The Birth of the Modern American Debt Collector

In the 19th century, farm loans changed from a matter between associates into an impersonal, bureaucratic exchange. By Livia Gershon The consequences for borrowing money and failing to repay it are clear, certain, and often devastating. But historian Tamara Plakins Thornton writes that it wasn’t always this way. Thornton focuses on an early nineteenth-century Massachusetts lending[…]

‘Peonage’: 19th-Century New Mexico and the History of Colonial Spain’s Debt Enslavement

A system inherited from colonial Spain kept Americans in servitude even after the Civil War. Imagine a time and place where a small debt—even just a few dollars—could translate into a lifetime of servitude not only for the debtor, but also for his or her children. For much of the 19th century, the American Southwest[…]