A novel, culturally unifying approach for Reparations.

Alan Collinge
3 min readApr 2, 2024

Descendants of indentured servants should be included with a three-fifths share.

Just mentioning “Reparations” in public discourse is bound to stir up controversy. Most lawmakers are wary of even discussing the topic because of the racially charged underpinnings of the conversation. Regardless of the validity of the argument for reparations, these debates become racially charged, combative, and always end with hard feelings on both sides of the question, and we are left, politically, with non-starter.

The debate should be re-framed.

What is never mentioned in this debate is another, very similar phenomenon that took place concurrently with- and in fact outlasted-slavery: Indentured servitude. Like slaves, indentured servants provided free labor to wealthy landowners and contributed greatly to building the wealth of their estates. Like slaves, indentured servants had very limited rights, were often treated poorly. Like slaves, those held under bondage were traded, sold, etc. Many weren’t allowed off the ships they came in unless/until they signed a bond of indenture. Many had time added onto their bond for breaking rules (like having children, attempting to escape their estates, etc). Most never lived long enough to know freedom from their bondage.

Importantly, a simple reading of historic legislation like the Fugitive Slave Law reveals that indentured servants were treated very similarly, if not identically as slaves, both under the law and as a practical matter (the Fugitive Slave Law was used to capture and return runaway indentured servants, for example).

Likewise, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which outlawed both slavery and involuntary servitude), had applications to both slaves and indentured servants. Indentured servitude, as an institution, actually persisted in this country longer than slavery. It was not until 1917 (52 years after slavery ended) that indentured servitude was finally abolished.

Post-slavery, former indentured servants (and their descendants) also suffered, similarly, under the injustices that were imposed on freed slaves and their descendants, like the poll taxes, sharecropping, etc. And like freed slaves and their descendants, a very significant, economic inequity existed for former indentured servants and their offspring- inequities that in many cases cascaded through subsequent generations and the effects of which are still evident today.

So should we not, when discussing reparations, also include the descendants of indentured servants as entitled to some form of similar recompense? Clearly we should.

There are, however, key differences between these two groups. White indentured servants and their offspring suffered none of the racial injustices (ie Jim Crow laws, and other widespread discrimination that befell freed slaves and their descendants, and had economic consequences that we see today. This is a very significant disparity that cannot be ignored.

Clearly, if reparations were to be enacted by Congress today, the descendants of indentured servants should not be entitled to compensation equal to that of the descendants of Slaves. They should receive less.

How much less?

While this is an incredibly difficult question to answer, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of congressional apportionment, is a very appropriate and defensible fraction to use. That is, descendants of indentured servants should be entitled to a three-fifths share of what descendants of slaves should receive.

Of course the details of reparations will require much work and further debate. Proving one’s lineage, including for mixed descendants, means-testing (which should certainly happen for descendants of indentured servants, if not those of slaves), and many other practical details need to be worked out.

The case for reparations, both for the descendants of slaves and descendants of indentured servants, is very much worth pursuing. In fact, it is likely the only way forward that will bear fruit for those affected. Perhaps most importantly, such a framework will also serve as a racially unifying one for the purposes of justice, national tranquility, and common understanding and cooperation.



Alan Collinge

I am Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org, author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press), and creator of the petition Change.Org/CancelStudentLoans