This dissertation analyzes two regional systems of involuntary servitude (Indian captive slavery and Mexican debt peonage) over a period spanning roughly two centuries. Following a chronological framework, it examines the development of captive slavery in the Southwest beginning in the early 1700s and lasting through the mid-1800s, by which time debt peonage emerged as a secondary form of coerced servitude that augmented Indian slavery in order to meet increasing demand for labor. While both peonage and captive slavery had an indelible impact on cultural and social systems in the Southwest, this dissertation places those two labor systems within the context of North American slavery and sectional agitation during the antebellum period. The existence of debt bondage and Indian captivity in New Mexico had a significant impact on America's judicial and political institutions during the Reconstruction era.
Debt peonage and Indian slavery had a lasting influence on American politics during the period 1846 to 1867, forcing lawmakers to acknowledge the fact that slavery existed in many forms. Following the Civil War, legislators realized that the Thirteenth Amendment did not cast a wide enough net, because peonage and captive slavery were represented as voluntary in nature and remained commonplace throughout New Mexico. When Congress passed a measure in 1867 explicitly outlawing peonage and captive slavery in New Mexico, they implicitly acknowledged the shortcomings of the Thirteenth Amendment. The preexistence of peonage and Indian slavery in the Southwest inculcated a broader understanding of involuntary labor in post-Civil War America and helped to expand political and judicial philosophy regarding free labor. These two systems played a crucial role in America's transition from free to unfree labor in the mid-1800s and contributed to the judicial and political frameworks that undermined slavery.