An Act in Relation to Service

The recently transcribed legislative debates concerning An Act in Relation to Service reveal a hotly contested bill that was greatly modified in form and effect before it was signed into law by Governor Brigham Young on February 4, 1852. The debates capture in detail a series of fundamental disagreements between members of the Latter-day Saint leadership regarding theology, race, and the nature of slavery. They also confirm that the law had a broader purpose than has been previously reported. It is now clear that the act authorized two related systems of indentured servitude: one for enslaved African Americans, and one for Mormon immigrants traveling from Europe and other locations.

Despite this new wealth of knowledge, the terms of the Service Act remain ambiguous, either by design or by accident. There are no contemporary court decisions specifically interpreting the Act, or explicit statements by the drafters about how the law was supposed to function. The legislative debates indicate fundamental disagreements among the legislators about what they had created. If this was not enough, the legal context in which the statute operated shifted significantly over the next decade.

The documents contained here correspond with the narrative history in Chapter 6 of This Abominable Slavery.
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