Transplanting Servitude: The Strange History of Hawai'i's U.S.-Inspired Contract Labor Law

By Hu, Christopher D. | Stanford Journal of International Law, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Transplanting Servitude: The Strange History of Hawai'i's U.S.-Inspired Contract Labor Law


Hu, Christopher D., Stanford Journal of International Law


In 1850, as a part of a larger program of Western-influenced legal reform, the independent Kingdom of Hawai'i passed a contract labor statute adapted from existing U.S. state laws to meet the perceived need for a reliable plantation labor force. For the next five decades, this statute--the Masters and Servants Act--served as the legal foundation for Hawai'i's rapidly expanding sugar industry, facilitating the arrival of roughly 150,000 immigrants throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Within the field of comparative law, the study of legal transplants--legal rules borrowed from one nation and adopted in another--has operated under the assumption that the transfer of those rules necessarily brings the two legal systems closer together. The case study developed in this Note suggests that convergence is not the only possible result: as it turns out, the Masters and Servants Act actually drove divergence between the U.S. and Hawaiian legal systems and conflict between the two nations' governments.

The Act incorporated legal rules that had already become obsolete in their place of origin, and it helped create a plantation labor system that was soon decried by U.S. critics as closely resembling slavery. When Hawai'i was annexed by the United States at the end of the century, repeal of the Masters and Servants Act was among the top U.S. priorities. Considering the Masters and Servants Act, and the legal regime it engendered, through the lens of legal transplantation thus provides an opportunity to rethink how legal transplants work--and what it means for a transplant to be successful

I. LEGAL TRANSPLANTS AS COMPARATIVE LAW

II. HAWAI'I'S MASTERS AND SERVANTS ACT

    A. The Beginnings of the Sugar Industry
    B. Drafting the Act

1. A Period of Sweeping Legal Change

2. The Act and Its U.S. Origins

3. English and Colonial American Antecedents

III. THE CONTRACT LABOR SYSTEM

    A. General Trends
    B. Interpretation and Enforcement
    C. Domestic Resistance and U.S. Criticism

CONCLUSION

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to Hawai'i, British Guiana, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, and other sugar producing locales to work on sugar plantations. These migrants, mostly from South and East Asia, served as replacements for emancipated slaves or as supplements to indigenous populations unable or unwilling to meet the growing demands of the plantations. (1) By and large, these immigrants were governed by labor contracts that bound them to their employer for a fixed term of service, and were enforceable through penal sanctions. (2) In sugar cane fields throughout the tropics, free wage labor was the exception, not the rule. (3)

The independent Kingdom of Hawai'i (4) occupied a unique position within this worldwide system of contract labor. In 1850, as a part of a larger program of Western-influenced legal reform, the Hawaiian legislature passed a contract labor statute adapted from existing U.S. state laws in order to meet the perceived need for a reliable plantation labor force. For the next five decades, this statute---the Masters and Servants Act--served as the legal foundation for Hawai'i's rapidly expanding plantation labor system. The law remained in force until 1900, when it was overturned as one of the explicit conditions of Hawai'i's full integration as a U.S. territory.

Read in light of the comparative law scholarship on legal transplants, the fifty-year history of the Masters and Servants Act calls into question one of the major assumptions about how such transplants work: namely, that borrowing is invariably a source of legal convergence. Rather, as this Note demonstrates, legal transplants can actually result in conflict between the source nation and the adopting nation.

I. LEGAL TRANSPLANTS AS COMPARATIVE LAW

The legal historian Alan Watson has long argued that the study of legal transplants--the transmission of legal rules from one society to another--should lie at the center of comparative legal scholarship. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Transplanting Servitude: The Strange History of Hawai'i's U.S.-Inspired Contract Labor Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.