned the practice.
This episode was part of Stumptown Stories, a Pacific Northwest history collective in Portland, Oregon.
Pictured below is a still from the 1915 Charlie Chaplin film Shanghaied, which came out the same year that Congress passed legislation guaranteeing certain rights for sailors.
Theme music: Cowboy Surfer by the Vivisectors
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